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Breaking down Warriors, Stephen Curry’s third quarter run

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“Business as usual. This is what he does.”

That was how Warriors coach Steve Kerr described Stephen Curry‘s play during a 15-2 run in the third quarter that blew the game open and evened the Western Conference Finals at one game a piece.

While Curry was grabbing everyone’s attention with a classic “Curry Flurry” of shots, this run was more than that — it was the Warriors defense cutting off the passing lanes of Oklahoma City, it was sloppy Thunder defense, and it was Draymond Green making smart plays. It was everything the Warriors did right to earn the win encapsulated in 133 seconds.

Here’s how it went down. Andre Roberson cut Golden State’s lead to 64-57 with a driving layup with 7:23 left. That’s when the Curry Flurry started.

• The first bucket is pretty simple: Curry pops out off an Andrew Bogut down screen (at the mid-post) and Bogut makes sure Serge Ibaka didn’t get to Curry by keeping that screen moving. Steven Adams stayed back as if he wasn’t coming out to that thin air, so Curry got as clean a look as he would all night. Three ball. 67-57 with 7:09 left.

Russell Westbrook lazily brings the ball up and with 12 seconds on the shot clock passes to Kevin Durant out top. Westbrook can’t get open coming off an Andre Roberson screen, then there is a lot of standing around. Durant tries to make a risky pass to Roberson on the baseline, Curry tipped it and Draymond Green intercepted it. It was one of several turnovers that made the Warriors’ run possible, but this one was more about a stagnant Thunder offense than good Warriors play.

With the turnover Golden State was off to the races — Green made a 40-foot pass ahead to a streaking Curry, who was met at the basket by Durant, and Curry could not score around KD’s length (there was a lot of contact, but the refs were letting them play, so no call). Harrison Barnes grabbed the loose ball and passed out top to Green. While that happened Curry got up off the ground, sprinted to the right corner, Durant lost him for a second and had to close out fast after Green made the pass, and KD fouled Curry. Then Durant picked up a technical. Curry proceeded to hit the technical and all three free throws, 71-57 with 6:33 left.

While Curry has the hot hand and is drawing the attention, it is Green who is often the catalyst and was in this case.

“I thought (Green) made some big defensive plays in the third quarter, deflections, and that allowed us to get out and run,” Kerr said after the game. “And often times he becomes the ball handler in transition with Steph and Klay running the wings. There were some plays there where we broke free and Steph was able to get some looks and get going.”

• While Westbrook walks the ball up, Durant went down by the baseline then popped back up to the elbow off an Adams down screen — that was enough space for one of Durant’s favorite shots, that fade-away jumper. This is the only points the Thunder score during the Curry Flurry. It’s 71-59 with 6:22 left.

• Curry brings the ball up and both Westbrook and Adams are there to meet him 30 feet from the basket — they are going to get it out of his hands. Curry steps back from the double and passes to Andrew Bogut rolling down the lane — and this is where the ball movement lacking from Golden State consistently in Game 1 shows up. Bogut sees help defenders come to him, so he passes to Andre Iguodala in the corner — and now the Thunder are scrambling, Adams has dropped into the paint and Westbrook has taken his eyes off Curry and started ball watching. Iguodala throws it to Green in the post, Curry slides down the arc and Green hits him with a pass, Ibaka closes out hard so Curry pump fakes, waits for the Ibaka flyby, steps up and shoots the three — then while the ball is still in the air stares down Ibaka. Net. 74-59 with 6:07 left.

• Again Westbrook has the ball out top and again Durant comes off the down screen to the elbow — but this time Bogut and the Warriors anticipate it, arrive when the pass does and steal it. It is what the Warriors do when they crank up their defense, they start to jump passing lanes and take risks to force turnovers and transition opportunities. It worked here.

On the break Bogut throws it ahead to Iguodala, who throws it back to Curry at the top of the arc — he hits it but steps on the line, so just two points. 76-59 with 5:47 left.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan calls a timeout. It’s not enough.

• The Warriors have a fantastic defensive stand out of the timeout — Klay Thompson bodies up Durant at the top of the key and takes away any easy shot, he passes Westbrook who drives around an Adams screen at the elbow but first Green then Iguodala seamlessly handle the switch and cut off the drive, Westbrook passes to Enes Kanter and he goes to the basket but both Bogut and Green are there. Green is credited with the block.

Iguodala brings the ball up, passes to Green at the three-point line on the left wing, Curry comes out and gets the handoff from Green, then quickly reverses field to use Green as a screen, Durant can’t get over the pick and Adams again is too far away. Three again. Now it’s 79-59.

And it’s all over. There are 17 minutes to play but everyone realizes this game is done.

76ers rumored to be looking for new top man in basketball operations

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Two years ago, the Philadelphia 76ers kept Brett Brown as coach and searched for a new top man in basketball operations, someone who could work collaboratively with others. They settled on Elton Brand as GM, just a couple years after the end of his playing career.

That collaboration, that order of hiring — coach and then GM — did not work.

Philadelphia is now looking for a new coach after firing Brown. Still, while a coaching search goes on, the franchise is considering bringing in a new head of basketball operations, reports Keith Pompey of The Inquirer.

League sources have said the Sixers are inquiring about the possibility of hiring a president of basketball operations. One source said that Portland Trail Blazers president of basketball operations/ general manager Neil Olshey might have some interest in the Sixers, but that’s only if he has total power, as the president and general manager.

Former Atlanta Hawks president of basketball operation/GM Danny Ferry’s name keeps popping up as a possible candidate. But the Sixers keep shooting that down.

A source also believes the Sixers will attempt to inquire about Houston GM Morey and Indiana Pacers president of basketball operations Kevin Pritchard. The source, however, believes it’s unlikely that they would be interested.

As with everything 76ers the past couple of years, things seem a bit confused. The front office could use a shakeup, but the expectation had been Brand would have the power and there would be more voices to consult with him. Maybe a strong No. 2 who could bring a new voice and organizational skills to the table.

The names mentioned in this report — Olshey, Ferry, Morey, Prichard — are established top men who will demand complete authority. And, they will want to hire their own coach.

It’s unclear what direction the 76ers are going with their front office — and, by extension, coaching search — but there is not a lot of time to make a call. The 2020 NBA Draft is in two months and the 76ers will want their front office set well before that.

Lakers saw what happened to Jazz, Clippers, say they will not let up vs. Nuggets

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — With one comeback after another in the playoffs, the Denver Nuggets showed themselves to be a team that falls down but doesn’t stay down.

The Los Angeles Lakers noticed.

They watched the Nuggets repeatedly rally from big deficits against Utah and then the Los Angeles Clippers – and, obviously, are aware that the Jazz and the Clippers are no longer in the NBA bubble because of Denver’s comeback abilities.

So the Lakers knew that when it was their turn to face Denver, there would be no letting up no matter what the scoreboard said.

Game 2 is Sunday night. The Lakers know the job is far from over.

“No lead is safe with this team, in the game or in the series,” Lakers star Anthony Davis said. “They have proven that they are a second-half team, where they come out and just destroy teams in the second half and prove that even if they are down a series, they are a team that’s going to be resilient and keep fighting no matter what the score is, what the situation is.

“When we have a lead, we have to lock in even more.”

The Lakers did that in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, turning an 11-point halftime lead into a 27-point bulge in the second half before easing to a 126-114 victory.

“That’s a historic type of resilient team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “We’ve got to understand that, both with the series lead 1-0 right now and wherever it goes, but also within games.”

Denver reached the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2009 by becoming the first team in NBA history to erase two 3-1 deficits in one postseason. The Nuggets trailed by 15 points in Game 5 against Utah in their first game facing elimination, then were down 16, 19, and 12 in the final three games against the Clippers.

The Nuggets are the first team with three 15-point comebacks while facing elimination in one postseason since play-by-play began being recorded digitally in 1997.

“This is an opponent we all greatly respect,” Vogel said. “Save for the comebacks, we respect what they are capable of doing on both ends of the floor.”

It won’t matter how resilient the Nuggets are if they don’t make things tougher for the Lakers defensively.

Davis shredded them so easily on his way to 37 points that the Lakers didn’t even need much scoring from LeBron James, who took only 11 shots and had 15 points and 12 assists. Los Angeles got plenty of opportunities in transition and in the paint, which were areas of emphasis for Denver.

“We were giving up layups after we scored baskets ourselves. So that indicates to me that our sense of urgency to get back was not anywhere remotely close to where it needed to be tonight,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said after the game.

When the Nuggets do get back, they need to do a better job of defending without fouling. They sent the Lakers to the line 24 times in the second quarter – Denver shot only 28 for the entire game – and both Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray had to go to the bench with three fouls in the period.

“We’ve just got to be better,” Murray said. “We’ve just got to be on point. We’ve got to talk more, talk earlier, point, whatever we’ve got to do.”

This is the first time in this postseason the Lakers will take the lead into Game 2, having dropped their opening games against both Portland and Houston. They didn’t lose again in either series.

Going into Sunday, the Lakers will have the second-best record in the postseason at 9-2, trailing only Miami. It’s a big turnaround for the Lakers, who struggled at times during the seeding games in the bubble – but, as James’ teams tend to do in the postseason, are hitting their best stride when the games matter most.

Denver is also used to playing from behind – much further behind. So even though things looked bad Friday, the Nuggets have been in much worse spots in the bubble and found their way out of them.

“We have proven it time and time again that we can learn from our losses and figure out what we need to do better going into the next game and give ourselves a much better chance to win,” Malone said.

Gordon Hayward does not plan to leave bubble for birth of son

Gordon Hayward birth of son
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When Boston first went to the NBA restart bubble in Orlando, Gordon Hayward was upfront: He was leaving the bubble for the birth of his fourth child.

Hayward ended up leaving the bubble for another reason — he severely sprained his ankle and was out for more than a month. During his rehab, Hayward left the bubble and spent time at home, returning a couple of weeks ago. Saturday he played his first game back for Boston, helping it to a win against the Heat.

Hayward’s wife, Robyn, has yet to have their son, but now Hayward does not plan to leave the bubble for the event, something first reported by Rachel Nichols of ESPN during Saturday’s game.

Hayward confirmed this after the game. So did Robyn in a social media post, adding the reports she was in labor already were not true.

I don’t envy the Hayward family having to make this choice. As a parent, I can’t imagine having missed the births of any of my children, but, like everything else in 2020, this is far from a typical decision at a typical time. The Haywards are making the best of it they can. They deserve support no matter what they choose.

LeBron James, Dion Waiters’ son engage in a little trash talk

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“Yeah, right.”

That was Dion Waiters Jr.’s response to pretty much everything LeBron James during the Lakers’ practice on Saturday before Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.

LeBron was getting up some corner threes and told Waiters Jr. he would make 100 straight.

“Yeah, right.”

When LeBron missed one, “I missed that on purpose.” 

“Yeah, right.”

“I missed that on purpose, so you’d think I’m human,” LeBron joked.

Got to love Dion Waiters Jr. — he’s got some of his dad’s spunk.

Families have been allowed in the bubble for teams for a couple of weeks, although LeBron’s sons are not there, with LeBron saying it’s not a great place for kids (he’s right, for anyone over about 7 or 8, there would be little to do).