Warriors

No Part IV: NBA Finals come early with Warriors vs Celtics in November

No Part IV: NBA Finals come early with Warriors vs Celtics in November

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here

If it’s not already apparent the 2017 NBA Finals will not feature Warriors-Cavaliers IV, it should start coming into focus Thursday when the Warriors confront the team most likely to win the Eastern Conference.

That would be the Boston Celtics, who during their 13-game win streak are proving themselves ready to flip the script with which we’ve become so familiar.

With a single request to be traded out of Cleveland, Kyrie Irving changed all of that.

“It sure looks like Boston is the team of the future in the East,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday. “With their assets that they still have and their young talent and their coaching, and Kyrie is amazing. That looks like a team that is going to be at the top of the East for a long time to come.

“Whether their time is now or in the future, that’s to be determined. But they sure look like they want it to be right now.”

Irving and his All-Star act landed in Boston, joining forces with newly acquired free agent Gordon Hayward, also an All-Star. Those two moves, along with the physical realities invading LeBron James’ body, have changed the landscape and opened the door for the Celtics to reach The Finals for the first time since 2010.

And what a refreshing development that would be. Warriors-Celtics in June would have that new-car smell and also would be a closer series than one would think -- surely much, much, much more competitive than would be Warriors-Cavs IV.

Which is why Thursday night is so intriguing, even though Hayward is on the sideline, left ankle in a protective boot, with a likely season-ending injury.

Consider that no team in the league in recent seasons -- not the Cavs, the Spurs or the Grizzlies -- has played the Warriors tougher than Boston. They’ve split two games in each of the last two seasons, with the Celtics winning both games at Oracle Arena, where the Warriors routinely smash opponents.

And that was with Isaiah Thomas at the point instead of Irving, who has some Warriors skin on his wall.

Consider the work of Celtics coach Brad Stevens, particularly on defense. In eight games against Boston since Stevens arrived in 2013, the Warriors have yet to shoot 50 percent. Their high, 48.9, came last season when Al Horford and Jae Crowder were out of the lineup and it was the only time in the last four games the Warriors outshot the Celtics.

Boston, by the way, enters Thursday with the NBA’s top-rated defense, and with the four starters not named Irving wielding 7-foot wingspans. Horford has been spectacular at both ends, as have youngsters Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

Consider that Horford, coming off an uneven first season in Boston, has been a beast at both ends -- by any metric, from real-plus minus to basic plus-minus to Player Efficiency Rating to 3-point shooting, where his 48.8 percent ranks 10th among all NBA players.

With Horford sidelined last Nov. 18, the Warriors dropped a 104-88 anvil on Boston. With him back for the rematch four months later -- and Kevin Durant out injured -- the Celtics came to Oakland and won by 13, holding the Warriors to 86 points.

Consider, finally, the presence of Irving. Though slightly hindered by wearing a plastic mask to protect his face as it heals from a fracture, he is coming into full bloom. He has the best handle in the league, All-Universe hubris and is discovering the benefits of playing actual defense. He has been fabulous even while shooting only 32.6 percent from deep, well below his career average.

The Cavaliers beat the Warriors twice last season and both times Irving was the difference. He went for 40 points, seven rebounds and four assists as Cleveland won Game 4 of the 2017 Finals to avoid a sweep. Last Christmas in Cleveland, he posted 25 points, 10 assists, seven steals and six rebounds -- and drilled the game-winning shot to punctuate a Cavs comeback.

Hmm, remember which Cavalier made the game-winning, series-ending shot in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals?

The Warriors respect the LeBron Monster, but they’ve never feared it. Even during the ’16 Finals, they knew they had answers for it. They have more answers now that LeBron’s NBA mileage is beyond every active player other than 39-year-old Dirk Nowitzki.

It’s unreasonable to expect James, an incredible specimen, once again leading the NBA in minutes per game, to sustain greatness. And anything less leaves Cleveland vulnerable to Boston.

"They're really sound, and they're motivated," Kerr said of the Celtics. "It's a team that's been on the rise the last couple of years. They lost in the conference finals. They want to win a championship, and it looks like it. Even without Gordon Hayward and that awful injury, Boston is just crushing people. So, it's going to be really fun to go against them on Thursday. We know how tough it's going to be."

How anticlimactic would it be to have LeBron and the Cavs show up next June, gray at the temples and tender about the knees, trying to keep up with the Warriors?

So enjoy Warriors-Celtics. It’s the marquee game of the month, and quite probably your NBA Finals preview.

Steve Kerr offers insight into why Draymond Green is sitting vs Blazers

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AP

Steve Kerr offers insight into why Draymond Green is sitting vs Blazers

OAKLAND -- The Warriors made it clear Sunday that Stephen Curry would not be available Monday night against Portland, and they announced Monday morning that Zaza Pachulia also would miss the game.

Not until two hours before tipoff against the Blazers was it announced that forward Draymond Green, who had been listed as probable, also would not be available.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr studied video of the Blazers’ last game, considered their available playing rotation and decided Green’s tender right shoulder could benefit from a night off.

“That’s a big part of it,” Kerr said in his pregame news conference. “I watched their Houston game from other day. It looked like the old 6-5 and Under League. Lots of shooting, lots of spacing. They’re hard to guard. They run good stuff.

“So we’ve got to stay home with shooters and cover penetration. You’ll see our lineups reflect that.”

Green missed the game last Wednesday in Charlotte but returned, at less than full strength, to play last Friday at Detroit, his home state. Though he had a highly productive game, the Warriors don’t want to push the issue.

“I don’t think it’s serious,” Kerr said. “It’s enough to keep him from playing tonight. It’s been bothering him the last few days and it’s still aggravated, so we won’t play him tonight.”

Gameday: Warriors double-digit favorites vs Blazers

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USATI

Gameday: Warriors double-digit favorites vs Blazers

UPDATE (5:47pm PT on Monday): Draymond Green will miss Monday's game against the Blazers due to a shoulder injury, Steve Kerr announced before the game.

***

OAKLAND -- The Warriors make their first appearance at Oracle Arena in two weeks Monday night, when they face the reeling Portland Trail Blazers.

The Warriors (21-6) are entering a stretch during which they play nine of their next 10 games at home. They own a six-game win streak, and the last two were without two-time MVP Stephen Curry. Kevin Durant immediately raised his game to a higher level.

This is the first of a five-game road trip for the Blazers (13-12), who have lost four in a row, all at home.

BETTING LINE

Warriors by 10.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Shaun Livingston/Quinn Cook/Klay Thompson vs. Damian Lillard/CJ McCollum: Lillard and McCollum are the highest-scoring backcourt in the NBA. Both have deep range, with McCollum shooting 44.3 percent beyond the arc at Lillard at 35 percent. Lillard is a very proud Oakland native who always seeks to put on a show for his homecomings. Though the absence of Stephen Curry takes some of the shine off the backcourt battle, the Warriors have a full understanding that offsetting Lillard and McCollum is the key to beating Portland.

INJURY REPORT

WARRIORS: G Pat McCaw (concussion, nose contusion) is listed as questionable but will play. G Stephen Curry (R ankle sprain) and C Zaza Pachulia (L shoulder soreness) are listed as out. C Damian Jones is on assignment with the G-League Santa Cruz Warriors.

BLAZERS: F Maurice Harkless (L quad soreness) and C Jusuf Nurkic (R ankle sprain) are listed as out.

LAST 10

Warriors: 8-2. Trail Blazers: 5-5

GAME OFFICIALS

James Capers (crew chief), Kevin Cutler, Rodney Mott.

SERIES HISTORY

This is the first meeting between the teams this season. The Warriors swept the four-game series last season, winning by average margin of 19.5 points. They have won the last six games, the last six in Oakland 15 of 18 overall.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

THE KD SHOW: Durant was good before Curry went down. He has since been outstanding, making an impact at both ends. He’s a matchup nightmare for most opponents, and the Blazers are no different. Expect them to turn to their best frontcourt defender, Al-Farouq Aminu, to try and slow Durant. If KD plays as inspired as he has over the past two games, it probably won’t matter.

THE PACE: The Warriors will want to speed the game up at every opportunity, something with which the Blazers are not entirely comfortable. Portland is dead last in fast-break points per game (4.5) and 27th in points off turnovers (14.6 per game). The Blazers are largely dependent on jump shots out of half-court sets. The Warriors have had success lulling them into a run-and-gun battle.

THE BIGS: Having both starting centers out sets up a curious battle between JaVale McGee of the Warriors and Meyers Leonard of the Blazers, similarly athletic but unorthodox 7-footers who offset evident weaknesses with high field goal percentages (54.7 for McGee, 62.5 for Leonard) and high efficiency ratings (19.39 for McGee, 22.35 for Leonard). Should be fun to watch.