Stephen Curry, Warriors think they found something to build on in fourth quarter

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Through three quarters Tuesday night, Stephen Curry just could not get shots to fall. Credit the Cavaliers defense, or say his shot was just off, the fact of the matter is he was 4-of-11 through 36 minutes of Game 3. But it was more than just Curry, the Cavaliers are being physical with Warriors players off the ball, and that is leading to some stagnation. The Cavaliers are getting back and taking away easy transition looks. They have taken the Warriors out of their comfort zone.

Add it all together the second straight game the Warriors were held to fewer than 60 points through three quarters — something that didn’t happen all season.

Then in the fourth quarter Curry woke up — he hit 5-of-8 from three, knocking down shots. Contested or not, no matter the degree of difficulty, the shots were falling.

“I think I found something when it comes to how I’m going to be able to attack their pick-and-rolls and even certain iso situations,” Curry said post game. “I’ll keep that in the memory bank going into Game 4, and hopefully it has a trickle over effect into the first quarter of the next game.”

Curry dropped 17, and the Warriors hung up a 36 spot in the fourth quarter. It wasn’t enough. Matthew Dellavedova and LeBron James made key plays down the stretch, and the Cavaliers hung on for the win, giving them a 2-1 series lead.

But the Warriors said they found something to build on, something they can carry over to Game 4 Thursday night.

“We became the aggressors,” Curry said. “Just like the last three minutes of Game 2. For us to win this series, we have to play that way the whole game. We have the depth, we have the talent to do it, whether we’re at home or on the road.”

“You have to make every possession like it’s your last possession,” Andre Iguodala said. “I feel like that’s the energy Cleveland’s playing with.”

Players and coach often speak of energy more than tactics, but that fourth quarter feature something new — David Lee setting the picks for Curry. Lee is an offensive threat in a way the struggling Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut have not been this series. According to John Schuhmann of NBA.com (using SportsVU cameras), when Lee screened Curry the team scored 20 points on 13 possessions (1.54 per possession), compared to 25 points on 40 possessions when anyone else was the screener for Curry (0.63 points per possession).

Warriors coach Steve Kerr said you can count on seeing more of Lee in Game 4, but what he liked was that his team showed some passion.

“I mean, you want to show some fight,” Kerr said. “And I thought in the third quarter we were hanging our heads a little bit, and it was good to see us bring the fight to the game. And that’s how we have to play the whole way through. It’s not just making shots. Obviously, that helps, but it’s fighting and it’s competing, and we’ve got to do that for 48 minutes.”

Iguodala used a better word than fight — execution. That is what the Warriors have lacked in their offense. The Cavaliers have made it difficult at every step, but in the face of that the Warriors stopped executing.

“It’s up to us to do the things that we haven’t been able to do on both ends of the floor. Executing small things. Small things are really biting us in the ass a little bit,” Iguodala said. “So loose balls they’ve gotten to every one of them. Offensive boards, second chance points, they seem to have a knack for those things, and we’ve got to come up with them…

“When we don’t get enough passes, we seem to rush even more. So we’ve just got to take our time, settle in, make them work a little bit more defensively. I think we found something there with David Lee that’s working for us. So he’s going to get some more minutes, I would like to think, going forward, and then other guys will see how effective he is and they’ll do the same. So we’ll have a steady diet of something we found that can work throughout the rest of the series.”

The Warriors had better hope so — and they need to use it and be aggressive from the opening tip of Game 4. The Warriors will either head home with the series tied and feeling confident or down 3-1 in a hole that, like the one they were in Tuesday night, they probably can’t climb out of.

Toughest player to defend in NBA? Jonathan Isaac votes for James Harden

Associated Press
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Orlando’s Jonathan Isaac is turning heads this season. He has turned into the defensive backbone of the Magic, a long, switchable player who can protect the rim and make plays out on the perimeter.

In the past week, coach Steve Clifford asked Isaac to match up with Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, and LeBron James. So who was the toughest to guard? (Via Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle.)

Harden dropped 54 on Orlando to lead Houston to the win. It was his second game in a row with 50+ points and hitting 10 threes.

Nobody should be arguing with Isaac here. For one thing, he’s the guy who had to guard them all this week, his opinion is informed. Harden has six points while Isaac was matched up on him Friday night, but the Rockets scored 14 others. Harden did most of his damage when Evan Fournierwas on him, scoring 18. (Via NBA.com matchup data.)

One could make the case that Antetokounmpo and LeBron contribute more on the defensive end and that makes them more valuable (a debate that will come up again at end-of-season awards time), but as a pure scorer there is nobody like Harden. Ever. He has ridiculous shooting range and the best stepback in the league, he’s physically strong and finishes through contact on drives, and he has turned drawing fouls into an art form. Defending James Harden is next to impossible (and incredibly frustrating for those tasked with it).

Houston has built its entire offense around Harden, and they are contenders because of it.

 

Kevin Knox with an high-flying putback dunk… into his own basket (VIDEO)

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Give the Knicks credit, they have won two games in a row for the first time this season after knocking off the Kings. The return of Elfrid Payton at point guard — meaning they don’t have to play rookie R.J. Barrett out of position in that role — has given New York some floor balance and they look much better.

But there are still moments.

Such as this one from Kevin Knox, with the putback dunk — into his own net.

Mike Breen wanted to credit Buddy Hield there, and to be fair, Hield did come flying in and force the action. But that was Knox. (Hield got the bucket in the official scorebook).

Well, at least Knox is contributing something here.

Watch James Harden drop 54 to lead Houston past Orlando

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — James Harden found his 3-point shooting touch — again.

Harden scored 54 points, matching the team record of 10 3-pointers he set in Houston’s last game in the Rockets’ 130-107 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night.

“I just want to win,” Harden said simply. “Whatever it takes.”

Harden scored 50 or more for the fifth time this season and the fourth time in his last seven games. The rest of the NBA has combined for only five such games this season.

Harden was 10 of 15 from long range and 19 of 31 overall from the field. He also had a seven assists, five rebounds and two steals in 36 minutes, receiving a loud ovation from the Orlando crowd when he headed to the bench in the final minutes.

“I feel like we lost against just him tonight,” Magic guard Evan Fournier said. “He’s the MVP for a reason. We talked about in pregame that he’ll take shots, and we’ll just live with the results. He did not miss tonight, period.”

Harden set the Houston record for 3-pointers with 10 in 18 attempts Wednesday night in a 55-point game in a victory at Cleveland.

“When he’s shooting over the top like that, I don’t know what you can do,” Orlando coach Steve Clifford said.

Russell Westbrook added 23 points for Houston. The Rockets were 22 of 39 from 3-point range, setting a record for the most 3-pointers by any Magic opponent in franchise history.

“We just shot the ball extremely well,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “When James is like that, it’s hard for anybody to really beat us … no matter what kind of defense you’re going to throw, we’ve got guys.”

The Rockets pulled away in the second quarter, with Harden scoring 18 points, including Houston’s last 11 for a 59-49 lead.

Fournier led Orlando with 27 points. Aaron Gordon added 21. The Magic have lost three straight after winning four in a row.

Paul George, Kawhi Leonard combine for 88 points in Clippers win

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — It’s hard to stop Paul George. It’s hard to stop Kawhi Leonard. It’s really hard to stop both at the same time.

George and Leonard showed what the Los Angeles Clippers had in mind when they teamed up the superstar duo Friday night. George scored 46 points, Kawhi Leonard had 42 and the Clippers held on to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 124-117 for their fourth consecutive victory.

“It’s special, two guys offensively,” George said. “The thing about it is, we’re dishing, finding each other, feeding each other. And then when we have moments to be aggressive, we’re looking to get aggressive, attack, look for our shots. It’s great when both guys can get it going”

Leonard and George became the first set of teammates in Clippers’ history to each score 40 points. It was the 21st time in NBA history it has happened. The last time it was done, it also involved George. He and Russell Westbrook did it for Oklahoma City last season.

Leonard and George’s previous high this season came Dec. 1, when they combined for 65 points against Washington.

“It’s great that we can have somebody else out there to help scoring the ball, making the game easier for myself,” Leonard said. “We’re still trying to build our chemistry out there.”

Karl-Anthony Towns had 39 points and 12 rebounds for Minnesota, which lost its seventh in a row. Towns had 14 points, including a 4-point play, in a 22-6 fourth-quarter run that trimmed a 21-point Los Angeles lead to five.

Andrew Wiggins added 34 points for the Timberwolves. His basket with 1:04 left cut the Clippers’ lead to 119-115. Minnesota didn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.

“Disappointed from the loss, but we fought back,” Wiggins said. “We were down big. Dug ourselves a hole. We fought back though. We went out swinging.”

Leonard and George set the tone early, combining to score the first 23 points for a Clippers team playing without Lou Williams, who sat out with a calf injury. In his absence, George and Leonard accounted for 54 of Los Angeles’ 65 first-half points. They became the first duo to each score 35 or more points through the first three quarters of a game in the past 20 seasons, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Leonard made a career-high 19 free throws. He was 19 for 19 from the line.

“That was great,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We knew without Lou tonight, every play was basically for those two guys. And they came up big.”

The Timberwolves took a 51-50 lead in the second quarter with a 15-2 run, capped by a Towns 3-pointer. Leonard responded with seven consecutive points to give the Clippers the lead for good.

George started the third quarter with a 7-0 run of his own. He scored 16 in the third, when Los Angeles took control by outscoring Minnesota 37-23.

“Forty-six and forty-two, they make it very tough on you,” Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders said.

Leonard’s 31 first-half points set a career high for points in a half. He tied a career high for points in a first quarter with 16.

“We got into our spots early, made shots,” Leonard said. “Paul carried us in that second half.”

Montrezl Harrell scored 18 points for the Clippers. Jeff Teague scored 22 for the Timberwolves.