Klay Thompson says Warriors aren’t worried: ‘It’s first to four, not first to one’

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TORONTO — The Toronto Raptors are rugged and relentless, capable of punishing teams in transition any time they make a mistake.

The Golden State Warriors felt like they were seeing a version of themselves in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, and now they have to stop it.

No problem, they figure.

“It’s first to four, not first to one,” Klay Thompson said. “So, still a lot of basketball to be played.”

The Warriors’ 1-0 deficit may be unusual, but they certainly don’t seem uncomfortable. Golden State had won 12 straight Game 1s before falling 118-109 on Thursday, and the two-time defending champions hadn’t been behind in the NBA Finals since Cleveland had a 2-1 lead in 2015.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr has pointed to his team’s poor transition defense in the opener after Toronto used its quickness to score 24 fast-break points and turn the Warriors’ 17 turnovers into 17 points.

“They were getting the ball off the rim and just pushing it. Instead of crashing as hard as we did, we’ll have to make the adjustment in Game 2 and try to send more guys back,” Thompson said Saturday. “But 10 days off as well, we might have had a little cobwebs. It was just a mixture of things. But I know this: I know we’ll be better tomorrow.”

Kerr said the Raptors reminded him of the Warriors, with Pascal Siakam pushing the ball in transition the way Draymond Green does. Siakam was the far more effective player in the opener, with 32 points while Green struggled to a 2-for-9 night.

But the Warriors aren’t worried, relying on the confidence from facing just about every possible situation while making it to five straight NBA Finals.

“They got rings and they can be confident,” Raptors guard Kyle Lowry said. “We can’t really necessarily worry about them. We have to continue to worry about us. They’re going to be them and they’re going to do their thing, but for us we have to concentrate on us and focus on what we have to do.”

Things to know going into Game 2:

BETTER LEONARD?

Kawhi Leonard scored 23 points in the opener but shot just 5 for 14 after averaging 31.2 points in the first three rounds. Coach Nick Nurse doesn’t think the All-Star forward was bothered by a leg injury that appeared to hamper him somewhat in the Eastern Conference finals.

“I don’t think the leg trouble is much of an issue,” Nurse said, “and I’m expecting him to play a lot better tomorrow.”

TALKING TRASH

If the Warriors want to rattle Leonard, it will require actions rather than words. The 2014 NBA Finals MVP always appears to be calm, and he was asked if he responds when players try to trash talk him.

“It really doesn’t happen too much,” Leonard said. “I really can’t say it happens.”

KD’s OK

Though Kevin Durant remains out at least one more game with a strained right calf, he traveled to Toronto with the Warriors to work with the training staff. Stephen Curry said his presence around the locker room is helpful until the two-time NBA Finals MVP can get back on the floor.

“Anybody who goes through an injury like that, you kind of feel alienated because your schedule is a little different. Most of the time you’re on kind of (isolation) with our athletic training staff, putting extra hours in. Stuff starts to feel monotonous, especially with the big stage of the finals here and now,” Curry said. “So I think he’s handled that well, understanding his time is coming sooner than later and he’s doing whatever he can on a daily basis to get healthy.”

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

The Warriors started Jordan Bell at center in Game 1 and Kerr thought he did well, but Golden State has other options. DeMarcus Cousins and Andrew Bogut are also in the center rotation along with Kevon Looney.

“Every game is going to be different,” Kerr said. “Pretty much every game this postseason has been different at the center position, based on what we have needed. The one constant is Looney, who is going to play his 28, 30 minutes one way or the other. What we’re always trying to do is mix and match, and find matchups and fill in those gaps with the right combinations that can help us win.”

WATCH YOUR MOUTH

The Los Angeles Clippers were fined $50,000 by the NBA on Friday for comments coach Doc Rivers made about Leonard during a TV appearance. Kerr won’t fall into the same predicament, having gotten in trouble before.

“I got fined when I was the GM of Phoenix for making a joke on `The Dan Patrick Show.”‘ Kerr said. “I think he asked me if we were interested in LeBron when LeBron was a free agent back in whatever it was that he went to Miami. I said if he’s willing to take the minimum, we would take him. Dan laughed. And I wrote a $10,000 check the next day. So I learned my lesson. I don’t comment about any other players”.

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Three things to know: On night of returns Harden rusty, Leonard hits game-winner

Philadelphia 76ers v Houston Rockets
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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) James Harden was rusty, Joel Embiid fouled out, 76ers fall to Rockets in 2OT

Philadelphia picked a soft landing spot for the return of James Harden, on the road against his young and struggling former Houston team, followed by coming home for seven in a row.

This was not what Doc Rivers and company pictured.

For example, remember Harden was going to be a minutes limit? Rivers had him out there for 38 minutes in a double-overtime game, throwing him back into the fire in the overtimes because he had little choice.

Harden made four 3-pointers but was understandably rusty after missing 14 games with a strained tendon in his right foot, and he was 0-8 inside the arc. He missed an open potential game-winner at the end of the first overtime. Still, he made some passes and a shot or two that reminded everyone what he can do when he gets his legs back under him — and why the 76ers need him.

Combine that with Joel Embiid feasting early on the undersized Rockets inside, and Sixers fans could see a path to a comfortable win.

However, the underlying problem that did them in was looming — Houston was attacking the rim, drawing fouls, and living at the line. The Rockets got 15 free throw attempts in the first quarter, a trend that would continue much of the night.

The Rockets hung around and hung around, getting 27 points from Jalen Green, while Kevin Porter Jr. added 24. And they kept drawing fouls, eventually fouling out Joel Embiid in the first overtime. When the Rockets hit a couple of 3-pointers to open the second OT, they took control and got the win, 132-123.

Harden’s return should eventually boost the 76ers bottom 10 offense, but what this team really needs is to get healthy (Tyrese Maxey remains out with a foot injury) and to string together a few wins. They start a seven-game homestead Friday against the Lakers (not the best time to catch Anthony Davis and company) and that would be a chance to right the ship. And get out of the play-in level they are at right now.

2) Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return, until the game was on the line

The Clippers followed the 76ers model for the return of their stars — Kawhi Leonard and Paul George both returned to the lineup against an injury-plagued and struggling Hornets team. A nice soft landing spot…

That turned out not to be as soft as imagined.

As expected playing just his sixth game of the year, Leonard looked rusty in his return, starting the night 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

Then he hit two buckets in the final minute that got the Clippers the win.

The first was set up by an impressive hustle play from Paul George, who saved a ball going out of bounds to Leonard under the basket for a shot that tied the game.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner. That is vintage Leonard, using his strength to get to his spot and then calmly draining the shot.

If you’re looking for positives in Los Angeles, the Clippers showed some resilience and grit in getting the win. Leonard finished with 16 points and George looked sharper with 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. Clippers’ role players stepped up.

The Clippers need their stars to stay healthy and on the court, and to build some chemistry. Traditionally 20 games into the season we know who a team is, but this year’s Clippers are the exception to that rule. Their role players and a strong defense have kept the team’s head above water (14-11 on the season), but they need their stars back to turn around their 29th-ranked offense. Then we can see if they have the potential to be a threat in the West or not.

3) Pacers rookie Andrew Nembhard outduels Stephen Curry, Pacers win

Yes, you read that right.

While Bennedict Mathurin has been the Pacers’ rookie garnering most of the attention (and some early Rookie of the Year talk), Andrew Nembhard has been showing out of late. Monday night he had 31 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and hit some key shots late to fuel the Pacers’ 112-102 upset win over the Warriors.

With Tyrese Haliburton out (groin injury), Nembhard — the four-year college player from Gonzaga who was taken No.31 in last year’s draft — showed he knows how to run a team and knock down a 3 (he’s shooting 42.9% from deep this season).

The Pacers also won because it was just an off night for Stephen Curry: 12 points on 3-of-17 shooting overall and 2-of-10 from 3. It felt like a night where the Warriors looked at the Pacers’ inactive list for the game — Haliburton, Myles Turner, Chris Duarte, T.J. McConnell, Daniel Theis, James Johnson — and thought they would cruise to a win. Do that against NBA players and you pay the price.

Because guys like Andrew Nembhard can flat-out play.

BONUS THING TO KNOW: Today is Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s 28th birthday. What does he want? What are his plans? And why is he doing his postgame media session with Homer J. Simpson? There are a lot of questions.

Watch Kawhi Leonard score two clutch buckets, including game-winner, in his return

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Kawhi Leonard looked rusty in his return for the first 47 minutes Monday night: 5-of-13 shooting, 0-3 from beyond the arc.

But that final minute was special.

First, there was a great hustle play from Paul George — also making his return — that got the ball to Leonard to tie it up.

Then, after a stop, the Clippers got the switch they wanted, cleared out the side and let Leonard go to work on the game-winner.

Los Angeles picked up the 119-117 win on the road. Not exactly pretty, but for a team just starting to get healthy and build some chemistry, they showed resilience and got the win. Leonard finished with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting, and George looked sharp on his way to 19 points on 8-of-15 from the floor. It was a balanced Clippers attack, which is what Tyronn Lue is trying to build.

Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 28 and P.J. Washington added 26 for the shorthanded Hornets.

James Harden returns to 76ers Monday night, is on minutes restriction

Minnesota Timberwolves v Philadelphia 76ers
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The 76ers were able to keep their heads above water. For 14 games, James Harden was out with a right foot tendon sprain — both Joel Embiid and Tyrese Maxey missed games in that stretch as well (Maxey remains out) — and Philadelphia went 8-6 with a +2.9 net rating and the best defense in the NBA over that stretch.

Monday night in Houston, Harden returns.

This wasn’t a surprise, nor is the fact Doc Rivers confirmed Harden will be on a minutes restriction at first.

Harden averaged 22 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds a game before his injury, and while his 3-point shooting percentage was down (33.3%) he was still efficient and finding his footing as more of a facilitator than scorer.

The 76ers are 12-11 on the season and sit in a three-way tie for fifth in the East (with the Pacers and Raptors). If Harden can spark the Philadephia offense there is plenty of time for them to climb into the top four, host a first-round playoff game and position themselves for a deep playoff run. But it starts with getting their starting guards healthy again.

Harden is ready to take that on.

Trae Young frustrated ‘private conversations get out to the public’ about missed game

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
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Rumors and chatter of tension in Atlanta — about how Trae Young was adapting to playing with Dejonte Murray, and his pushback on coach Nate McMillan and his efforts to get the ball moving more — have been all over the league since the start of the season. Over the weekend, a little of that leaked out, with reports Young chose not to come to the arena Friday after McMillan gave him a choice of participating in shootaround or missing the game.

Young addressed the report and seemed more concerned that it got out than the report’s content.

“I mean, it was just a situation. I mean, we’re all grown men here and there’s sometimes we don’t always agree. And it’s unfortunate that private situations and private conversations get out to the public, but I guess that’s the world we live in now. Yeah, I’m just gonna just focus on basketball and focus on helping my team win. And that’s what I got to be focusing on…

“Like I said, it’s a private matter, again, made public, which is unfortunate. And if it was to stay private, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But like I said, it’s unfortunate in my job, and my goal is to win championships. And that’s what I focus on.”

Young went through shootaround  Monday and is set to play against the Thunder.

Murray has been professional throughout this situation, saying he didn’t see anything at the shootaround Friday and backing Young and McMillan when asked.

Bringing in Murray was supposed to take some pressure off Young and spread the wealth more on offense, ideally allowing Young to be more efficient. Instead, Young’s usage rate is nearly identical to last season, he is shooting just 30.3% from 3 and his true shooting percentage has fallen below league average. The Hawks as a team make the fewest passes per game of any team in the league (stat via NBA.com). The Hawks’ offense is still a lot of Young, but it’s not as efficient as it has been in years past.

Atlanta is still 13-10 on the season, has a top-10 defense and sits fourth in the East — they are not struggling. But neither have they made the leap to become a team that could threaten Boston or Milwaukee atop the conference, and that’s what the Hawks expected.

There could be personnel moves coming in Atlanta — John Collins is available via trade, again — but if the Hawks can’t smooth out their internal, existing concerns (and get Collins and DeAndre Hunter healthy) other roster moves will be just cosmetic.