Steve Kerr

Three things to monitor during the NBA Finals

Three things to monitor during the NBA Finals

The NBA Finals (finally) start tonight in Oakland and here are three things to keep an eye on during the series, three things that could decide the Finals rubber match between these two superteams:

  • How will this series be officiated? Last year the Cavaliers were able to get very physical with Steph Curry -- holding him, bumping him and keeping him from the constant movement that helps him get free. If that happens in this series, not only with Curry but the other players who make the Golden State motion offense the best in the league, the Warriors are going to have trouble.
  • Can the Warriors bring down Cleveland's three-point field-goal percentage? The Cavaliers are making an impressive 43.5 percent of their threes and if that continues it's going to keep Cleveland in this series. And that percentage is not based on a small sample size. The Cavs have made 45 more three-point shots than the Warriors have in the playoffs. And people wonder why LeBron James is playing so well this postseason? He's got help in the form of shooters who have spread the floor, allowing him to get to the basket easier than ever. People talk a lot about Kyrie Irving but Kevin Love is critical for this team. So far, he's averaging 17.2 points per game in 32 minutes, with 10.4 rebounds per game and a 47.5 shooting percentage from three-point range. If those numbers hold firm in the Finals, the Cavaliers have a real shot.
  • How much coaching is Steve Kerr going to do in the Finals? I have tremendous respect for what he's done for that team and I think the Warriors can only reach their maximum potential with Kerr on the sidelines. Mike Brown is probably a very capable replacement but he's a replacement -- and substitute teachers are never as good as the real thing. Kerr has created a team that is superior on offense and very good on defense and it would be a shame if he couldn't be there to guide it to the end of the season. And it could also be detrimental to the Warriors' chance of capturing the championship.

Who do I think will win? Golden State. This is one of the league's all-time great teams and if Kevin Durant doesn't crack under the pressure of the Finals the Warriors should win. But I'm not sure it's going to be as easy as many people figure. Cleveland is the one team that can match Golden State's three-point production and that's a big key in the modern game. And to beat Golden State, you better score a whole lot of points.

CJ McCollum after Game 1 loss to Warriors: 'We are right there. They know we are coming.'

CJ McCollum after Game 1 loss to Warriors: 'We are right there. They know we are coming.'

OAKLAND, Calif. – After all the back-and-forth of Sunday’s Game 1 – the 22 lead changes, the verbal exchanges, and ultimately a 121-109 victory by Golden State – Trail Blazers guard CJ MCollum took solace in one thing:

The Trail Blazers have announced their presence in this series.

“We are right there,’’ McCollum told CSNNW. “They know we are coming.’’

Golden State seized a 1-0 lead on the Blazers in an entertaining and competitive opener on Easter, but for the Warriors it wasn’t without some uneasy moments and some issues that will linger into Wednesday’s Game 2.

Portland’s dynamic duo of McCollum (41 points) and Damian Lillard (34 points) had the Warriors scrambling defensively, and if not for a heroic defensive performance by Draymond Green and another uncanny dagger administered by Ian Clark, who knows what kind of David vs. Goliath storylines would be developing out of Game 1.

“If it was to me, it's the perfect way to win Game 1,’’ Golden State coach Steve Kerr said. “You get a real taste for what you’re up against. You take a really good punch from your opponent, you see how good they are, but you’re able to overcome everything and still get the win.’’

As both teams head to their bunkers to prepare for Wednesday’s Game 2, they do so with different questions. Golden State has to wonder if they can stop McCollum and Lillard, while Portland will be left wondering if its supporting cast is capable of getting them over the hump.

Kerr said the focus will be on preventing Lillard and McCollum from getting to areas they want.

“They made some tough shots, but they also got to their spots,’’ Kerr said. “We’re trying to keep them from getting into their comfort zones, and they seemed to get there with ease in the first half. We did a better job in the second half, but we have to understand that’s how this series is going to go. Hopefully, they don’t get 75 points between them in Game 2, but they might. That’s how good they are. So we’ve just got to keep trying to make it hard on them and do the best we can.’’

The Blazers, meanwhile, got little to no offensive help outside of  Lillard and McCollum. Evan Turner, a surprise starter, had 12 points and hit 2-of-3 three-pointers, and Maurice Harkless had 11 points, but in total, the Blazers sans the starting backcourt shot 12-of-39 (30.8 percent).

Nobly, Lillard absorbed responsibility to get more of his teammates involved when looking ahead to the rest of the series.

“It’s a matter of us two making more plays – hitting guys on the weak side and giving them more opportunity,’’ Lillard said. “I think to beat the Warriors we’re going to have to maybe make that extra pass more often and be able to depend on guys more often to allow them to have that type of success.’’

If all of this sounds familiar, it’s because Portland went through a similar experience last season against Golden State in the playoffs. The Blazers led for 56.1 percent of the series, and held double-digit leads in the final four games, yet still lost 4-1.

Sunday was no different.

 “I thought we had it,’’ Harkless said. “But then that 15-2 run …”

The Blazers were tied heading into the fourth quarter before the Warriors went on a game-clinching 15-2 run that was spearheaded by some momentum-changing blocks by Green and another near-perfect performance from Clark.

Green had three of his five blocks in the fourth quarter, the biggest a rejection of Lillard who was heading for a driving dunk to cut the lead to 107-101. Instead, Green sprinted from the weakside and met Lillard head on.

With Green orchestrating to the crowd for more noise, Golden State transitioned up the court and Kevin Durant provided the final crescendo with a perfect jump shot that put the Warriors up 109-99.

It was the latest example of how much Green means to the Warriors and probably the best snapshot of why Green is a leading candidate for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.

“He played a game that I’m not sure anybody else in the league is capable of, honestly,’’ Kerr said. “Who else can do what Draymond just did tonight? He’s so unique and so important to us. He was phenomenal.’’

While Portland will be searching for any of its role players to step to the forefront, Golden State knows if its playing Portland, that almost certainly means a big night from Clark, the fourth-year guard from Belmont.

Clark on Sunday hit 4-of-5 shots and finished with 12 points – seven of them coming in the decisive fourth quarter run. For the season, Clark averaged 4.5 points on 45 percent shooting and 36 percent three-point shooting, but in five games against the Blazers this season he is averaging 12.8 points while shooting a staggering 23-of-30 from the field and 9-of-13 from three-point range.

Portland figures to turn to Allen Crabbe or Al-Farouq Aminu for some help off the bench after both had forgettable performances. Crabbe, in his first game back since missing three games resting a sore left foot, went 1-for-5 and scored three points in 22 minutes while Aminu missed all five of his shots.

“I definitely wanted to provide a little more, but it’s Game 1,’’ Crabbe said. “I just need to find ways to get myself going early.’’

Blazers coach Terry Stotts, who shuffled his starting lineup by moving Noah Vonleh to center, inserting Turner to small forward and shifting Harkless to power forward, said its imperative the Blazers get more production outside of Lillard and McCollum.

“It’s going to take a team to beat them,’’ Stotts said. “Damian and CJ are talented scorers and they both had great offensive nights … but we need everybody. Guys have to be ready to make shots.’’

On Sunday, those shots in the game seldom fell.

But McCollum suggested a bigger shot might have been volleyed.

The Blazers are coming, he says, and the Warriors know it.

Lillard, McCollum took a lot of shots -- but when you're the only guys making them...

Lillard, McCollum took a lot of shots -- but when you're the only guys making them...

OAKLAND – And so you see now, if you didn’t already know, how difficult it’s going to be to defeat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA playoffs.

The Trail Blazers – at least their two best players – gave it a heck of a shot Sunday afternoon in Oracle Arena. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 75 points while hitting 7 of their 15 three-point field goal attempts.

But they got very little help.

Portland got nine points off its bench and just 25 from its starting front line. Sure, Lillard and McCollum took 54 of their team’s 93 shots – but you couldn’t blame them. Who else is going to make shots?

Take away the starting guards and the rest of the Trail Blazers made just 12 out of 39 shots from the field.

Of course, the Warrior defense had something to do with that. The closer Portland got to the basket the more difficult the shots became, thanks to 10 Golden State blocked shots, half of those from Draymond Green.

The Trail Blazers were tied at the half and tied at the end of three quarters but the roof finally caved in during the final period.

“Our fourth-quarter defense in particular changed the game,” Golden State Coach Steve Kerr said. “I like the way our guys responded in the second half.”

Portland Coach Terry Stotts agreed – to a point.

“They were very aggressive,” he said about the Warriors in the fourth quarter. “Obviously we didn’t shoot the ball well. We had six turnovers in the fourth. Draymond had an impact on the game at the rim and in the paint.

“They got more aggressive on the ball and the trapping pick and rolls a little bit more. So, I mean in a quarter if you have six turnovers and shoot 30 percent in the quarter, it’s going to be rough.

“It’s a credit to their defense and we’ve got to be able to handle that a little bit better.”

The game was officiated similarly to most playoff games over the years – by a different set of rules than the regular season. There was so much more contact allowed than what you can get away with over the 82 games. It was much rougher and more physical than the regular season.

That leads to all sorts of things and it certainly raises the temperature on the floor –- as do all the sideshow gyrations and chatter from Green.

McCollum, who led Portland with 41 points, couldn’t resist a little byplay with the Warriors’ do-it-all power forward after Green got rim-checked on a dunk attempt. McCollum apparently suggested to Green that he needs a little more work on his legs to get up high enough to dunk.

“Yeah, he does need to do some calf raises so he can dunk,” McCollum said.  “… Where I’m from, if you talk trash, then I’m going to talk trash to you. It’s not disrespectful. We’re not talking about nobody’s mother or nothing bad.

“But I’ve known Draymond Green since he was at Michigan State. He was a little chubbier then at Michigan State. He’s done really well with himself. He’s worked hard. If I have something I want to say I’m going to say it.”

Lillard, who finished with 34 points, had a pretty good summation of his team’s play.

“I thought myself and CJ played good games tonight,” Lillard said. “And I thought as a group we really defended well. Guys were communicating and playing physical. I thought we executed our scouting report on the defensive end and I thought guys stepped up as well on the offensive end.

“Evan Turner had a good game. I felt like Mo (Harkless) played a good game. But it’s a matter of us two making more of those plays. Hitting guys on the weak side and giving them more opportunity.

“I think to beat the Warriors, we’re going to have to maybe make that extra pass more often and be able to defend on guys more often to allow them to have that type of success so we can actually beat them,”

Indeed, the Trail Blazers played more one-on-one basketball than usual. Rather than run a lot if pick-and-rolls against a team that switches on them, anyway, the two guards often just beat their defender off the dribble and drove to the point.

Obviously, Jusuf Nerkic would have made a difference for the Trail Blazers, but he sat this one out – still nursing that broken leg bone. Stotts was asked if there is a chance that he will play in the series.

“Yes,” came the one-word answer.

A ploy, just a fake out for Golden State's preparation or the real thing?

At this point I have no idea.

Go ahead and feel free to call that Blazer loss to Warriors a moral victory

Go ahead and feel free to call that Blazer loss to Warriors a moral victory

OAKLAND -- Professional athletes and coaches aren't much interested in moral victories. You win or you lose, but not many times do you feel good about losing.

But the Portland Trail Blazers had every reason to feel good about their 125-117 loss to the Golden State Warriors Wednesday night, if for no other reason than it was a 37-point improvement on their performance the last time, they played the Warriors in Oracle Arena. That game was a debacle at the Oracle -- a 45-point loss.

But Wednesday the Trail Blazers played physically, energetically and stubbornly. They weathered a couple of Golden State knockout punches -- scoring runs that often take opponents out of a game -- and came back for more. And they played a decent defensive game.

Yes, they did.

You're going to look at those 125 points and the Warriors' 50.5 percent shooting and wonder how it could be said they played a decent defensive game? But I'd have to tell you they were playing a juggernaut of an offensive unit, a team that has now shot more than 50 percent in four straight games and came into this game averaging 49.8 percent from the field for the season. That's a product of their sensational passing game, which led to 31 assists Wednesday night. It was the 25th time this season Golden State has reached 30 assists. No other NBA has had more than six 30-assist games.

"I was really pleased with the way we competed," Portland Coach Terry Stotts said. "Obviously, we played a much better game than the last time we were here. We withstood a lot of their runs, particularly in the first half and even in the second half. We made a good game of it."

The Trail Blazers, as they've been of late, seemed much more physical on defense than they were earlier in the season.

"I hope so," Stotts said. "That was part of what we wanted to do going into the game. ... We tried to be more physical, we tried to keep the tempo up. To beat Golden State, you've got to be able to score and we did a good job of that."

Particularly in the first half, when the Trail Blazers racked up 71 points, the most the Warriors have allowed in any half this season. CJ McCollum was terrific in the first half, posting 26 points, six rebounds and three assists. But in the second half, the Warriors -- not having to worry about Damian Lillard (still out, nursing a sprained ankle), they were able to load up on McCollum and double-team him on pick-and-rolls.

"We just got more physical," said Golden State Coach Steve Kerr. "The first half, I felt like he was getting anywhere he wanted before and after he got the ball. We did a better job in the second half of running him off of his routes and just tried to be more physical with him. We were a little quicker and a little more alert."

McCollum still finished with 35 points, nine rebounds and five assists -- and a lot of admiration from the Warriors' Kevin Durant.

"CJ McCollum is a hell of a player," Durant told ESPN's Chris Haynes after the game. "Amazing player. One of the best players in our league."

The Blazers finished up a 44.9 percent from the field and 46.2 percent from three-point range while making 25 of 28 free throws -- marksmanship that will usually win games. They also won the rebound battle 44-39 and turned 17 Warrior turnovers into 21 points.

It was encouraging. And if the players and coaches couldn't bring themselves to call it a moral victory, I believe you and I certainly have that right.

 

 

"

Video: Klay Thompson's 60-point game a tribute to unselfish Warriors

Video: Klay Thompson's 60-point game a tribute to unselfish Warriors

If you haven't seen a highlight reel from Klay Thompson's incredible offensive performance Monday night, I invite you to take a quick click over to this one.

I watched those highlights and am still amazed at someone being able to score 60 points in 29 minutes of action. Nobody has scored that many in fewer than 30 minutes during the shot-clock era. And remember, Thompson is the Warriors' third option on offense and in this game, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant still ended up with more touches than Thompson.

But there are several things worth watching in the highlights:

  • The Warriors used a whole lot of different offense to get Thompson shots, including their weave, their triangle, their motion and the same "horns" offense that many other teams run. Golden State is unselfish and as soon as it was obvious Thompson was having a special night, he got the ball plenty, quite obviously.
  • The Pacers did an almost historically bad job of defending Thompson. He got way too many wide-open jumpers and dead-cold layups for a man on his way to 60 points. In fact, in the third quarter Indiana seemed to just give up on him. You could see Coach Nate McMillan squirming on the sidelines. I'm guessing some Pacers got a full blast from him after the game.
  • Steve Kerr does a terrific job of creating an unselfish, winning culture at Golden State. Every guy on the floor feeding Thompson knew that if THEY were the hot one, they'd be getting the ball in much the same manner.
  • I've said this before but the anti-Durant people just don't want to listen: Don't you understand why Durant wanted to go to this team? Forget about rings, NBA players have to muddle through 82 games during the regular season. For months, their lifestyle is a game just about every other night. And wouldn't you want to play with a team that's unselfish? A team that wins just about every game it plays? Seriously, did you watch the Warrior bench while Thompson was going off? Those guys were going crazy. There cannot be a more fun place to play anywhere in sports.

Warriors' Curry, Kerr each fined for Game 6 actions

usatsi_9330537.jpg
USATI

Warriors' Curry, Kerr each fined for Game 6 actions

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry and head coach Steve Kerr have each been fined $25,000 for separate incidents, it was announced Friday by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Curry has been fined $25,000 for throwing his mouthpiece into the spectator stands. The incident, which resulted in a technical foul and subsequent ejection.

[POOLE: Curry flips out in Game 6 of finals, takes first NBA ejection]

Curry, occurred with 4:22 remaining in the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ 115-101 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game 6 of The Finals on June 16 at Quicken Loans Arena.

[POOLE: Curry's father-in-law detained at Game 6: 'Traumatic situation']

Kerr has been fined $25,000 for public criticism of the officiating during his press conference following the same game.

It appears the season has lasted a couple of games too long for Warriors

It appears the season has lasted a couple of games too long for Warriors

It's looking as if the season has just gone a little too long for the Golden State Warriors. In a season of an unprecedented number of wins, can they somehow find a way to win just one more?

It's going to be very difficult. I called them to win in seven and I'm going to stick with that. But it's entirely possible that they've blown their chance to properly finish off the greatest season of all time.

Draymond Green, by getting suspended for Game 5 when Golden State had the Cleveland Cavaliers on the run, cost them a lot. The injury to Andrew Bogut has deprived them of their rim protector, throwing their great defense off kilter. The guards -- the backbone of the offense all season -- have been held, pushed, jostled and wrestled to the point where they look completely worn out and ineffective.

Without Bogut, they have very little choice now but to play small most of the time -- which allows LeBron James to be the biggest player on the floor, a role he seems to relish. In fact, James has played back-to-back games that have probably been among the two best he's ever played on a big playoff stage. But can he have one more of those Sunday night in Game 7 in Oakland?

That's going to be big, of course. But not the biggest decider of what's going to happen in Game 7.

The Warriors need to find their touch from long range. Getting field goals in three-point bunches has been a difference-maker for this team all season. And I'm not talking about making nine or 10 of them. I'm talking about an avalanche of threes.

And frankly, to do that the Warriors need freedom of movement and the ability to get open for those shots. A lot of what's going to happen has to do with how this game is going to be called by the officials. Steve Kerr did a masterful job of trying to work the officials two days in advance after Thursday night's loss:

Look, it's the Finals. Everybody is competing out there. There are fouls on every play. It's a physical game ... if they're going to let Cleveland grab and hold these guys constantly on their cuts and then you're going to call these ticky-tack fouls on the MVP of the league to foul him out, I don't agree with that."

Steph Curry has been bounced around by defenders since the Oklahoma City series, when NBA referees went back to their old habit of allowing teams to get more physical with their defense just because it's the playoffs.

I don't abide that and never have. But it's the way this has been going. And if Klay Thompson and Curry can't shake free of the arm bars and body bumps, it's going to be another long night Sunday for Golden State.

The three-point shot has been the difference for the Warriors all season. They can get beat on the boards, and allow more free throws and points in the paint but as long as they have one of those huge nights from long range, they've still won. It's likely going to have to be that way Sunday in Game 7.

Or a great season is going to come to a stunning end.

Game 4: Shaky officiating and some poor Cav decisions

Game 4: Shaky officiating and some poor Cav decisions

Before I get into some specifics about Golden State's win over Cleveland Friday night in Game 4 of the NBA Finals, let me say something that just has to be said: The officiating by the crew of Danny Crawford, Jason Phillips and Mike Callahan left a lot to be desired. A LOT.

If you happened to record the game, I'd invite you to run any number of plays back and count how many fouls went uncalled. Fouls that would have surely been called in a regular-season contest. It was ridiculous. They weren't even protecting shooters -- which is usually an NBA maxim. And when you overlook so many obvious fouls, it becomes such a random thing when you do actually call a foul. The inconsistency must make it extremely difficult to play in the game. I know it makes it hard to watch a game.

With that off my chest, let's deal with some specifics from this game:

  • There was a lot of gabbing afterward about a little tap below the belt delivered by Draymond Green to LeBron James after a scuffle between the players. Let me just say that when you knock a guy down, then make things worse by disrespecting him by walking over him, it's not surprising you might get hit between the legs as you straddle him. Enough said about that foolishness.
  • James scuffled with Green and Steph Curry in the fourth quarter -- a pretty obvious indication that his frustration level was getting pretty high. He also seemed to be battling teammate Kyrie Irving for shots down the stretch, which should never happen.
  • Cleveland Coach Tyronn Lue needs to grab more control over that team. In the fourth quarter it was just James and Irving taking turns, or taking each other's turns, going one-on-one. By now, everyone knows how ineffective that can be.
  • LeBron just hasn't ever seemed to figure out the appropriate balance between making his teammates better and getting his own good shots. It's plagued him his entire career. For as much time as he spends berating his teammates on the court, this man needs coaching more than most superstars do.
  • Speaking of coaching, I'm going to be one of the few to say this because Charles Barkley and I were the only ones who didn't agree with starting Richard Jefferson Friday night: how in the world could any coach decide it's a better idea to start Richard Jefferson than Kevin Love in a Finals game? Love ended up playing just seven seconds more than Jefferson -- which is a joke. Love is an all-star, Jefferson is washed up. I will always think that was a very silly move -- especially with James and Irving doing nothing but playing hero-ball in the fourth quarter, with Love languishing on the bench. Lue will learn real soon that sometimes you get outcoached by someone else and sometimes you outcoach yourself -- which is what he did Friday.
  • I've talked about how good Steve Kerr is as the coach of the Warriors but there's evidence in so many little things Golden State does during a game. Late, when the Cavs were trying to foul on every Warrior possession, Golden State caught the ball before it hit the ground after Cleveland made baskets and immediately got it inbounds to Steph Curry -- the league's best foul shooter. Seems like such a little thing until you see so many other teams fiddle around picking up the ball out of bounds after a make and allowing the defense to get set.
  • Lue didn't give James or Irving a break in the second half and I know a lot of fans -- the same ones who thought Damian Lillard should have played every minute of the second half of every playoff game -- think that's proper. But it isn't. These guys aren't robots.

There's a coaching gap in NBA Finals but Cavs will be better in Game 2

There's a coaching gap in NBA Finals but Cavs will be better in Game 2

Some thoughts about Game 1 of the NBA Finals after a very convincing Golden State win:

  • There is no question that the Cavaliers suffered from playing all those mediocre Eastern Conference opponents. There isn't a lot that prepares you for facing a defensive buzzsaw like the Warriors but certainly the Raptors and Hawks did Cleveland no good. I would expect the Cavs to improve now that they've experienced the relentlessness and cohesiveness of Golden State's powerful defense.
  • That said, Cleveland is no Oklahoma City Thunder. The Warriors seemed much more confident and comfortable against this crew.
  • The Warriors are so good on offense that people forget their defense. I can't remember a team in the three-point era that manages to clog the middle yet still close out on three-point shooters as effectively as the Warriors. That defense left Cleveland looking confused and ineffective most of the night. Welcome to the big time, Cavs. There is a reason these guys won 73 games and it obviously wasn't just because they have a couple of guards who (usually) make shots.
  • I thought it was a good idea when Cleveland made a coaching change in mid-season -- it seemed nobody was listening to David Blatt -- but I wasn't enthused that the Cavs once again hired a head man without previous experience running an NBA team. To hire back-to-back head coaches without experience shows a surprising lack of respect for how difficult the job is. I know there are a lot of fans who believe coaching doesn't matter in the NBA -- that it's all talent. Well, watch a tape of Thursday night's game and tell me that.
  • There is a coaching gap here. I would love to watch a few Steve Kerr practices but what that team does at the defensive end, the way their players cover for each other, requires a lot of practice and some very intelligent players.
  • And speaking of defense, the Cavs' scheme wasn't very sophisticated and allowed way too many open shots and dunks. THIS IS THE FINALS, guys. Allowing uncontested shots is no way to win.
  • Speaking of that -- this is the NBA Finals in 2016 and that isolation stuff just isn't going to hold up against a great defensive team. Move the ball and move bodies, Cavaliers, and you might get some open shots.
  • There is no substitute for experienced and smart players off the bench. We've seen that in Portland, too, as the franchise has matured. The Warriors bench was sensational on the big stage and those players' success in Game 1 is testimony to how much they played in the regular season and playoffs leading up to this game. Kerr goes deep to the bench in most games and that raises those players' confidence levels.
  • Andre Iguodala is so talented at both ends of the court and is a terrific asset off the bench. He's versatile enough to defend several positions and is not afraid to take big shots. His offensive improvement has surprised me because this is a player who used to be something of a liability on offense early in his career at Philadelphia.
  • Two things are likely in Game 2 -- Cleveland will adjust and play much better, particularly on offense. And Golden State, which found things way too easy on Thursday, will probably be worse. It's human nature.
  • Caught part of the game on radio and I must tell you, it's such a pleasure to listen to Kevin Calabro call a game. It was a genius move by ESPN to hire Calabro as its main NBA radio voice. The former play by play man for the Sonics is such a pro and conveys the excitement of the event without turning into a crazy man.