Klay Thompson’s three forces overtime, where Warriors beat Jazz to move to 68-7

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Maybe casual fans looked past this game, but NBA fans know that facing a hot and defensive-minded Jazz team on the second night of a back-to-back may have been the toughest game the Warriors have the rest of the season.

It was.

It took a second-chance three from Klay Thompson — set up by a hustling rebound from Shaun Livingston — to force overtime. Once there the Warriors did what the Warriors do and outscored the Jazz comfortably for a 103-96 win.

Make that a come-from-behind win — one that showed how much this Warriors team wants that record 73-wins and to unseat the Jordan Bulls from the best record ever. Starting with if they weren’t chasing the record Steve Kerr would have rested Stephen Curry in this one. The Warriors had a lot of chances to just shrug this game off, but they didn’t — you can see the desire for the record.

This was a motivated Jazz team playing to their strengths — finally, Rudy Gobert in clutch minutes — and getting strong nights from Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood (but they really missed Derrick Favors down the stretch (right knee soreness kept him out of the second half). The Jazz looked every bit the up-and-coming team they are, and they took advantage of what Golden State gave them, turning the Warriors sloppy turnovers into easy buckets before the defense got set (when the Warriors set their defense it was strong most of the night).

But the Warriors just win these kinds of games.

There was fantastic defense from Draymond Green down the stretch (including blocking Shelvin Mack‘s attempt at a game winner in regulation), some ridiculous Stephen Curry threes on his way to 31 points, and Thompson’s game-tying shot. More than just the talent, what the Warriors do down the stretch is execute — even on a night Curry looked tired, Harrison Barnes couldn’t buy a three (1-of-8) and the Marreese Speights/Anderson Varejao platoon at center reminded everyone that the Warriors can’t lean on that duo much when the playoffs start. Those two missed shots on offense, but more importantly were torched in pick-and-roll coverage all night (Utah had a lot of success with a basic “horns” pick-and-roll set). The Warriors miss Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli a lot, it’s games like this where it really shows.

Still, the Warriors get the win as the Jazz learn lessons of execution. The hardest lesson may go to Joe Ingles — he ran out to challenge the first of Thompson’s game-tying three attempts, but then he ran right past him as if he would get a baseball outlet pass for an easy bucket. But if you’re up three the only thing that can beat you there is an offensive rebound three, and Thompson got a clean look while Ingles was nowhere near him.

The victory has the Warriors at 68-7, they need to go 5-2 the rest of the way to beat the Bulls record. That’s going to happen. The Warriors do play the Spurs a couple more times but expect Gregg Popovich to rest virtually everyone on that team you can name in one if not both of those games — and he’s not going to show his hand on any matchups or strategies he loves. Nor will Steve Kerr.

But before the Warriors get to a conference finals showdown with the Spurs they will need to get through two rounds of the playoffs. That could mean facing Utah, who as of now are tied with Houston for the 7/8 seeds in the West. After going against the size and defense that Utah brings, the Warriors would be happy not to see them in the first round.

 

Rockets to add Spurs buyout DeMarre Carroll, free agent Jeff Green

Spurs forward DeMarre Caroll
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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reported that DeMarre Carroll and the San Antonio Spurs have agreed to a buyout. Carroll will then sign with the Houston Rockets:

 

ESPN’s Tim McMahon added in a subsequent report that the Rockets will bring in free agent forward Jeff Green:

Green will first sign a 10-day contract with the Rockets, so he can get used to their system and see if there is a fit, Woj reported.

Carroll signed a three-year, $20.65 million contract as part of a sign and trade from the Brooklyn Nets to the Spurs this past summer. That agreement was part of a three-team trade that saw San Antonio send forward Davis Bertans to the Washington Wizards. The 10-year veteran is owed $7 million for this season, $6.65 million for 2020-21 and $1.35 million guaranteed for 2021-22. San Antonio will incur a cap hit for each of the three seasons as part of the buyout process with Carroll. How much of a cap hit will depend on how much money Carroll gave up as part of the buyout agreement.

Carroll was added via sign and trade after Marcus Morris spurned the Spurs in free agency. Morris had originally agreed to sign with San Antonio, but backed out after the New York Knicks offered him $15 million as a free agent. The Spurs moved on to Carroll as a backup plan, but he was never able to crack the rotation. He’s played only 135 minutes over 15 games with San Antonio.

Green was with the Utah Jazz earlier this season, before being waived to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker. The 11-year veteran Green averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances with Utah. The Rockets will be the ninth different franchise Green has played for.

In Houston, Carroll and Green will join Mike D’Antoni’s small-ball crew as big man depth. Carroll and Green will likely back up P.J. Tucker and Robert Covington up front. Their experience at both forward spots will give the Rockets additional depth for their playoff run. Carroll and Green are also likely be to asked to play some center, as Houston has downsized dramatically at that position, including trading Clint Capela at the trade deadline.

NBA players’ union votes to support formation of G-League union

Kyrie Irving
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Better pay. Better working conditions. Not to be treated as disposable parts by their employers.

The players in the G-League want the same thing out of a union that auto workers, teachers, and (most obviously) NBA players do. As had been expected (talks had been going on for a while), on Monday the National Basketball Players Association (the NBA players’ union) voted to support the formation of a G-League union, a story broken by Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The G-League players are expected to support this. Sources have told NBC Sports that team and league officials will not oppose the players unionizing, they believe there will be benefits, too.

The primary issue will be pay. Most players in the G-League earn a $35,000 salary, unless they’re an elite high school prospect, or on a two-way contract (which means they are tied to an NBA team and can be called up for 45 days a season). Some players make more through an Exhibit 10 contract with a team — meaning they go to training camp with a team, then get a bonus ($50,000 or so) if they sign with that team’s G-League team.

Other issues would include freedom of player movement, work benefits, and giving the players a voice in other matters like discipline issues.

The NBA continues to push toward each of its teams having a minor-league affiliate. Right now, only the Trail Blazers and Nuggets do not. As the G-League grows, it’s understandable the players want a larger voice in how things are run.

In other news out of the players’ union meeting, Kyrie Irving was voted in as vice president, replacing Paul Gasol. Via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Chris Paul remains the union president.

Check out Dr. Dre’s Kobe Bryant tribute

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CHICAGO — In a weekend filled with spectacular tributes to Kobe Bryant, this one stood out.

Legendary rapper, songwriter, record producer, and businessman Dr. Dre — a guy who grew up in Los Angeles — released a tribute that stood out (and was highlighted on TNT). Dre did this with Gibson Hazard and Jackson Bannon.

Kobe’s public memorial service takes place Feb. 24 at Staples Center.

Giannis Antetokounmpo on team’s All-Star plan: Attack James Harden

Giannis Antetokounmpo and James Harden
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CHICAGO – James Harden has griped about Giannis Antetokounmpo winning Most Valuable Player last year.

After his team lost to Harden’s in the All-Star game Sunday, Antetokounmpo got in a dig at Harden.

“Offensively, we were just trying to find whoever James Harden was guarding,” Antetokounmpo said of his team’s strategy late. “That’s who we thought we’d have the opportunity to score on.”

Harden is not a good defender. But this is playing right into his hands. He’s at his best in isolation, especially in the post. He faces far more difficulty when run through actions off the ball or trying to keep up in transition.

Down the stretch, Harden defended more effectively than usual. Not great, but above his usual standard. Good enough for LeBron James‘ team to win.

At least, as Giannis previously noted, the MVP trophy is at his house.