Curry, Durant lead in scoring, but others power Game 1 punch

Curry, Durant lead in scoring, but others power Game 1 punch

In the soon-to-be-immortal words of California poet laureate K.W. Durant, “If you don’t like it, don’t watch.”
That might not necessarily sit well with you, especially if your team had the 90 in Golden State’s 113-91 Game 1 NBA Finals win, but the Warriors treated the Cleveland Cavaliers to the same targeted dope-slappage that they had delivered to the Portlands, Utahs and San Antonii. They sucked the drama out of the evening swiftly, and the entertainment value somewhat later, and like most of the 12 wins before this, they played the fourth quarter mostly because ABC sold the ad time and didn’t have the National Spelling Bee rights.
Worse yet for those defenders of the mythical status quo of roster construction, Durant was the most obvious of the Warriors (38/8/8/plus-16 in 37:33). His was the most notable box score line in a game that had four of them:
Stephen Curry: 28/10/6/plus-20 in 34:29.
LeBron James: 28/15/8/8 turnovers/minus-22 in 40:02.
Kyrie Irving: 24 on 22 shots/minus-17 in 34:53.
But it was everyone outside those four that turned a seemingly close early game into a 22-point scolding. And the Warriors, as advertised, had most of the everyone-elses.
Draymond Green had a poor offensive night (nine points on 12 shots, 1 of 5 from three) but defended the usual three-to-five Cavaliers with his considerable vigor, tenacity and effect.
Klay Thompson had a brutal shooting night (3-for-16 to extend his current slump and conjure up more Harrison Barnes mean tweets) but was even more stout at the other end, using quickness and leverage to push back when back in by James and others. In short, he made himself have a plus evening even if it seemed like a minus experience to him at times.
And there was Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee who airbrushed Tristan Thompson from the game (6-for-8, 11 rebounds to Thompson’s 0-for-3 and four), and Andre Iguodala threw in a subtle 24 minutes of devilish work, and Ian Clark, who backed down from nobody, and David West, whose last backdown was . . . in utero, maybe?
Against this, the rest of the Cavaliers were merely a dismal rumor, finishing the night with a preposterously amorphous line of 36 points on 11 of 44 shots. They never established a paint presence despite Kevin Love’s 21 rebounds and gave up 20 possessions on turnovers as opposed to four by Golden State.
In short, Durant was magnificent, Curry effervescent, and everyone else on the home side was forceful and obstructive. In short, the Warriors wowed with their marquee names and won with their vastly superior depth. They were the antithesis of rust with shoes, as their nine-day layoff suggested they might be, and Cleveland was less sluggish than they were slugged.
But before you decide this series is as dead as the three that came before it, remember that the Warriors dominated the early part of the 2016 Finals (104-89 and 110-77, in case you’re asking), and lost Game 3 by 30. The assumption that the first punch matters, then, only lasts until the second punch, and sometimes not until the third.
Which, of course, means that everything you think you know after Game 1 may very well be a false lead, if not an outright lie.
It is the nature of the new NBA – the once-safe 20-point lead is often a tease for a manic comeback by the trailing team, either in that game or the one to follow.
It is to Golden State’s credit that it did not succumb to the temptations of its early success, and won the second half far more demonstrably than the first. They outscored Cleveland from behind the arc, mauled the Cavs inside the paint, and controlled/dictated the pace. They even won the area around Rihanna’s courtside seat after one particularly cheeky Durant trey.
But the Cavs have lost all three openers, by an average of 15 points, and this is being billed as the epic matchup of the age rather than another Buffalo Bills Super Bowl appearance because Cleveland didn’t let Game 1 define them either time, let alone ruin their psyches.
At least we think so. The evidence of the previous years clearly shows that, but the smaller sample size of Thursday night spoke volumes in rebuttal. In other words, this has barely started. After an interminable wait, Game 2, or as it actually seems to be, Game 15 of this three-year series, comes in a hurry.

With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship


With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship

This has been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors – I mean, trying being a relative term here – but especially for those Warriors who were here in 2014-15 and watching the Houston Rockets have that very season.
Fortunately for them, they are channeling most of their energies in escaping the injury list, but the fact remains the same. Houston is playing better, may well BE better, and is showing no signs of slowing to enjoy the view in the rear-view mirror.
This isn’t just the way they beat Portland in Portland Tuesday night, but they way they have gone 30-3 – which is 29 more versions of the way they beat Portland Tuesday. They are not a direct comp with that Warriors team except at the macro level, which is that they are the ones whose players know how they fit with each other, and they are the ones who have one more effective player than everyone else.
And they’re the ones fielding the full team when everyone else is dented and belching blue smoke.
The Warriors won their two championships for many reasons, but one that bears repeating is the fact they finished fourth from the bottom in man-games lost to injury – in other words, they were healthy when all those around them are not.
Now they look like tired and creaky and spare-part-y, and as much as people have tried to hitch their wagons to the secret stopgap of the week – this week’s winner, Quinn Cook – they are getting karma’d the hard way this year. The player who has played the most games is Nick Young, who was hailed as an excellent 10th man when he was signed, and their top four players (Harrison Barnes being the pre-Kevin Durant) have gone from missing 10 games in 2015 to 21 to 33 to 46.
This may seem normal given that this has been a worse year for injuries in the NBA than last year, but timing matters too. James Harden’s last missed game was March 11 (before that January 15), Chris Paul’s was December 28, and Clint Capela has missed one game since December 29. Houston’s run began on January 8.
Coincidence? No. The reason Houston is better? Also no. There are plenty of other metrics that show that pretty clearly, including those pesky standings. The best team has the best record, as it did in the last three seasons (exempting, of course, that troublesome June in 2016), so live with it. 
Can this change? Yes. It’s March 21, and lots of things can happen to any team, most of them bad. But the difference is this – Houston needs as few of those things to happen as possible, and the Warriors need several of them. That hasn’t been true before. One-seeds have won eight of the last 10 titles for a reason, and the Warriors have been inspirational frontrunners.
But now they have to punch uphill, and they can’t even start punching until their injury list shortens to a manageable – oh, let’s say five; don’t want to peak too soon.
And then let’s see how long it takes for them to get up to speed, both physically and as a unit. It is not inconceivable that they could run out of time before they run out of problems.
The point is, Houston is showing just how hard this is going to be for the Warriors, and if Golden State does win anyway, it will be their best championship because it will be the hardest. Not their most fun, mind you, but legacies are built on degree of difficulty.
Anyway, they no longer have a choice. They’re coming off the pace, or they’re not arriving at all.

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

UPDATE (2:40pm PT on Tuessday): Steph Curry has been cleared for full team practices with the goal of playing this week, the Warriors announced.


The Warriors’ usual late-spring sprint toward the postseason, already slowed to a limp, deteriorated into a forlorn crawl Monday night in San Antonio as they were losing for the fourth time in six games.

Draymond Green, the only “healthy” member of the team’s All-Star quartet, left the game in the second quarter with a pelvic contusion and did not return.

Though Green said after this 89-75 loss to the Spurs that he doesn’t consider this a serious injury, it’s abundantly clear reinforcements can’t arrive soon enough.

Stephen Curry, a profoundly superior reinforcement, may return as soon as Friday.

Curry’s tender right ankle is scheduled to be reevaluated Tuesday, after which the Warriors will establish a timeline for his return. He could, according to team and league sources, be back in the lineup Friday night when the Atlanta Hawks visit Oracle Arena.

That would provide a massive injection of talent for the Warriors, who lost of three games during a four-day stretch in which they were forced to rely heavily on reserves and role players.

“We’re already shorthanded and then we lose another All-Star, the glue to our team, Draymond, at halftime,” said Quinn Cook, who in scoring 73 points over the past three games did an admirable job of trying of producing Curry-like numbers.

As good as Cook was on Monday, scoring 20 points, it’s a bit much to ask Cook to lead the Warriors past a San Antonio team fighting to extend its 20-year streak of consecutive playoff appearances.

The Warriors are built around their four All-Stars -- Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Curry and Green. They usually can withstand the loss of one, and they can often are OK missing two. But when it’s three, and possibly four, the defending champs are a home without a foundation.

As the Warriors were losing four of six games, and two of the last three, we have learned four things:

1) Cook is an NBA keeper.

The point guard from Duke, who turns 25 on Friday, has proved not only that he belongs in the league but also that he can survive in the rotation of a championship contender. He’s considerably more effective than Pat McCaw. Even if everybody were healthy, it would be hard, maybe foolish, to deny Cook minutes.

2) Kevon Looney continues to smooth the rough edges of his game.

The Warriors opened the season uncertain what they could expect from a forward that has undergone surgery on both hips. Month after month, though, he has done most everything they could have asked. He operates well in their switching defense, is effective in traffic and now he’s blocking shots and raining jumpers. At this rate, the Warriors would be delighted to have him back next season.

3) David West and Jordan Bell are in search of rhythm.

West was reliably excellent, at both ends, prior to missing five games with a cyst on his right arm. Since returning last Friday, there have been visible signs of rust. He’ll be OK in time, but at 37 likely needs another game or two to rediscover his touch.

Bell missed 14 games with a left ankle sprain, returned briefly, sustained a sprain of his right ankle and missed three more games. In the three games since his return, he has yet to look comfortable. It’s not just rust; it’s also the team around him. He’s at his best when supporting the stars. It may take him a while before he shines again.

4) Postseason minutes may be scarce for Nick Young

The Warriors hired Young to score while not embarrassing himself on defense and he has had good moments on both ends. But his inconsistency -- partly attributed to unspectacular conditioning -- grates on coaches and sometimes teammates. As much as he wants to enjoy the postseason, he’s playing his way toward an insignificant role unless injuries dictate otherwise.