LAS VEGAS — Charlotte had what is considered one of the stronger, more professional locker rooms in the NBA last season. Veteran big man Al Jefferson and his steady demeanor was a big part of that.
Now Lance Stephenson is being injected into that mix — and Jefferson is pumped about it.
“I’m excited about Lance,” Jefferson said in the hall outside the Hornets locker room at the Thomas & Mack Center, where he had shown up to watch Charlotte eliminate New York from the Summer League tournament. “We’re all going to be on the same page as far as defense, and defense dictates the offense.
“But Lance is a playmaker. That’s the reason he led the NBA in triple-doubles last year. He’s got this nastiness about his game that you want on your team. I was really excited to hear he signed with us and he wanted to do that. I think he’s got a lot to prove, and he wants to show people he can be a great superstar in this league.”
Jefferson, not a guy known as a defensive stalwart through his career, focused a lot on defense in his comments (and he played it better last year for Steve Clifford, too).
“We were sixth in the NBA in defense and that is the reason we had the success we had so we just got to continue to do all that,” Jefferson said of a Hornets (then Bobcats) team that won 43 games and made the playoffs.
The concern with Stephenson around the league and giving him big money is how that would impact his already questionable maturity issues. But the lack of a market for his services (compared to what he expected), Michael Jordan sitting him down and telling him to cut out the antics, and that solid locker room make Charlotte the perfect team to roll the dice in Stephenson.
In a wide open East, Charlotte is a very interesting team. Not a contender, but interesting.
Watch best of Klay Thompson’s nine threes, 35-point night
He did that on Saturday night helping the Warriors to a Game 6 win, getting his rhythm and becoming a scoring machine in the second half, finishing with 35 points including hitting 9-of-14 from three, and having six rebounds. He was just as important on the other end of the floor.
“I thought Klay was amazing tonight, not just for 35 points and the nine threes, but his defense,” Coach Steve Kerr said. “The guy’s a machine. He’s just so fit physically. He seems to thrive in these situations. But he was fantastic.”
Thompson will need to bring some of that Heat in Game 7 on the road if the Warriors are going to head back to the NBA Finals.
Backs against wall down 17, Warriors crank up defense, rain threes, force Game 7
Warriors’ fans have been asking one question since the season tipped off in October:
What is it going to take to get Golden State to truly focus and play up to their potential?
Apparently, the answer is going down 17 to the Houston Rockets in a playoff elimination game.
Houston entered Oracle Saturday night playing smart and with energy, defending as they had the previous two games and then turning that into transition buckets and threes — 11 of them in the first half. Houston was up 17 in the first quarter and 10 at the half.
However, Golden State had started to defend better in the second quarter and they cranked up the intensity to the level fans had hoped to see in the second half — Houston scored 39 points in the first quarter and 47 combined in the final three. Houston had 25 points in the second half and shot 2-of-9 from three in the third quarter.
At the same time, Klay Thompson led an onslaught of threes for Golden State (Thompson had 9 threes on the night). The Warriors defense turned into offense.
The result was a dramatic turnaround and a 115-86 Golden State win, tying the Western Conference Finals at 3-3.
Game 7 is in Houston Monday night. Winner advances to the NBA Finals.
“Effort. Intensity. Passion,” Thompson said of the Warriors’ second-half surge. “When we do that, and we rotate, and we help each other we’re the best defensive team in the league.”
While it was their defense that sparked everything, the Warriors also found an offense that worked against the Rockets’ switching defense — more Stephen Curry with the ball in his hands. There are a few ways to counter a switching defense and one is a creative ballhandler who can still make plays — not just isolation plays, but who can create a little space and find guys moving off the ball despite the pressure. Curry was that guy, he was the Warriors best all-around player on the night. He had a high IQ game and added 29 points. With the offense not running through Kevin Durant isolations, it just flowed better (the Warriors best lineup of the night was Curry, Thompson, Draymond Green, Shaun Livingston, and Nick Young, +13 in just more than eight minutes).
It just took a lot of pressure from a Rockets team to get Golden State into that mental frame of mind.
Houston opened this game with the same defensive energy they had the last two games, and once again it flustered the Golden State offense. Except, this time the Rockets did a much better job of turning those misses and turnovers into transition points (the Rockets averaged two points per possession on the break in the first half). Throw in some terrible defensive communication errors by the Warriors, and the Rockets were raining threes in the first half — 11-of-22, with Gordon going 4-of-4.
The Warriors had some success with an ultra-small lineup that unleashed Curry, but as soon as non-shooters were on the floor — Kevon Looney, Jordon Bell, and the Rockets were daring Draymond Green and Shaun Livingston to shoot — Houston shrunk the floor and took away passing lanes, plus contested every shot.
In the second half, the Warriors used that Curry energy and hit their threes to pull away. The Warriors were at their best with Bell as the fifth man with the four All-Stars, he brought an energy and athleticism that made things flow on both ends. Don’t be shocked if he starts Game 7 for Golden State.
If the Warriors pack up that second half energy with them and take it to Houston, there is not much the Rockets will be able to do. But do not expect these gritty, feisty Rockets to go quietly into that good night.
Rockets were draining threes in the first half against Warriors in Game 6
Steve Kerr has been searching for a couple of games now for his fifth guy.
With Andre Iguodala out there is no Death/Hamptons 5 lineup and Kerr is looking for a fifth guy to partner with his four All-Stars. Kevon Looney is starting, Jordan Bell is showing potential but also makes some rookie plays, Nick Young has been bad enough that Kerr trusted Quin Cook more at the end of the last game (and Cook missed his looks).
Kerr is going to have to keep searching for a guy in Game 6 because Iguodala is out again.
Injury update: Andre Iguodala (left lateral leg contusion) is out. Patrick McCaw (lumbar spine contusion) is available to play.
The Warriors are not the team heading into Game 6 with the most significant injury woes, the Rockets are without Chris Paul. That and the fact the Warriors’ backs are against the wall is the reason they are heavy favorites in Game 6.
However, the Warriors have not been the same without Iguodala. He is a playmaker who can control the ball and settle things down, makes the right decision, get the player and ball movement the Warriors have strayed too much from back, plus is one of their best defenders on James Harden. Nobody else on the roster can do that.
And if Game 6 gets tight late, the Warriors are going to miss those skills. As they have in the last two games.