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.

Andre Iguodala’s exit line on CNBC: “Nobody’s going to the Knicks. Sorry.”

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Andre Iguodala is a smart businessman who is heavily invested in tech startups (as are several Golden State Warriors players). That — and the fact he’s a famous NBA player — made him a good guest on CNBC’s Power Lunch show Monday.

Iguodala also has a few good connections to the thinking of the Golden State Warriors’ free agents Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Here is his response when asked about free agency and the Warriors on the show.

Of course, he said he expects Durant and Thompson to come back to the Warriors, what did you expect him to say? However, it was the exit line that got noticed:

“Nobody’s going to the Knicks. Sorry.”

More and more it’s looking like that.

Sources have said Thompson is staying with the Warriors since the start, he was never in play. Durant and the Knicks have been linked all season, but suddenly rumors of him going to Brooklyn with Kyrie Irving (and maybe Durant’s good friend DeAndre Jordan) have gotten a lot louder around the league. Brooklyn may be the frontrunner, with the Clipper still on the fringes of the conversation. The Warriors may be on the outside looking in.

The Knicks want a meeting with Kawhi Leonard, but that is a two-team race between the Raptors and Clippers, with Toronto seeming to have the edge after winning a title.

The smart play by the Knicks, if this happens, is not to spend wildly on the next tier of free agents but rather to sit on their cap space, develop and add to their young core, and wait for another star. That seems to be the plan, but how long before James Dolan gets impatient and forces something stupid to happen. For the Knicks, that’s always a concern.

Report: Atlanta trades Kent Bazemore to Portland for Evan Turner

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Portland is always on the search for some quality play and shot creation at the forward spots (something that is a long-running weak spot), and with this trade the Trail Blazers get a little better.

Atlanta is sending Kent Bazemore to Portland in exchange for Evan Turner in a straight up, two-player trade, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Both players are in the final year of their somewhat overpaid contracts, Bazemore will make $19.3 million while Turner will pull down $18.6 million. Atlanta does save about $640,000.

This trade makes a lot of sense for Portland. Bazemore is a quality wing rotation player who averaged 11.6 points per game, is athletic and can create shots. Last season Bazemore was on his way to a career year until a mid-season ankle injury, and while he did come back to the court he was never healthy and the same player. He’s not a knock-down three-point shooter but he has usually been at around 35 percent or a little higher five of the past six seasons (he was down to 32 percent last season because of the ankle injury). This is more than just Rodney Hood insurance, this is an upgrade.

Turner was the guy Portland counted on as another shot creator, but he could not do that consistently or under pressure. He averaged 6.8 points per game last season, shot 21.2 percent from three, and is not a great defender. He is a popular teammate and good in the locker room (something useful with a young Hawks squad), but this is not an upgrade for the Hawks.

Then why did Atlanta make this trade? Good question. The franchise does save $640,000, which is helpful but not earth-shattering. Maybe it’s a favor to Bazemore to get him on a team that went to the Western Conference Finals a season ago and is a threat going forward. However, the best reason may be the Hawks have three young players they like — Kevin Huerter, plus just-drafted DeAndre Hunter and Cam Reddish — at the same spot and this frees up minutes for them to play.

Whatever the reason, the deal can get done soon, before free agency opens.

Knicks fined $50K for violating NBA’s media rules

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Knicks owner James Dolan escalates fight after fight after fight after fight after fight after fight after…

One of his latest battles has been with the New York Daily News, the newspaper that urged him to sell the team. The Knicks have repeatedly denied Daily News reporters access. Barring the Daily News from a recent press conference apparently crossed a line.

NBA:

The NBA announced today that the New York Knicks have been fined $50,000 for violating the NBA’s rules regarding equal access for media.

The Knicks did not allow the New York Daily News access to their post-draft press conference on Friday, June 21 while allowing all other credentialed media who cover the team to attend.

The organization has agreed to comply with NBA Media Access Rules moving forward.

The Knicks released this statement:

“The Knicks acknowledge that we did not comply with the NBA’s media policy, and made an error in interpreting Friday’s announcement as an invite only event.  As we do throughout the year, we have and will continue to provide access to credentialed media as per the League’s policy.” <

This has been a dumb plan by the Knicks. Even executed as designed, it makes them look bad.

The Knicks should be trying to generate enthusiasm around No. 3 pick R.J. Barrett and double-max cap space (which could turn into Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving). Instead, the Knicks are drawing attention to their thin skin and pettiness. And they’re not stopping the Daily News from writing about the team, anyway.

For Dolan, a $50,000 fine is small. But it’s larger than my confidence his franchise will abide by the league’s media rules – which are designed to ensure fans receive information – going forward.

Rumor: Kevin Durant not happy with Warriors

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Kevin Durant‘s torn Achilles in the NBA Finals is the type of life-changing event that could significantly alter his thinking entering free agency.

But we don’t know how Durant was thinking before the injury. And we don’t know how he’s thinking now. He has yet to speak publicly.

That won’t stop rumors, though.

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report:

the indication from several league sources is that Durant is not happy with the team, and the presumption is that it stems from whatever role Warriors officials played in his decision to suit up. Coach Steve Kerr says he was told Durant could not further injure himself by playing, which obviously proved not to be true. If Durant was told the same, it would give credence to the notion that, as one league executive claims, “He’s really pissed off at the Warriors.”

Jay Williams, who’s close with Durant, said the Warriors misdiagnosed Durant and mishandled public statements about him. Williams doesn’t necessarily speak for Durant, but that might be the best indicator so far of Durant’s mindset.

Do Bucher’s sources have other reason to believe Durant is upset with Golden State? Or are they just assuming Williams is representing Durant’s thoughts? The possibility of the former is what makes this intriguing. But I’m skeptical, especially of someone Bucher identifies as just “one league executive.” That’s light credentials for someone spewing rhetoric like “really pissed off.”

Still, Kendrick Perkins and Brian Windhorst reported on momentum building toward Durant to the Nets. There’s plenty of smoke behind the idea Durant will leave Golden State.

Re-signing with the Warriors might be the way for the injured 30-year-old to maximize his earnings, though. Their max offer projects to be worth $221 million over five years. Other teams’ max offers project to be worth about $164 million over four years. Durant could agree to a delayed sign-and-trade. Of course, he couldn’t actually guarantee Golden State would ever trade him.

So, if he’s that upset with the Warriors, he’ll just leave once free agency opens next week.