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.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”

Cameron Reddish quadruples Zion Williamson’s vote total for ‘best career’ in NBA rookie survey

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Zion Williamson is the NBA’s most-hyped rookie – for good reason. He was incredibly productive at Duke, and his jaw-dropping athleticism should help his game translate with the Pelicans. He wasn’t just the consensus No. 1 pick this year. He was viewed as the best prospect in years.

His peers seem less enamored.

Williamson tied for fourth in the NBA’s annual rookie survey when rookies were asked which member of this class would have the best career. The full results:

1. Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 19%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 16%

3. De'Andre Hunter, Atlanta — 11%

4. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Jaxson Hayes, New Orleans — 5%

Coby White, Chicago — 5%

Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Jarrett Culver, Minnesota; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Keldon Johnson, San Antonio; Mfiondu Kabengele, LA Clippers; Romeo Langford, Boston; Cody Martin, Charlotte; Eric Paschall, Golden State; Tremont Waters, Boston; Dylan Windler, Cleveland

Reddish – the No. 10 pick – is a surprising top choice. He has plenty of talent and fluid athleticism, but he really struggled at Duke last season. That was a dispiriting development that wouldn’t happen to most players bound for NBA stardom.

I wouldn’t read too much into these results. Of the 42 polled rookies, 81% picked someone other than Reddish.

Still, it’s jarring to see Reddish so far ahead of Williamson.

Williamson didn’t get a majority of votes for Rookie of the Year prediction either, though he at least led that category:

1. Zion Williamson, New Orleans — 35%

2. Ja Morant, Memphis — 27%

3. R.J. Barrett, New York — 5%

Cam Reddish, Atlanta — 5%

Others receiving votes: Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans; Goga Bitadze, Indiana; Brandon Clarke, Memphis; Carsen Edwards, Boston; Darius Garland, Cleveland; Kyle Guy, Sacramento; Rui Hachimura, Washington; Romeo Langford, Boston; Coby White, Chicago; Grant Williams, Boston

It’s close between Williamson and the field for Rookie of the Year. But if picking only one player, how do you pick someone other than Williamson?

Not every rookie takes these questions seriously. Clearly. Here, I think there’s especially an element of wanting to be different. Williamson is such an obvious answer to these questions, I bet many players gave their next answer. When too many do that, it looks silly.

At least the rookies chose Williamson as most athletic. In the only question where someone got a major of votes, Williamson topped 87% of the ballots.