Things could get bloody if Warriors, Thunder meet in playoffs

Things could get bloody if Warriors, Thunder meet in playoffs

OAKLAND -- The decline of the Lob City Clippers created a rivalry vacuum for the Warriors that the Oklahoma City Thunder seems determined to fill.

It’s an organic growth and not necessarily an extension of the since-thawed frost that existed between ex-OKC teammates Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

The signals of an altogether new and growing animosity were clearly visible Saturday at Oracle Arena.

They were on the court, where the teams split four technical fouls and two mini-beefs surfaced. They were in the locker rooms, where the Thunder made sharp accusations about dirty play as the Warriors defended a 112-80 rout of the team that took their lunches twice earlier this season.

“We just didn’t want to lose,” Durant said. “We know we can get beat by this team, obviously, if we don’t come and play with force. We did that on both ends of the court.”

There was, to be sure, a playoff-level atmosphere, with tensions and tempers running high. Carmelo Anthony and Durant confronted each other in the second quarter, and Draymond Green and Anthony got testy with each other in the third.

Asked what occurred with Green, Anthony took the neighborhood high ground: “Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.”

While Nick Young (16 points in 18 minutes) and Durant (28 in 32) were scorching the nets, bodies of both teams were thudding to the floor multiple times and big men JaVale McGee and Steven Adams were wrestling in the paint.

But if any single incident is at the heart of burgeoning conflict, it was that between Russell Westbrook and Pachulia late in the third quarter. Westbrook tumbled over Young, with Pachulia then tumbling onto Westbrook in the area of his knees.

Westbrook, who came up limping, took exception, as did his teammate, Paul George. Even Celtics star Kyrie Irving, via Instagram, expressed his disapproval of what he saw as an unforced fall with harmful intentions by Pachulia.

Here is Westbrook’s response when asked what happened: “Did you see it? What did it look like? What did it look like? Did anybody touch him? Yes or no? Obviously, it was intentional. So don’t ask me was it intentional. Nobody touched him and he fell over my leg, tried to hurt me.”

Westbrook believes that particularly incident will be reviewed by members of the NBA disciplinary crew.

“You know Zaza,” George said. “You know his history. And you know nobody pushed him. He aimed where he was going to fall. That’s Zaza making a Zaza play. He’s on the end of hurting a lot of guys.”

Pachulia-Westbrook has history, with the big man block-shoving Westbrook to the floor last season. Pachulia was assessed a Flagrant 1 for that transgression.

No foul was called this time, but this incident adds to the popular belief that Pachulia is a more a hatchet man than a basketball player.

Though Pachulia, for his part, denied any ill intent, this is certain to add fuel to the antipathy between the teams. The Warriors came into the game on alert, hoping to get a measure of revenge against the team that trounced them by 17 in Oklahoma City last November and by 17 in Oakland 18 days ago.

The Warriors were in control most of the night, going up five after a quarter and seven at the half. Then with afterburners kicking in, the Warriors outscored OKC 60-35 in the second half while holding the Thunder to 32.5-percent shooting.

The Warriors are now 1-2 this season against a team that plays defense at a level that makes it a legitimate threat in the postseason. Green was unwilling to deny the significance of this particular regular-season game, conceding that it had the feel of a postseason battle.

“It did and that was the way we approached it,” he said. “We approached it like we needed to win this game. We came out with a defensive mindset. Then we executed.”

Green picked up his 15th technical foul, leaving him one away from a one-game suspension. You may recall -- Green surely does - that he was suspended from Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals after an altercation with Cavaliers star LeBron James.

That suspension came as another incident involving Green was fresh in the minds of everyone in the league’s New York office.

An incident involving the Thunder, with Green’s foot making contact with Adams’ groin area during the Western Conference Finals that the Warriors won in seven games.

There is a reasonable chance the teams will meet again in the postseason. If they do, there could be blood on the floor, and maybe a few teeth.

Steve Kerr 'just disappointed' Arizona caught up in payment scandal


Steve Kerr 'just disappointed' Arizona caught up in payment scandal

OAKLAND -- Steve Kerr walked into the interview room Saturday afternoon, praised Kevin Durant for his philanthropy and then invited the inevitable.

“Who wants to ask me about Arizona?”

Kerr knew the question was coming. He spent four years playing basketball for the University of Arizona and received his Bachelor’s Degree in 1988. And as a member of the Alumni Association, he remains close to the school now embroiled in scandal.

“Just disappointed,” Kerr replied. “That’s my school. I love my school. I don’t really know what else to say.”

Arizona coach Sean Miller and members of his staff have been identified as arranging payment to secure commitments from recruits, according to reports by ESPN and Yahoo! Sports.

One report specifically cites a phone call between Miller and someone acting on behalf of former NBA player agent Andy Miller, with the two parties discussing a payment of $100,000 to get coveted recruit DeAndre Ayton to sign with Arizona.

The information was obtained through an FBI wiretap, according to the report, which is ongoing. Though Sean Miller reportedly will not coach the Wildcats during their game at Oregon on Saturday, Ayton, a potential No. 1 overall NBA draft pick, was expected to play.

One of Kerr’s assistants, Bruce “Q” Fraser, also was a member of the basketball team at Arizona in the mid-1980s.

Warriors to rotate trio of centers as starter based on best matchup


Warriors to rotate trio of centers as starter based on best matchup

OAKLAND -- With the Warriors driving toward the postseason, coach Steve Kerr is ready to make a few changes, one of them involving his centers.

Though Zaza Pachulia has been the usual starter, he will come off the bench for the second consecutive game Saturday, when the Warriors face Oklahoma City.

JaVale McGee is making his second straight start, a move that will delight a vocal segment of the Warriors fan base.

And once rookie Jordan Bell returns -- he’s physically ready but the Warriors are being cautious -- he also will be added to the equation.

“The rotation could change,” Kerr said prior to tipoff against the Thunder. “We’ve got a ton of centers and they all do different things. We could start any of them.

“And it may turn into a matchup thing, based on who we’re playing.”

Kerr declined to commit to Pachulia returning to the starting lineup, so count on matchups being the primary factor.

If the Warriors are facing a physical bruiser, Pachulia could get the call.

If it’s a hyperactive 7-footer, such as Thunder big man Steven Adams, McGee will be the likely starter.

If it’s a bouncy young athlete, such as Houston’s 6-9 Clint Capela, expect the Warriors to turn to Bell.

Asked specifically what his plans are over the final 22 games, Kerr said he had not decided.

“Right now, obviously, we’re just going with JaVale to see how this looks,” he said. “It was a good result the other night.”

Facing Clippers big man DeAndre Jordan on Thursday, McGee started and played 14 minutes in a 134-127 Warriors victory.