Warriors shoot, play solid defense and take control of series 3-1 over Nuggets

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When David Lee went down for the playoffs with a torn hip flexor, the Warriors were going to go small and it was hard to see how they were going to slow down a Denver team that led the NBA in points in the paint this past season. Not that Lee’s a defensive force, but he’s a big body and where was Golden State’s inside/outside balance going to come from?

Meet Andrew Bogut.

Bogut has stepped up like his old self and Stephen Curry has cemented his position as the best shooter in the Association over the last three games.

That combination — and a rash of Denver Nugget turnovers — led the Warriors to a 115-101 win and a commanding 3-1 series lead over the Nuggets. Game 5 is in Denver Tuesday night.

Golden State went small when Lee went down — starting Curry, Jarrett Jack and Klay Thompson — and just decided to run with Denver. Game 4 was played at a pace faster than the Nuggets averaged in the regular season.

It works in part because Bogut is having his best stretch of play since before his elbow injury back in Milwaukee, back when people in the game thought Bogut one of the best centers around. In the first half Bogut went 6-of-9 for 12 points, leading a team that shot 52.5 percent in the first 24 minutes. Bogut was throwing down dunks and roaring at the Nuggets. Denver did a good job of taking the ball out of Curry’s hands — he was just 1-of-3 in the first (and that make was a deep three up against the clock).

But the Nuggets couldn’t take advantage because Warriors also did a good job of crowding the paint and contesting the Nuggets shots when they drove the lane. Bogut again was at the heart of that. Denver shot just 42.9 percent in the first half and the team that led the league in points in the paint in the first half had just 18 points.

Golden State went on an 11-0 to end the first half and lead 56-44 at the break. Denver had six turnovers during that run, 14 for the half and was stalling them out.

That trend continued, Denver ended the game having turned the ball over on 23.3 percent of their possessions. They turned it over almost one if four times down the court.

Denver made a push in the third quarter and got the lead down to four with 6:30 left and looked like they might make the series all square.

Then Curry hit another three and it was on. He finished the third with 22 points, he had the crowd fired up — and there are few crowds louder, few places harder to play when the stadium is rocking than Golden State.

Curry finished with 31 points and the Warriors ran away with it in the fourth quarter. Jack finished with 21 and six Warriors were in double digits. Golden State had 48 points in the paint to 36 for a Denver team that averaged more than 50 a game that way in the regular season.

Golden State has embraced what they had to do after Lee went down, beating Denver at its own game. Denver needs Kenneth Faried and its big men to step up and match Bogut, to defend in the paint. When that happens, the Nuggets can focus on keeping a guy on Curry from the second he steps over the half court line, because right now that’s where his range starts.

Denver is going to need a lot or a team everybody was high on a month ago as a team that could shake up the West will be gone after the first round. Maybe after Tuesday.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.

Nike, Kyrie Irving part ways, making him a sneaker free agent

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
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Here’s the positive spin for Kyrie Irving: He will have the chance to remake his situation into something he’s more comfortable with during 2023. As a player, he will be an unrestricted free agent and can choose where he wants to play in coming seasons (how many teams are interested and for how many years will be interesting to see).

Irving also is a sneaker free agent — Nike has cut ties with him, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Irving is happy with this.

The separation is not a surprise. Nike suspended its relationship with Irving after he Tweeted out support for an antisemitic film, did not apologize (at first), and was suspended by the Nets. Here was the company’s statement at that time:

“At Nike, we believe there is no place for hate speech and we condemn any form of antisemitism. To that end, we’ve made the decision to suspend our relationship with Kyrie Irving effective immediately and will no longer launch the Kyrie 8. We are deeply saddened and disappointed by the situation and its impact on everyone.”

Nike founder Phil Knight said it was likely the end of the company’s relationship with Irving.

That’s not a small thing by Nike, Irving has had a signature shoe line since 2014 and is reported to have a deal with Nike worth more than $10 million a season because his shoes are popular. However, his contract with the shoe giant was set to end in October 2023, and there had been reports Nike did not plan to extend that deal before this current controversy started.

Nike is already looking in a new direction, at Ja Morant.

Irving now has the chance to choose his new direction.