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.

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.