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Three Things to Know: Stephen Curry strains groin as injuries start to hit Warriors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Stephen Curry leaves game with a groin strain, injuries mount as Bucks blowout Warriors. It’s the one thing most likely to derail the Warriors championship train: Injuries. And they are starting to hit the Warriors. Shaun Livingston remains out with a foot issue, and Andre Iguodala is limited by back and neck issues, for example.

Draymond Green was out Thursday night as the Milwaukee Bucks came to Oracle Arena and that mattered. On defense, they needed him to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo… as much as anyone is going to slow the Greek Freak right now. The Warriors couldn’t and Antetokounmpo dropped Green’s jaw like he was in a Tex Avery cartoon.

Antetokounmpo had 19 points, seven rebounds by the half and finished with 24 points on 16 shots, plus nine boards in a 23-point Bucks win, 134-111. The Warriors also missed Green on offense — he is by far the best screen setter on the Warriors and without him Stephen Curry and others couldn’t find the space they are used to against the length of the Bucks.

Then this happened.

Curry soon left the game with what is officially a strained left adductor, which is the groin muscle to the rest of us. Steve Kerr said there will be an MRI on Friday to figure out the severity. Groin strains (like hamstrings) can linger, and players can think they are healed when they are not, then re-injure them in the heat of competition. Which is to say, this early in the season the Warriors are going to be exceedingly cautious.

For the Bucks, this was a “take us seriously, we are contenders” game. Off to a 9-2 start this season they have the best net rating in the league — besting opponents by 12.9 points per 100 possessions, with the second-ranked offense and fourth-ranked defense in the league. They have the necessary superstar in the Greek Freak, and now quality talent around him — Eric Bledsoe was a problem for Stephen Curry all night, Kris Middleton is for real, their bigs Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova can space the floor, and the list goes on and on — to be a threat. Mike Budenholzer is using all that talent properly, with floor spacing on offense and a more conservative defense than Jason Kidd ran.

Bottom line, when you talk the best in the East, the Bucks need to be mentioned with Boston and Toronto.

Golden State is still the gold standard in the NBA, the team everyone needs to beat, and a November win does not vault the Bucks past them. The Warriors did not treat this like a playoff game, they did not adjust like they would (in the Finals). But the nagging injuries are catching up with the Warriors, and with Golden State focused on April and beyond — not November — expect them to be slow bringing guys back from injury, and to get other stars rest. The Warriors have been here before, they know how to handle this, but it will cost them some wins as they focus on the long term.

2) Boston comes from 22 down to beat the struggling Suns on the road. Every time I looked in on this game and saw the score with the Celtics down by 15 or 20, I kept saying “the run is going to come.” Except, it never really did, when Devin Booker hit a floater with 3:45 to play in the game the Suns were up 14 (94-80).

That’s when the run came. Which was capped off by former Sun Marcus Morris — the guy bitter at the franchise for splitting up he and his brother — draining a three to tie.

After the game, Suns coach Igor Kokoskov said he had instructed the Suns to foul on that final play and force the Celtics to shoot two free throws. They had a chance When Morris first had the ball 35 feet out with his back to the basket, they had a chance when he first handed off to Kyrie Irving, and the Suns didn’t follow their coach’s instruction. Then they left (and didn’t rotate over to) a shooter at the arc and… that’s how you blow a three-point lead in the final seconds.

Kyrie Irving took over in OT and the Celtics got the win, 116-109. Kyrie Irving had 39, Devin Booker 38. Just remember, this was the easy game on the Celtics’ road trip West.

3) Carmelo Anthony returned to Houston and… that looked familiar. And ugly. The Thunder were without Russell Westbrook. Houston had won three in a row, all on the road, they had James Harden and Chris Paul healthy and were starting to feel themselves…

And Thursday night was all Thunder. OKC’s defense was sharp, but mostly the Rockets were off — Paul and Harden combined to shoot 11-of-30. As a team, Houston shot just 37.8 percent from the floor. This continues a trend all season, the Rockets are just missing shots. Houston leads the league with 41.9 threes attempted per game, 47.5 percent of their total shots, but they are 25th in shooting percentage from deep at 32.7 percent.

Nobody in a Rockets’ uniform was colder Thursday than Carmelo Anthony, who returned to OKC and shot 1-of-11 — a sight familiar to Thunder fans.

All of this led to a Thunder win — their seventh in a row — behind a balanced attack led by Paul George with 19 points. The Rockets can chalk this one up to just an off shooting night… but there have been a lot of those in this 4-6 start.

Donovan Mitchell goes off for 19 in fourth quarter, Jazz hold off elimination with win

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This game just felt different — the Utah Jazz were playing with a passionate desperation we had not seen from them all series. Down 3-0 to Houston, Utah did not want to be swept out of the playoffs on their home court. The Jazz defended better, got a big night from Jae Crowder (14 points in the first quarter alone), and were knocking down shots.

But Utah could not pull away. Houston was always within striking distance.

Until the fourth quarter.

That’s when Utah went on a 12-1 run early, sparked by Donovan Mitchell who had 19 in the fourth, and the Jazz created some separation and held on for the 107-91 win.

Mitchell finished with 31 on the night.

Mitchell had some help. Crowder finished with 23 points, while Ricky Rubio added 18 points and 11 assists.

“We were okay until the last quarter… again, they had more of a desperation than we had,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said.

James Harden got his, 30 points on 19 shots, in part because he went 6-of-12 from three. Chris Paul had 23 as well. All the other Rockets combined to shoot 29.3 percent on the night. In the fourth, the Rockets were 0-of-13 from three.

For the Rockets this is a blown chance to get more rest. The Warriors play Wednesday night in Game 5 of their series, if the Rockets had closed the series out they could have had a little more rest. Instead, they also now have a Game 5 Wednesday.

For the Jazz, this was a matter of pride, they finally found what it would take for them to beat the Rockets. It was their most energized defensive performance of the series, and the shots were falling. The series is not in doubt — no team has ever come back from a 0-3 deficit to win a series — but the Jazz showed the fight and resilience we have come to expect from a Quin Snyder coached team.

Will that be enough Wednesday night is another question.

Phoenix Suns fire coach Igor Kokoskov

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Following a 19-63 season where the man who hired him — GM Ryan McDonough — was already shown the door, there was a lot of speculation that coach Igor Kokoskov was next on the chopping block.

That happened Monday night, the Suns decided to move on from Kokoskov.

“After extensive evaluation, I determined it is best to move in a different direction with our head coaching position,” said Suns general manager James Jones in a statement. “I want to thank Igor for his work this past season and wish him the best with his future endeavors.”

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN added some detail.

The Suns recently hired Jeff Bower as their senior vice president of basketball operations. Bower gave Monty Williams his first head coaching job, hiring him to coach the Hornets back when Bower was the GM there.

Williams will have his second interview with the Lakers next week. Williams is rumored in some quarters to be the frontrunner for the Los Angeles job (he and Tyronn Lue will have second interviews coming), the Suns are starting this race from behind but do have a relationship there.

Kokoskov was the first European born person to be a head coach in the NBA. He was Luka Doncic‘s national team coach, but the Suns took Deandre Ayton No. 1 (reportedly at the urging of owner Robert Saver).

Kokoskov was handed a young roster that lacked a point guard or solid veteran leader, so it’s no surprise the Suns and Kokoskov got off to a slow start, going 4-18 and looking a mess. However, the team improved, Kelly Oubre Jr. was added, and the Suns went an improved 8-15 after the All-Star break, including wins against the Bucks and Warriors. Devin Booker improved, Deandre Ayton was growing, and the team showed improvement. That said, there were questions about Kokoskov’s rotations and communication with players.

Phoenix, with meddling owner Robert Sarver at the helm, is known for turnover and instability — whoever is hired next will be the team’s seventh head coach in eight years. This move just fits right in with the perception.

 

Bucks win first playoff series in 18 years, give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak in NBA history

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DETROIT – Between on-court postgame interviews, Giannis Antetokounmpo took a pit stop at the Bucks’ bench for a drink. He appeared to need a few moments to catch his breath, so Fox Sports Wisconsin reporter Katie George asked whether he was ready.

Antetokounmpo nodded as if he didn’t give it a second thought.

Of course he was ready.

Antetokounmpo was ready for everything tonight.

He scored 41 points – the most so far by anyone this postseason – and blocked four shots to lead the Bucks to a 127-104 Game 4 win over the Pistons. By sweeping Detroit, Milwaukee got its first playoff-series victory in 18 years.

“Where we were and where we are right now,” Antetokounmpo said, “it’s been an unbelievable journey.”

The Bucks advance to face the Celtics in the second round, an awaited rematch of last year’s first-round series. But Milwaukee cared far more about its opening round than most 60-win No. 1 seeds do.

Every NBA MVP besides Kevin Garnett, who didn’t advance until his ninth year, won a playoff series in his first five seasons. Antetokounmpo, who’s favored to win MVP this year, just won his first series in his sixth season.

The wait has been even longer for Milwaukee, which ends the fourth-longest playoff-series-victory drought of all-time at 17 seasons:

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The Bucks left no doubt, beating Detroit by 35, 21, 16 and 23. This is just the second four-game sweep with every game won by at least 15 points in NBA history (Celtics over Rockets in 1980).

The sweep gives the Pistons sole possession of the longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time, 14 games:

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Detroit’s streak includes 2009 and 2016 sweeps by the Cavaliers, meaning the Pistons have now gone 11 straight seasons without winning a playoff game. That’s one of the longest such droughts of all-time (record during drought listed):

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Detroit just had no answer for Antetokounmpo, who drew 16 fouls Monday. The most impressive came as he rose to dunk on Andre Drummond, withstood contact and shifted to make a circus shot:

The play left his teammates in awe.

Eric Bledsoe: “I had to tell him, ‘Bro, you don’t understand how athletic you’ve been all season and finessing at the rim.’ That one, it was just unbelievable. It was unbelievable, man.”

Pat Connaughton: “There are sometimes you’ve just got to shake your head at some of the things that he can do. … I think the nickname ‘Freak’ is for a reason.”

Nikola Mirotic: “It was just amazing watching him tonight”

The Bucks will have a little time to lock back in.

Milwaukee-Boston will be the first series between teams coming off sweeps since Lakers-Suns in the 2010 Western Conference finals. It’ll be the first such second-round series since Pistons-Bulls in 2007.

As Antetokounmpo repeatedly said in the locker room after tonight’s game, “I can’t wait.”

Report: Luke Walton sued for sexual assault

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Luke Walton is being sued by a female reporter claiming sexual assault from a hotel room incident that dates back to before he was hired as the Lakers’ head coach (he was recently let go from that position and is currently the coach of the Sacramento Kings).

Kelli Tennant was writing a book and wanted Walton to write the forward, according to a lawsuit obtained by TMZ. The two had a business relationship and she agreed to meet him in a Santa Monica hotel to discuss him writing the forward to the book, according to the report. We’ll let TMZ take it from there:

In the suit, Tennant says when she arrived at Walton’s hotel, he convinced her to come up to his room so they could discuss the book. She claims when they got up to his room, Walton suddenly pinned her to the bed, placing his hips and legs over her body.

In the docs, Tennant claims Walton then began forcing kisses on her neck, face and chest. She claims she screamed for him to stop and tried to free herself, but he held her down, groped her breasts and groin, and rubbed his erection on her leg.

She says he eventually relented and let her get up from the bed, but as she was walking towards the door to leave he grabbed her from behind and again forced his body up against hers.

The lawsuit goes on to say Walton and her would interact after that, because of her job, and he would give her exaggerated hugs, kisses, and would make lewd comments to her.

Walton took over coaching the Lakers for the 2016-17 season. The alleged assault took place while Walton was still an assistant coach with the Warriors, however, some of the comments/actions that made her uncomfortable came later while Walton was with the Lakers.

Walton’s attorney released a statement to Sam Amick of The Athletic.

The Sacramento Kings have made a statement:

“We are aware of the report and are gathering additional information. We have no further comment at this time.”

The Warriors issued this statement:

“We became aware of the alleged incident and story this evening and are in the process of seeking more information. We’ll have no further comment at this time.”

The Lakers issued this statement:

“This alleged incident took place before Luke Walton was the Head Coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. At no time before or during his employment here was this allegation reported to the Lakers. If it had been, we would have immediately commenced an investigation and notified the NBA. Since Luke Walton is now under contract to another team, we will have no further comment.”