Stephen Curry drops 40, leads 20-point comeback as Warriors beat Pelicans in OT, take 3-0 series lead

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The crowd was rocking. Anthony Davis was making the plays — 23 points through the first three quarters — that had the New Orleans crowd screaming like it was Mardi Gras. It  seemed after 36 minutes that it was going to be the Pelican’s night; they were up 20 points entering the final frame, up 17 with six minutes to go. The Pelicans were in command. New Orleans outplayed Golden State most of the night.

But Golden State has Stephen Curry.

The Warriors started to make a little run early in the fourth, chipping away at the lead bit by bit. The clock couldn’t move fast enough for the Pelicans. Then Curry entered the game, and he kept getting space — somehow 16 of Curry’s 29 shot attempts on the night were uncontested (according to the NBA’s SportsVU cameras). He was making plays.

Golden State closed out the game on a 17-5 run but were still down three with 9.6 seconds left in regulation. Then this happened.

Curry missed the first one, but Marreese Speights picked up the offensive board, brought it out to the corner and Curry got another shot.

He wasn’t going to miss that one. The Pelicans had their hearts ripped out on national television.

From there it just had a sense of inevitability. Curry finished the night with 40 points and nine assists, and the Warriors won 123-119. That gives Golden State a commanding 3-0 series lead, they can close the Pelicans out Saturday in New Orleans.

Still, all anybody is talking about is that final play, the shot by Curry.

Pelicans coach Monty Williams said after the game he had told his players to foul on that final play — don’t even let Golden State get off a three to tie it. Foul them and make it a free throw contest. The Pelicans had ample opportunity before both shots and didn’t execute. They didn’t and paid the price.

Basketball games are not won or lost on one play, there were a number of things that cost the Thunder. Such as offensive rebounds. It wasn’t just Speights’ rebound that led to the Curry shot; the Warriors had seven offensive rebounds in the final five minutes. For the game, the Warriors grabbed the offensive rebound on 39.3 percent of their missed shots.

Curry and Klay Thompson were hot at the start of Game 3 but credit the Pelicans for once again being scrappy and fighting through it. New Orleans led by one after 12 minutes then pulled away in the second and third. They were the better team — New Orleans shot 51.1 percent on the night to Golden State’s 40.4.

But it’s about how it ends. The game went to overtime and Curry had seven points in the frame as the Warriors opened on a 9-3 run. Again the Pelicans scrapped to make it interesting, but they could never fully close the gap.

Klay Thompson poured in 28 for Golden State while Draymond Green added 12 points and 10 rebounds. Davis finished with 29 for the Pelicans; Ryan Anderson added 26.

It’s a painful loss for the Pelicans, but the kind that young teams grow and learn from.

For the Warriors, it’s a legendary comeback. It’s also another win when they don’t play their best game. In this round they can get away with that.

Thanks to Stephen Curry.

Nikola Jokic’s All-NBA first-team selection shows his meteoric rise

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Just four years ago, Nikola Jokic was a second-round pick still playing in the Adriatic League. Just three years ago, he was battling a struggling Jusuf Nurkic to be the Nuggets’ main center.

Yesterday, Jokic made the All-NBA first team.

Jokic has risen incredibly quickly. Before this season, he had never even been an All-Star.

That makes Jokic the first non-rookie in NBA history to make an All-NBA first team without a prior All-Star season (including ABA All-Stars).

The No. 41 pick in the 2014 draft, Jokic is just the fourth second-rounder to make an All-NBA first team since the NBA-ABA merger. The others: DeAndre Jordan, Marc Gasol and Marc Price.

For most players not immediately deemed to hold first-round talent, it takes a while to build stature in the NBA. Jokic made the All-NBA first team in just his fourth season. That’s way sooner than Gasol (seventh season), Price (seventh season) and Jordan (eighth season):

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The Nuggets didn’t wait for this honor to make Jokic their franchise player. They gave him a near-max contract last summer, and by leading them into the second round of the playoffs, he triggered incentives to reach a max salary.

Denver has built a young supporting cast – mainly Jamal Murray and Gary Harris – to grow with Jokic. The Nuggets also signed veteran Paul Millsap, whose defense complements Jokic’s offensive-minded game.

So much is coming together so quickly for Denver, and Jokic’s honor is just the latest example.

Report: Trail Blazers sign president Neil Olshey to contract extension

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Just after a rumor emerged about the Wizards trying to hire Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey…

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It’s nice to be wanted. It always adds leverage in contract negotiations.

Olshey has done well in Portland, building a winner around Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after LaMarcus Aldridge left. But Olshey’s job will get harder now.

Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard and Maurice Harkless each have another season on the expensive contracts Olshey gave them in the wild summer of 2016. That’ll inhibit flexibility this offseason.

Then, Lillard is set to sign a super-max extension that will take effect in 2021. As great as Lillard is, it’ll be difficult building a contender around someone projected to earn $43 million, $46 million, $50 million and $53 million from ages 31-34. There’s so little margin for error, especially if ownership is less willing to pay the luxury tax than the late Paul Allen was.

But Olshey has earned a chance to handle these dilemmas.

Jazz center Rudy Gobert hits super-max criteria for extension projected to be worth $250 million over five years

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Anthony Davis signed a max rookie-scale contract extension in 2015, between his third and fourth seasons. Based on the Collective Bargaining Agreement at the time, the extension called for him to earn a higher salary if he was twice voted an All-Star starter or made two All-NBA teams during his first four seasons. Davis was voted an All-Star starter and made the All-NBA first team in his third season.

Unfortunately for Davis, he missed both honors his fourth year. The All-NBA and All-Star-starter tracks ran independently. Davis couldn’t qualify for a higher max salary by earning one of each.

That cost him $19,683,908 over the four pre-player-option seasons of his extension, which will end next year.

The current CBA’s more significant adjustments to super-max eligibility – changing the years for qualification, using Defensive Player of the Year instead of All-Star starter – obscured a minor tweak. The tracks now run together. A player can qualify with one Defensive Player of the Year and one All-NBA selection. He needn’t achieve two of one category.

So, Jazz center Rudy Gobert – who won won Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and made All-NBA this year – quietly became eligible to sign a super-max extension in the 2020 offseason. The extension’s highest-allowable value projects to be $250 million over five years. The first four years would follow the structure of the super-max Damian Lillard and the Trail Blazers are set to sign.

Newsflash: Gobert isn’t Lillard.

Gobert is elite defensively and underrated offensively. But paying him $50 million per year from ages 30-34 in a league overflowing with good centers? That’s a recipe for disaster for Utah.

But Gobert earned eligibility. That makes it harder for the Jazz to tell him they don’t deem him worthy. That tension is an unintended consequence of the super-max rules.

There is room for negotiation. In this case, Gobert’s designated-veteran-player extension must be for five seasons and have a starting salary between 30% and 35% of the 2021-22 salary cap. But his salary can increase or decrease annually by up to 8% of his first-year salary. The deal can be partially guaranteed.

Still, the lowest possible designated-veteran-player extension for Gobert projects to be $155 million over five years. If fully guaranteed, that’d be expensive for a player of his age. If not fully guaranteed, the Jazz would get savings only by waiving him, and that’d mean dropping the cheaper latter years.

Because he doesn’t have enough experience to qualify, Gobert can’t sign a super-max extension until the 2020 offseason. He met the award criteria, but a player must have seven or eight years of experience. Gobert just finished his sixth year. He’s also under contract for two more seasons – locked into salaries of $24,758,427 next season and $26,275,281 the following year.

So, there’s time to figure this out.

But this is the most uneasy super-max situation so far – unless Gobert just doesn’t insist on the money. Good luck with that.

Rumor: Wizards interested in Trail Blazers president Neil Olshey

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The Wizards struck out on luring Nuggets president Tim Connelly.

Washington’s next choice?

Ben Standig of NBC Washington:

As for the rumor mill, one name stands out: Neil Olshey.

Numerous sources told NBC Sports Washington of the Wizards’ interest in Blazers President of Basketball Operations

Olshey has done a good job in Portland. He drafted Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum then built a winner around those two after LaMarcus Aldridge left. Trading for and re-signing Jusuf Nurkic to a reasonable contract looks great. Olshey also overpaid Evan Turner, Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Festus Ezeli, but many teams spent wildly in 2016. It was a weird summer.

The Wizards would do well to hire such a proven executive.

Would Olshey leave the Trail Blazers? Their ownership situation remains uncertain following the death of Paul Allen in October. Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has demonstrated extreme loyalty to his executives.

Portland will also reportedly sign Damian Lillard to a super-max extension – a move that practically must be made, but one that carries massive downside risk. However, if he goes to Washington, Olshey would be trading uncertainty in Damian Lillard’s value on the super-max for certain negative value with John Wall on his super-max extension.

A couple years ago, Olshey signed his own extension through 2021. Maybe he’s ready to move on.

Or maybe he’s ready to use the Wizards as leverage for a raise.