Too much Stephen Curry helps Warriors overcome slow start, Rockets for Game 1 win

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Stephen Curry looked every bit the MVP.

Before the series both sides tried to play down the Curry vs. James Harden angle — the top two MVP vote getters would not guard each other — yet Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals felt like a showdown between them at times.

A showdown Curry won. He had 34 points on 22 shots, hit six threes, and had 21 of those points in the second half — including what ended up being a contested dagger three in transition — and that was enough. Despite James Harden’s 28 points and big game.

Golden State beat Houston 110-106 to take Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. Game 2 is Thursday night.

Houston took the lead early as the Warriors looked more rusty than rested after nearly a week off. The Rockets raced out to 9-2 lead and while that lead ebbed and flowed the Rockets got the shots they wanted. Houston shot 59.1 percent, got 20 points in the paint, and got a dozen points from their bench to lead 31-24 after 12 minutes. The Warriors shot just 36 percent in the quarter.

However, what may have been the key play in the game also happened late in the first. Dwight Howard left the game after Josh Smith fell into his knee following a running shot across the lane. Howard went to the locker room for a while but returned to the game before the first quarter ended. However, he never moved the same the rest of the night. He wasn’t the same defensively — after having a big impact early — and didn’t score in the second half. Compared to the Howard the Clippers faced it was a world of difference. Howard played his usual third quarter shift, came back in for :52 seconds of the fourth quarter, then sat the rest of the game with what the team called a bruised knee.

The Warriors had success against the hobbled Howard and Houston when they went small with Draymond Green at the five. The Rockets had pushed their second quarter lead as high as 17 when Green and Curry sat, but once the Warriors went small with Draymond Greed as their center they went on a 25-6 run. The Warriors led 58-55 at the half after a vintage Curry step-back two.

“With our small lineup we can spread the floor pretty well,” Kerr said after the game. “Put Draymond (Green) in the middle as the screener for Steph (Curry), then find shooters on the perimeter. It really stretches people out.”

Golden State also got help off its bench — the first 21 Warriors points of the second quarter from guys off the bench. Shaun Livingston finished the game with 18 points on 6-of-8 shooting to lead that Warriors bench group.

“He was terrific,  kind of kept us in the game in the second quarter when we were really struggling,” Kerr said. “Getting to the line, hitting a little midrange, his defense was good. That’s what I like about our team, we tend to find somebody.”

Golden State made some plays in the third quarter and the start of the fourth, but never pulled away thanks to Harden, who had 21 points on 13 shots in the second half.  The Rockets caught up behind Harden and tied the game 97-97 in the fourth.

That’s when Golden state went on 6-0 run, exposing the limited Rockets help defense. As a team, they lost Curry and other Warriors on baseline cuts and off the ball picks all night.

But if you have watched these Rockets, you knew they wouldn’t go away. Houston cut the lead to 108-106 with 14.6 seconds left after a Trevor Ariza steal and three.

But Curry was the guy with the ball, he was fouled, and sank two free throws to ice the game.

The big questions going into Game 2 is can the Warriors play better — it wasn’t their best defensive effort of the postseason — and how effective will Dwight Howard be? Without him, the Warriors went on a 42-30 run on points in the paint that the Rockets simply cannot allow.

Report: 76ers didn’t offer Jimmy Butler five-year max contract once free agency opened

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The 76ers offered Jimmy Butler a five-year max contract, according to Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports. However, Adrian Wojnarowski reported Philadelphia wasn’t offering Butler a five- or even four-year max deal.

What explains the discrepancy?

Maybe timing.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

But on June 30, there was no five-year maximum offer for Butler, multiple sources say.

That doesn’t explicitly say the 76ers offered Butler a five-year max earlier, but it intentionally leaves the possibility wide open. After all, when Philadelphia traded for Butler in the final year of his contract, everyone knew he expected a max contract. He said so himself. After early tension, the 76ers still expressed desire to re-sign Butler. As free agency neared, they kept sending those signals.

What changed?

Maybe Philadelphia had second thoughts about paying Butler so much. There are reasonable concerns. But it’d be odd if the 76ers went so far down the road toward re-signing Butler only to reverse course at the last moment because of internal evaluations. That assessment could have been made earlier.

Al Horford unexpectedly became available, and Philadelphia used Butler’s vacated cap space to sign him. With Butler and the capped-out Heat wanting him in Miami, the 76ers also leveraged another good playerJosh Richardson – in a sign-and-trade. Perhaps, once realizing it was an option, Philadelphia just preferred Horford and Richardson to Butler (and retaining J.J. Redick‘s Bird Rights). That’d be simple enough.

Whatever happened, I bet it’s the crux of the secret story Butler recently alluded to.

Nets to wear ‘Bed-Stuy’ jerseys (video)

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Nets forward Kevin Durant said, “The cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Brooklyn is cool.

So, the Nets are getting more overt about connecting to the image of their borough. After wearing Notorious B.I.G.-inspired uniforms with Coogi-sweater-style trim, Brooklyn is slapping “Bed-Stuy” – the neighborhood brought to mass popularity by Biggie, Jay-Z and others – onto its jerseys.
Nets:

I can’t decide whether these jerseys are actually cool or trying too hard to be cool.

Also, the Nets apparently aren’t daunted by a Coogi lawsuit.

First non-white player in modern professional basketball, Wat Misaka dies at 95

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SALT LAKE CITY — Wataru “Wat” Misaka, the first non-white player to play in the league that was the predecessor to the NBA, has died. He was 95.

Misaka played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947-48 season in the Basketball Association of America. He was the league’s first player of of Japanese descent.

A 2008 documentary called “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story” told the story of what Misaka went through as a trailblazing athlete.

Misaka attended a 2013 Utah Jazz game to watch Jeremy Lin play.

The University of Utah athletic department said in a news release Thursday that Misaka died Wednesday in Salt Lake City. He grew up in Ogden, Utah.

Mikasa was the point guard on the Utah team that won the NCAA Tournament in 1944 and the NIT in 1947.

Reggie Miller reports Zion Williamson to return in mid-December

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If you missed this because Reggie Miller’s color commentary makes you reach for the mute button, nobody would blame you. It’s something we all feel the need to do.

However, doing it Thursday night during the Pelicans’ win over the Suns would have caused you to miss Miller doing some actual reporting on the return of Zion Williamson, saying sources tell him the rookie is on track to return in “mid-December.”

If your first reaction is “I trust Reggie Miller’s reporting as much as the Weekly World News” you would generally be correct.

But in this case we may want to listen. First, Miller does talk to GMs, coaches, and front office types. Second, what he says fits the already established timeline for Williamson’s return from knee surgery, which was “around or before Christmas.” This is not breaking news so much as a confirmation of what we already know.

Williamson certainly makes the Pelicans more dynamic, more athletic, plus much more entertaining and watchable. The sooner we get him back on the court, the better for all of us.