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

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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?

Chris Paul playing cornhole. Luka Doncic trick shots. Welcome to life in the NBA bubble.

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Teams have emerged from quarantine in the Walt Disney World campus in Orlando, getting some run in on the court, and are starting to explore life in the NBA bubble.

Then they are documenting it on social media.

For example, Chris Paul and Darius Bazley played some cornhole.

Dallas’ Luka Doncic was hitting trick shots on the court.

Then Doncic and Boban Marjanovic were doing Disney Channel ads.

Complaints about the food by players have died down, in part because they are out of quarantine and get a choice of restaurants, in part because they saw the backlash and realized the complaints looked elitist. Or maybe it’s just the Mickey pancakes.

Everyone is out and exploring the campus and having fun…

Well, except for Robin Lopez, who sees no reason to leave his room.

Zion Williamson “just went back to square one” with quarantine workouts

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Zion Williamson looks cut — like he spent the entire quarantine doing workouts — and ready to be a force at the NBA restart in Orlando.

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What workouts did Zion Williamson do during the break to get that look? He took everything back down to step one and built it up again working out with his stepfather Lee Anderson, Williamson told reporters on Friday (hat tip Andrew Lopez of ESPN):

“It just felt like I was 5 years old again,” Williamson said Friday. “Just went back to square one, tried to get my body where it needs to be, get my fundamentals back to square one and start from there. So yeah, it was just like starting over at 5 again. It was a great process to learn it all over.”

Williamson did a little more than that. He also had approval from the league to go to the Pelicans practice facility throughout the quarantine and get treatment on his knee, the one that kept him out the first 45 games of the season. So he stayed healthy.

He also worked on other aspects of this game, such as his jump shot. Williamson took 76.7% of his shot attempts at the rim this season, and while getting to the rim is critical to his game, he’s going to have confidence in his shot and knock down jumpers to reach higher levels in the league.

The Pelicans enter the bubble 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed in the West, and with the softest schedule of any team in Orlando (matching their schedule before the interruption), they have a legitimate chance of forcing a two-game play-in series. It’s not easy, but there is a path to the playoffs for New Orleans (setting up a Zion vs. LeBron James first-round showdown that league broadcast partners are drooling over).

A stronger, improved Zion could help get the Pelicans there.

Paul George: “I feel great again,” says Clippers finally fully healthy

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Paul George symbolized the Clippers’ health all season long. George missed the first 11 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then all season long it was still a lingering issue — until the suspension of play gave him time to heal.

“The whole season, all the way up until maybe a month or two ago, I had to always do shoulder rehab stuff, warming the shoulder up,” George said Friday on a conference call with reporters. “Just so much went into stuff I had to do before I actually took a foot on the floor. Now I feel great again.”

It wasn’t just Paul George, the Clippers had Kawhi Leonard managing his knee/thigh issue and an assortment of other injuries that didn’t give Doc Rivers the full arsenal at his disposal. That was until around the All-Star break — after that break Los Angeles went 7-2 with a +11.5 net rating that was best in the league by far.

The season being shut down may have halted that momentum, but it also gave a banged-up Los Angeles roster a chance to get healthy.

“For this team, man, I think our aspirations, again, this time off has given us what we needed,” George said. “We had some guys that was banged up, nagging injuries. The more time gave us more time for us to aid those injuries and to get back to 100.”

Health matters — which is why Montrez Harrell brought his own personal, portable sauna, a secret Reggie Jackson let out of the bag.

Health matters to Rivers, too, but what he wants more is that team chemistry back — and the Clippers have a long way to go on that end in Rivers’ eyes.

“This is not a normal way of starting back,” Rivers said of the mini-training camp all 22 teams at the NBA restart will get in Orlando. “Usually going into training camp, guys have been scrimmaging for three and four weeks, they’ve been playing, shooting on hoops. That’s not happening. This is a group, some of the guys have not touched a basketball or seen a gym until two weeks ago. We got a lot of work to do on both ends.”

The Clippers are not alone, every team is going to take time to find its rhythm again. Pick-and-roll combos need to get used to reading each other (and the defense) again at full speed, defensive rotations will be a step slow, and a few passes are going to head into the bench rather than the player in the corner.

When the Clippers get that rhythm back, with a healthy roster — finally — they again become a legitimate threat to win it all.

First, they just need to navigate the bubble. And maybe borrow Harrell’s sauna.

Atlanta G League affiliate promotes Tori Miller, first female GM in league

Tori Miller
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The Atlanta Hawks aren’t just talking about progress and giving Black women a chance. They are acting.

The College Park Skyhawks, Atlanta’s G-League affiliate, has promoted Tori Miller to general manager. She is the first female GM in the G-League.

Miller, who grew up in Decatur (a city next to Atlanta), had worked for the team in Erie (when they were the Bayhawks) and followed the team with its move closer to its parent franchise. Miller served as an assistant GM last season before being promoted.

G League front office positions can be a stepping stone into an NBA front office.

The Hawks progressive move comes just as the team’s WNBA franchise, the Dream, has players trying to oust co-owner Kelly Loeffler, a Republican Georgia U.S. Senator, because she advocated against the league supporting Black Lives Matter. Loeffler has said she will not sell. It’s a problem not going away anytime soon.