Harden struggles, Warriors role players step up leading team to Finals for first time in 40 years

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If you’re going to win tough playoff games and advance to the NBA Finals a couple things have to happen.

First, your stars have to step up. For the Rockets that didn’t happen Wednesday night. After a brilliant season and playoff run, James Harden had an off night with 2-of-11 shooting and 13 turnovers.

Second, you need role players to step. Golden State had Harrison Barnes score 13 points in the fourth quarter (and 24 on the night). Festus Ezeli had 12 points and nine rebounds, and Andre Iguodala stepped up with his best game of the season playing great defense on Harden.

The result was Golden State winning a playoff-style, grinding, at times sloppy but still entertaining game 104-90. The Warriors don’t care how it looked; they will take it, they won the series 4-1.

“I thought the defensive performance was brilliant…” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I would say in many ways this was a very Warriors’ like performance.”

Golden State is through to the NBA Finals for the first time in 40 years. They will face the Cleveland Cavaliers starting on June 4 at Oracle Arena.

If you think the Warriors are just a jump-shooting team that can’t win when the shots don’t fall, Game 5 was the example of why you’re wrong. The Warriors shot less than 40 percent for most of the game (they finished at 40.7) but they had 19 offensive rebounds and played strong defense all night — they won because they could be scrappy.

As you would expect, Houston came out battling, being physical (in a game the referees largely let them play), and trying to get the ball inside. On the other side, Curry missed four of his first five shots and his teammates followed suit. Dwight Howard had eight points in the first quarter but, unlike Game 4, the Rockets could not take advantage of the Golden State miscues.

“We didn’t finish very well at the rim, they got too many offensive rebounds, and we had too many live-ball turnovers at the top of the floor,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said after the game. “Those three things really doomed us.”

Both teams just looked tired in this one. After three quarters the Rockets had shot 34 percent, the Warriors 37.7 percent. Both teams had 15 turnovers. There was certainly some good defense, but there was also just some slop. Throw in some hack-a-Howard — and some hack-a-Festus — and the game was not always pretty.

For the Warriors, part of the challenge was Klay Thompson being in foul trouble — he had 15 first half points (20 in the game), but missed extended time in the third quarter due to picking up two quick fouls early in the third to give him five. Then Thompson missed time in the fourth after taking a Trevor Ariza knee to the head (he had a cut on his ear that required stitches, but there was no concussion according to the team).

It was never easy for Golden State, Houston just hung around and hung around — Corey Brewer had 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter as he showed no quit.

But then Barnes happened.

The Warriors pushed their lead up to 15 as Barnes had a nine straight points (including a right corner three off a defensive mistake by the Rockets and a couple of dunks).

“Harrison was brilliant,” Kerr said. “He gets 24 points, and on a night when Klay goes down after his big first half… so Harrison steps up and takes care of the scoring.”

Houston tried but it was just too much — the depth of the Warriors was too much.

And it gave a passionate and starving fan base a trip back to the Finals.

Devin Booker not a fan of being doubled during pick-up run (VIDEO)

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This is going to turn into a thing. It shouldn’t, but it’s the NBA offseason and people are looking for something to talk about, so this — which is really not much of anything — will become a thing. And it’s going to suck for Devin Booker.

Booker was taking part in some summer run, got a pass in the corner, decided to hold the ball and hold the ball, then the double team came. Booker was no fan of the double.

We just do not have enough context from this video to say much. It’s some guys jawing during open gym — if you’ve played five minutes of pickup ball anywhere you know this is how it goes.

But, Booker comes off in this clip as a bit whiny. So for some it will become a thing. Even though it shouldn’t.

It’s going to be interesting to see how different Devin Booker’s game looks next season next to a quality NBA point guard in Ricky Rubio. It could lead to another step forward for the young guard, but like this video we will need to see more before commenting.

Tacko Fall’s agent confident if Celtics don’t keep him on roster another team will

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Tacko Fall was arguably the most popular player at Las Vegas Summer League (especially since Zion Williamson only played nine minutes). Fans chanted for him to get in games and then chanted “M-V-P” once he was in. Fall averaged 7.2 points a game on 77 percent shooting at Summer League and every play he made became a viral highlight.

But that was Summer League.

Now things are getting real and Fall is trying to make the Celtics’ roster. Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics, which is essentially a training camp invite.

It’s a longshot Fall makes the Celtics’ regular season roster for two reasons. First, Fall needs a lot more development to be NBA ready, both physically and in terms of understanding and reacting to the game and how fast it moves. That was evident in Las Vegas. Second, the Celtics have Enes Kanter starting at center with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams behind him, it’s unlikely they keep a fourth traditional center on the roster. Both of Boston’s two-way contracts are already filled.

If the Celtics cut Fall and he signs with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Fall gets a $50,000 bonus.

However, Fall’s agent Justin Haynes says if Boston cuts Fall he believes another team will sign him, something Haynes told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

“If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” said Haynes, Fall’s agent. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”

I could see another team giving Fall one of their two-way contracts, but he needs a lot more development and time on the court. He needs time in the G-League. Maybe a team gives him a roster spot and develops him there, but that seems unlikely. Fall has the potential to be an NBA player, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get there.

Work that this year likely will take place in the G-League.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.