Banged up Warriors rediscover their passing, defense, win Game 2 to even series

3 Comments

For six quarters of these NBA Finals, the Toronto Raptors halfcourt defense had boxed the Warriors in, slowed the game down, and gave the Raptors one win and a good shot at another.

Six minutes changed all that.

The Warriors looked like the Warriors again.

Golden State took charge of Game 2 with an 18-0 run to start the third, however, this was not an avalanche of Stephen Curry/Klay Thompson threes, as we have come to expect. The Warriors got a lot of their buckets in the halfcourt with crisp passing and backcuts, layups, floaters or alley-oops off penetration. Curry and Thompson’s gravity pulled defenders to them and opened up lanes, Golden State finally started using that space as only they can. The Warriors assisted on every made basket they had in the second half, had 34 assists on 38 made buckets for the game, and assisted on 16 of their 17 layups/dunks. There was also an assist on the dagger three from Andre Iguodala that sealed the Warriors’ win.

The Warriors’ passing let them survive injuries to Thompson — a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter, after he had 25 points and had been the best player on the floor — and Kevon Looney, who left with a collar bone injury after a fall. Both left the game not to return, their status for Game 3 is not yet known (Thompson said he will play in Game 3, but the Warriors were more cautious).

That and improved defense got the Warriors a 109-104 win on the road in Game 2, tying the NBA Finals up 1-1 as they head to Oakland for Game 3 Wednesday.

Toronto had their chances, particularly getting open looks with the game on the line late, but just could not hit them. After Thompson left the game with 7:59 remaining, the Raptors went to the seen-in-high-school-but-not-the-NBA diamond-and-one defense to keep Fred Van Vleet hassling Stephen Curry — and it worked. The Warriors went scoreless on seven straight possessions.

However, in the face of a more energized Warriors defense than they saw in Game 1, the Raptors just did not take advantage of the opportunities.

“I said yesterday and today that 109 points is plenty to win the game, which is what we had in Game 1, but we gave up 118,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So it was all about our defense and we held them to 37 percent and forced 15 turnovers and guarded the three-point line well. So it was championship defense and that’s what it’s going to take.”

The Warriors got huge games from Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins, which went a long way toward the win. Green finished with 17 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists, and completely outplayed Pascal Siakam (unlike Game 1). Cousins — who got the start and played nearly 28 minutes — had 11 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists in a gritty effort.

It was those assists from big men that the Raptors defense could not stop. The wings were cutting and guys were getting layups. Even Andrew Bogut had three alley-oops.

Toronto got 34 points from Kawhi Leonard on 8-of-20 shooting, and VanVleet had 17 points off the bench. But Toronto shot 11-of-38 from three, with a lot of those good looks, and that cost them.

The game started with a back-and-forth first quarter, with both teams struggling from three but Toronto still playing tremendous halfcourt defense and the Warriors still living at the three throw lines, just like Game 1.

However, the Raptors stretched the lead out to 12 in the second quarter going against a Warriors team that lacked offensive punch. The Raptors did a great job of taking away Curry’s penetration, leaving guys like Green and Andre Iguodala to create more (with no Kevin Durant for the Warriors to fall back on) and it wasn’t working.

But at halftime, it was just a five-point Toronto lead, 59-54, because of Klay Thompson.

Thompson had the first nine Warriors points while the rest of the team started 0-of-6 from the floor, and that trend continued through much of the first half. Toronto put Danny Green on Curry — who was battling an illness — and that left 6’1” Kyle Lowry on 6’7” Thompson and it let the Warriors sharpshooter get comfortable.

Thompson had 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting in the first half – and that was with every one of his shots contested. Thompson and Green had 20 of the Warriors 26 in the first quarter.

Late in the second, Curry started to find his rhythm. After starting 0-of-6 shooting he went 4-of-4 late, got to the line seven times, and had 16 points.

Golden State took over in the third quarter, starting the third on an 18-0 run, which was really a 24-1 run going back to the end of the first half. The Warriors never fully pulled away because of Leonard (he had 12 points in the third alone), but they had the lead.

One of the keys to that run was an improved Golden State defense. The Raptors started 0-of-8 shooting with five turnovers to start the third, the kind of run of stops the Warriors could not get in Game 1. Kerr adjusted and put Andre Iguodala on Pascal Siakam and left Thompson on Leonard, and it worked because Green and Iguodala could help more.

One other missed opportunity by the Raptors came late. They were down two with 26.9 seconds left in the game after a Danny Green made three, but rather than foul they let the game play out. That led to the Iguodala three.

“We’re trying to foul,” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “We had a couple chances there on Draymond, I think Livingston and then back to Draymond and then Curry got it. And we didn’t want to foul [Curry] but we put a good blitz on him. We almost made him throw it away. And I think if they’re going to take a shot and give you a chance there, I’m going to probably live with the one that ended up being taken. I’m going to probably roll with that.

“Probably we should have fouled before that.”

It wasn’t a pretty win for the Warriors, but not every victory is a work of art. The Warriors got the split they needed and now the series heads to the Bay Area. The question is, who will be healthy enough to suit up Wednesday for the Warriors?

Westbrook says he’s ‘all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win’

Boston Celtics v Los Angeles Lakers
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Welcome to NBA media day, when optimism overflows and everyone swears there are no chemistry problems, no fit questions, it’s all puppies and rainbows with their team.

The night before Lakers media day, Russell Westbrook got a head start on saying the right thing in an interview with ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Trade? Not worried about it. Fit? Not going to be a problem. Everyone is good now if you ask Westbrook, and he was in trade talks all summer is irrelevant.

“I need to just do my job. Whether I’m wanted [by the Lakers] or not doesn’t really matter. I think the most important thing is that I show up for work and I do the job like I’ve always done it: Be professional and go out and play my ass off and compete…

Maybe [he is] as a starter or maybe it’s off the bench. “I’m all-in on whatever it takes for this team to win,” Westbrook said. “I’m prepared for whatever comes my way.”

Words are nice, but actions are what will matter. Westbrook reportedly said all the right things to LeBron James and Anthony Davis a year ago before getting traded to the team, but his not wanting to play a role and fit in was a big issue. Westbrook swears it won’t be this time, whatever Ham wants Westbrook will execute.

“There’s so much optimism on how we can be great, how AD, LeBron, myself — can be unstoppable in my opinion,” Westbrook said.

That’s optimism. Even if Westbrook fits in, Davis stays healthy all season, and LeBron continues to defy father time, these Lakers are not title contenders. A playoff team for sure, but not contenders.

These Lakers will face adversity — maybe early, Los Angeles has a rough first couple of weeks — and how the Lakers, under new coach Darvin Ham, respond to those challenges will define their season. Last season’s response from the Lakers was… not good. They rolled over. Ham has promised not to let that happen, but there will be things out of his control.

Last season Westbrook was one of those things for Frank Vogel, we’ll see how he responds this season.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

Jae Crowder does salsa dance in Suns-Lakers Game 6
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
0 Comments

Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

WhatsApp's "Naija Odyssey" New York Premiere
Michael Loccisano/Getty Images
0 Comments

Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
0 Comments

Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.