Golden State cranks up defense, comes from 17 down to win dramatic Game 2

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Portland is going to look back on this as a game — maybe THE road game — they should have won.

However, the history books will record this as another game where the Warriors were dominant in the third quarter, got 61 points from the Splash Brothers Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, had Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala playing great defense, and the champions just made more plays down the stretch and won. As they have done so many times before.

Golden State held on for a dramatic 114-111 win that has them in command of the series up 2-0 heading to Portland for Game 3 Saturday.

“We stole that game,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said afterward. “I thought they outplayed us for much of the night, the majority of the night, but we brought enough competitive fire to overcome their great play.”

Curry carried the Warriors offense for stretches of the night and finished with 37 points, although hitting just 4-of-14 from three. Thompson had 24 points, while Green had 16 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and had his best game of these playoffs.

Damian Lillard led Portland with 23, while C.J. McCollum had 22. Seth Curry had 16 off the bench plus made a couple good defensive plays on his brother.

Portland was in control through much of the first half. Part of that was the Warriors returning to their sloppy ways with the ball — Golden State had 10 first-half turnovers leading to 18 Portland points — and showing a lack of intensity on defense.

However, the lead was more about what Portland did right, starting with shooting 11-of-22 from three in the first half. CJ McCollum had 16 points, Damian Lillard played within himself and handled the trapping defense with six assists and zero turnovers, and they had strong bench play with seven points each from Seth Curry (who also had a steal from his brother) and Rodney Hood.

More importantly, in the first half — and largely through the game — Portland cleaned up the defensive issues that were so glaring in Game 1. Bigs came out a little higher to contest Curry and Thompson, but also guys did better getting over screens to challenge.

In the third quarter, the Warriors came out taking the game more seriously, cranking up their defensive intensity, being much more aggressive with their traps. In particular, the Warriors locked in on Lillard, who had been both a playmaker and a scorer, and made his life more difficult. Green and Kevon Looney owned that end of the court. The defense sparked a 13-0 run and the Warriors briefly retook the lead, although it was tied after three.

The fourth was back-and-forth, but the Trail Blazers had a six-point lead in the final minutes.

Then the Warriors, as they do, found another level of intensity.

“We’ve done this before, I think our experience helped us,” Kerr said.

That new level of play was just enough. And a little too much for Portland.

C.J.McCollum, Eric Gordon both withdraw from USA Basketball for World Cup

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First Anthony Davis. Then James Harden.

Now add C.J. McCollum and Eric Gordon to the list, as reported by Shams Charania of The Athletic and Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Don’t be surprised if a couple of new players are added to the USA roster for training camp.

The loss of those four stars strips the Team USA of some international experience. As pointed out by John Schuhmann of NBA.com, now only four members invited to USA camp have played in the World Cup or Olympics: Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Kevin Love, and Kyle Lowry — and Lowry just had thumb surgery and is questionable for the playing in China.

USA Basketball can still roll out this starting five:

Damian Lillard
Bradley Beal
Khris Middleton
Tobias Harris
Andre Drummond

Then off the bench have Kemba Walker, Donovan Mitchell, Kyle Lowry, Jayson Tatum, P.J. Tucker, Kevin Love, Brook Lopez.

That’s still enough talent, coached by Gregg Popovich, to win the World Cup. The USA remains the heavy favorites for a reason.

USA Basketball is scheduled to begin its pre-World Cup camp in Las Vegas Aug. 5, with an intrasquad exhibition game at the T-Mobile Arena on Aug. 9. Then the team heads to Southern California for more training followed by an exhibition against Spain on Aug. 16 at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Then the team heads overseas for the World Cup, which begins in China on Aug. 31.

James Harden reiterates it was ‘false talk’ he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.