Stephen Curry’s 47 not enough to save Warriors from themselves, Raptors win Game 3

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OAKLAND — When it was made official about 30 minutes before tip-off that Klay Thompson would not suit up for the Warriors because of his strained hamstring — joining Kevin Durant in street clothes — the first reaction was “this is going to look like Stephen Curry at Davidson.”

It did. He put up a career playoff-high of 47 and was at the heart of everything Golden State did on offense. He was brilliant.

The second reaction to was: The Warriors are in a lot of trouble on defense.

That proved to be the bigger problem. When Golden State won the second half of Game 2 (and that game), it was with Thompson on Kawhi Leonard, which put Andre Iguodala (on Pascal Siakam) and Draymond Green (on Kyle Lowry) in better help positions. It worked.

In Game 3, without Thompson, the Warriors simply could not get stops. Leonard had 30 points, Lowry 23, and the Raptors shot 52.4 percent as a team, and hit 17 threes. Toronto simply made good plays and hit their shots on their way to a ridiculous 126.8 offensive rating.

The result was a comfortable 123-109 Toronto win in Oracle to take a 2-1 series lead. Game 4 is Friday night at Oracle.

“Toronto played an excellent game, made big shots every time they needed to,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We never could get over the hump. Every time we fought back and kind of got it to six, seven or eight, whatever it was, they made big shots.”

The Warriors didn’t play Thompson because they didn’t want to risk aggravating his hamstring issue, believing this is going to be a long series, something Warriors coach Steve Kerr suggested.

“The whole point was to not risk a bigger injury that would keep him out of the rest of the series,” Kerr said of the decision to sit Thompson. “So that was the decision we made, and I feel very comfortable with it.”

Now they need to play Thompson — and maybe Kevin Durant, who is expected to play on the court with teammates at the team’s facility on Thursday, Kerr said — for Game 4 or this may not be a long series.

That the Warriors see long series speaks to their respect for the Raptors. This is an outstanding Toronto team that is going to take a full-strength Golden State to have a chance beat.

The Raptors felt like they were themselves on Wednesday, compared to Game 2.

“We tried to play with more pace up the court, and we tried to play with more pace in the half court,” Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse said. “I thought you just saw a lot more cutting and passing, obviously 30 assists, you saw a lot more shots go in, that helps, right?”

That full Raptors team showed up in Game 3, with the supporting cast making plays — Toronto hit 17-of-38 threes, 44.7 percent. Lowry had 23 points but also dished out nine assists, setting the table for the role players. Danny Green and Siakam each had 18 points (Siakam also had nine boards), and Marc Gasol added 17 points.

Those Raptors took advantage of the Warriors porous defense. All game long the Raptors got the shots they wanted, made the extra pass, and knocked down the clean looks they earned.

Golden State’s defense was quietly kind of pedestrian all season (11th in the league in defensive rating), but it was overlooked because the offense was so good, and because for stretches the Warriors could summon up the elite defense that won them back-to-back NBA titles.

Shorthanded this series — they really miss Kevon Looney on that end, not just Durant and Thompson — the Warriors have only played that kind of defense for two of the 12 quarters. Maybe only one quarter.

In Game 3, the Warriors went right at DeMarcus Cousins, and he struggled. Toronto got him into space on the pick-and-roll and he couldn’t move, taking poor angles to recover for his lack of mobility. At other points, Gasol just backed Cousins down.

It wasn’t just him. Quinn Cook couldn’t stay in front of Lowry and others. Jonas Jerebko was no match for Siakam. And that list only grew for Steve Kerr. He just didn’t have options.

The themes of this game were clear early.

It was the Curry show on offense for the Warriors from the opening tip — he scored or assisted on nine of the 10 Golden State first quarter buckets. Toronto’s defense was able to keep the other Warriors in check early, Curry started on 2-of-4 shooting, but the rest of the team was 0-of-6, including 0-of-4 from three. Toronto got out to a 15-7 lead and was up by 10 for stretches of the first quarter. The Raptors 36-29 after one, but it felt like the Warriors were still in it.

Curry got some rest to start second and the Warriors were -5 in a little over three minutes, but when he returned the Warriors were able to hang around. Toronto had a stretch of nearly 5 minutes without scoring, and it kept Golden State in the game. The Raptors led 60-52 at the half, but the Warriors were within striking distance when they shouldn’t have been.

That’s because of Stephen Curry’s 25 points in the first half on 7-of-13 shooting overall, including 4-of-8 from three. Plus he did this to Kyle Lowry.

In the third it’s more of the same — the Raptors couldn’t pull away, the Warriors can’t close the gap — until with about three minutes left in the quarter the Warriors looked gassed, Curry in particular. Toronto stretched the lead to 16 because the Warriors simply could not get stops. It was 96-83 Raptors after three.

In the fourth, the Warriors would make a mini-run, the Raptors would hit a big shot to stop the run, and the momentum died. The Warriors just could not get the stops they needed.

Toronto will come out in Game 4 looking to take control of the series, will the Warriors have the health and defense to make it is a game becomes the big questions.

Watch Victor Wembanyama drop 30-point double-double in France

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Maybe you spent your Saturday afternoon watching Lionel Messi doing Lionel Messi things. Or intense college football rivalries.

In France, they spent part of the day watching Kylian Mbappe be brilliant but then flipped over and watched future No.1 pick Victor Wembanyama drop a 30-point double-double.

That’s two straight 30-point double-doubles for Wembanyama.

He will be the No.1 pick next June (barring something catastrophic), and teams are already thinking about the lottery next June.

Expect some other teams to jump in that mix at the bottom because the depth of this class goes well beyond just Wembanyama with Scoot Henderson, Amen Thompson and others. The tanking is coming people.

 

Boogie Cousins called Warriors GM Myers and got reality check on why he’s not in NBA

2022 NBA Playoffs - Denver Nuggets v Golden State Warriors
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DeMarcus Cousins didn’t understand why he didn’t have an NBA contract this season.

He thought he had proven he could help teams in need of front-line depth last season, first in Milwaukee when Brook Lopez was out following back surgery and gave them 9.1 points and 5.8 rebounds a game of solid play. The Bucks ultimately let Cousins go for financial reasons, so the Nuggets picked him up to backup Nikola Jokic. He was again solid, averaging 8.9 points and 5.5 rebounds a game (and he had a 31-point night against the Rockets).

Confused, he called one of the former GMs who brought him in, Bob Myers of the Golden State Warriors. Myers relayed their conversation on the All That Smoke podcast (via NBC Sports Bay Area).

“DeMarcus called me a month ago and he said, ‘Why am I not in the NBA?’ ” Myers told Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on the “All The Smoke” podcast earlier this week. “And I said, ‘You want that answer? … Because people are afraid of how you’re going to act.’ And he’s like ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well whatever the reason is, it’s here now.’

“And I like DeMarcus. You guys may know him. He’s just, I can’t blame him for him because of all he’s been through.”

Not long after that conversation, Cousins spoke with Chris Haynes and said he learned from his past mistakes.

“Have I made mistakes? Absolutely. Have I done things the wrong way? Absolutely. For that, I’m very apologetic. But I’ve done even more things the correct way and I’ve done even more positive things compared to my negatives. I just don’t want those positives to be overlooked. And obviously, whenever it gets to the point where the negatives outweigh the positives, you should probably move away from him. That’s just how life goes. But I don’t believe I’m in that boat. I’m just asking for a chance to show my growth as a man and a player.”

Cousins also had physical issues, including a torn ACL that cost him a season with the Lakers in 2019-20. He also had domestic abuse allegations at the time (those charges were dropped a few months later).

Cousins just wants the chance to prove he is past all that and can help a team like he did last season. There have been rumors out of Taiwan that Cousins could join Dwight Howard in that league, but Cousins has not confirmed that. He still wants his shot in the NBA. So he waits, and hopes he can change the narrative around him.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says of Evan Mobley, ‘He can be better than me’

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Evan Mobley hasn’t taken the leap forward in his second season many expected, partly because he has to adjust to playing with a new, dominant backcourt in Cleveland of Donovan Mitchell and Darius Garland. Mobley is getting nearly five fewer touches a game and is not getting the same chances to use his off-the-bounce skills (73% of his shots this season come off zero or one-dribble) as he did when he was a rookie.

That doesn’t mean his superstar potential has gone away. Just ask Giannis Antetokounmpo, as Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer did.

“He can be better than me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com in an exclusive interview while walking out of Fiserv Forum… “I don’t see why he can’t. It’s up to him. I will always try to improve. Every day. But he has the skill set to be a very, very good player. He’s 7-feet tall. He can move really well. He can shoot. He is very smart. As you said, he watches tapes of other players, which is very, very good for a young player. If he takes this seriously, he is going to be great.”

Better than Giannis? What could possibly make him say that?

“I didn’t average what he is in my second season, so he’s already ahead of me,” Antetokounmpo told cleveland.com. “It’s in his hands. If he stays humble, continues to work hard, focuses on the game and shows love to the game of basketball, he is going to be really good.”

One of the players Mobley is known to study on tape is Antetokounmpo. Of course, mirroring the force and athleticism Antetokounmpo plays with is next to impossible, but Mobley has the skill set that could see him become a shot-creator and scorer on the wing with the ball.

The Cavaliers don’t need him to be that with Garland improving and Michell being better than advertised. Cleveland has a top-five offense and hasn’t had to turn to Mobley for more scoring and shot creation. But that can change, especially come the playoffs against the strong defenses of teams such as the Bucks and Celtics. Ultimately, how far these Cavaliers can go in the postseason over the next few years could come down to the growth of Mobley on the offensive end.

Antetokounmpo believes Mobley could be special in that role, which should give fans in Cleveland even more hope.

 

Watch Giannis throw down career-high nine dunks, score 38 in comeback win over Cavaliers

Cleveland Cavaliers v Milwaukee Bucks
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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks taught the Cleveland Cavaliers a lesson in playoff-type intensity well before the start of December.

Antetokounmpo scored 38 points and the Bucks capitalized on a 23-2 run in the first eight-plus minutes of the third quarter to rally past Cleveland 117-102 on Friday night to snap the Cavaliers’ four-game winning streak.

Milwaukee came back from a 16-point deficit by outscoring the Cavaliers 35-10 in the third period. The Bucks hadn’t outscored a team by such a wide margin in a single quarter since Jan. 4, 2019, when they outscored the Atlanta Hawks 43-14 in the opening period of a 144-112 victory.

“We had a little bit of luck on our side and were able to knock down some shots and get downhill and were able to get that momentum and keep it going,” said Antetokounmpo, who also had nine rebounds and six assists. “I think it started from our guards defending the pick-and-roll and Brook (Lopez) just contesting every shot on the defensive end.”

The Cavaliers hadn’t scored less than 15 points in any quarter this season before Friday.

“They turned it up to a level that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t experienced,” said Donovan Mitchell, who led he Cavaliers with 29 points. “That’s playoff basketball, and understanding that they’re going to turn up the physicality (and) everything has to be sharper, everything has to be more precise.”

Darius Garland added 20 for Cleveland. After combining to shoot 14 of 26 and score 38 points in the first half, Mitchell and Garland went 4 of 16 for 11 points over the final two periods.

Cleveland’s Jarrett Allen played only 12 minutes and scored one point before leaving with a hip injury.

The Cavaliers lost for the first time since their last visit to Milwaukee, a 113-98 Bucks victory on Nov. 16.

“We were trying so hard, and we were like running in quicksand,” Cavaliers coach J.B. Bickerstaff said of the second-half struggles.

Jevon Carter scored 18 points and Bobby Portis had 14 for the Bucks.

After trailing 63-52 at halftime, the Bucks turned the game around in the third quarter.

“It felt like us again,” Portis said. “I feel like for the last couple of games, we haven’t felt like ourselves, for real, missing a lot of shots and just not playing how we play.”

Jrue Holiday, who committed three fouls in the first 1 1/2 quarters, scored his first points of the game in the opening minute of the third. He followed that up with a 3-pointer.

Carter then found Antetokounmpo for a dunk, though Antetokounmpo missed a free throw that would have given him a three-point play. Mitchell scored to extend Cleveland’s lead to 65-59, but a Brook Lopez 3-pointer and an Antetokounmpo dunk cut the lead to one.

Lopez then recorded one of his six blocks to set up an Antetokounmpo 3-pointer that gave the Bucks their first lead of the night with 7:19 left in the third. The Bucks eventually led by as many as 22.

“This is a great lesson for us,” Bickerstaff said. “We played against an established team who knows where they need to go when they need to take it to another level. That’s what we’re learning. They took the game to playoff-level physicality, and those are things we have to learn how to compete against.”