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.

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.