Ray Ratto

Kerr has to figure out what form his next set of jumper cables will take

kerr-steph-perplexed.jpg
AP

Kerr has to figure out what form his next set of jumper cables will take

The Great Player Empowerment Debate has come and gone, the National Basketball Association stands as before, and Steve Kerr is again slightly irked that a relatively harmless idea to fix that dent in his own team has become everyone else’s cry of disrespectful injustice.

Indeed, rarely has anyone felt so sorry for the Phoenix Suns since they lost that coin flip 48 years ago and ended with Neal Walk instead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But the underlying oh-crap moment in Kerr’s decision to let his players run practices and timeouts before the 46-point win over the Suns is actually just one more acknowledgement that the regular season can be a tedium-fest, even for the elite.

The Warriors have been less lasered-in this year. They have been less defensively mindful, and they have tried to overadorn passes in search of the adrenalin fix that used to sustain them so easily two and three years ago. It is mid-February, and they have set such a high bar of stimulus, and to be fair such a high self-image, that they find playing to their standard is often an exercise in overexertion.

They’re bored, pure and simple.

The playoffs are still too far away to be real. The excitement of wondering if they will open with Denver or Utah or the Los Angeles Clippers or New Orleans isn’t that exciting yet. Listening to that 45th lecture about focus is becoming the equivalent of listening to sad-trombone.

Kerr knows it. The players know it. They get along fine, and nobody is spoiling for Kerr to be replaced by Tom Thibodeau, but messaging loses some of its power after 366 games and 1,205 days, give or take the odd golf outing.

Indeed, all the messaging around the league is that the regular season as a whole is about combating boredom. Some teams (at least eight this year) indeed regard the regular season as a loss leader in search of that magical draft pick that usually never comes. Teams rest players and hide behind “sore right ring toe” as an explanation to keep the network mall cops at bay. Cleveland was performing a ritual self-immolation until Koby Altman dynamited the roster, an act of electroshock therapy unheard of in midseason. The Los Angeles Lakers are playing for 2019 even though 2018 is only 45 days old, and LaVar Ball is not disruptive enough to get anyone’s notice any more.

Everywhere, the message is the regular season is a month longer than it needs to be, and there is no cure for this mass ennui but time. Kerr played a card to energize his veterans for an evening, and it worked -- although the evidence suggests that they could have beaten the Suns by 46 even without the new time-out structure.

Only mid-March will make this problem go away, because by then title aspirants will start prepping for the time when the games matter a lot, mid-level teams will battle for the remaining 10 playoff spots, and everyone else will be doing mock drafts. They’ll have things to amuse them.

In the meantime, though, Adam Silver rises each day knowing that the solution to all this regular season disrespect (since that is what the Warrior-Suns game actually was) is eliminating February entirely – and no amount of network money can do that.

In the meantime, Steve Kerr has to figure out what form his next set of jumper cables will take – getting kicked out of a game during the National Anthem? Sitting in the stands? Sitting on the other team’s bench? Promoting JaVale McGee to assistant general manager and letting him work the buyout market? Don’t miss our next exciting episode, “The Burden Of Trying To Look Engaged,” or “Brooklyn on March 6.”

Steph Curry-led Warriors put down heaviest hammer yet in Game 3

Steph Curry-led Warriors put down heaviest hammer yet in Game 3

Stephen Curry seems sufficiently and ostentatiously cured of whatever ailed him, so after three games of the Western Conference Final the narrative chasers have to hunt down a new barking dog.

And maybe it will be “How hurt is Chris Paul?” It's hard to kill an injury narrative once it gets up to speed, and it's often easier to just reassign it.

Golden State’s whirlwind, 126-85 mega-rout of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 returned us to the aftermath of Game 1 when everyone was sure that Houston was incapable of a proportionate response...until Houston did indeed respond in Game 2.

But the possibilities narrow as any series goes deeper, and the Warriors put down the heaviest hammer yet, forcing 19 Houston turnovers, crowding an apparently limited Paul (5-for-16, 13 points in 33 minutes) and James Harden (7-of-16 for 20 in 33 minutes) as they had crowded Curry, and doing it so comprehensively that none of the other Rockets had the will or capability to help ease the pain. The 41-point win was the largest in Warriors’ postseason history, and conversely the defeat was the most lopsided in Rockets’ postseason history.

And Game 4 is still in Oakland. And Curry is whole again, dancing again, and has his oppressor’s soul again.

He started slowly as though all his injuries had united as one to break his spirit, and the Rockets had seemingly figured out how to exploit those wounds and rendered him a liability. He missed eight of his first ten shots and six of his first seven threes, and was 3-for-20 from three in the first 109 quarters of this series. You could imagine climbing inside the skull of Oracle Arena and hear it think, “Can the Warriors win this series without Curry’s help at all?”

And then he slapped sense back into everyone with an 18-point third quarter in which he made all seven of his shots, going boldly to the basket and thus freeing his looks from distance. He energized a crowd on the edge of paralysis and broke the Rockets’ best chance to bring the defending champions to heel.

He finished with 35, returned the joyful anticipation to his building and the conspicuous brass back into his post-score celebrations. In fact, after one such score, he chose to discuss his Wolverine-like healing powers with an appreciative audience and needed to remind himself that there was defense to be played on the ensuing possession.

In sum, he was playing to tell the world to stop talking about his shot as though it had been hit by a bus. And the world obeyed, loudly and abjectly, as it typically does with him.

“I thought he was pressing a little bit early...” head coach Steve Kerr said of Curry, “but he bounces back as well from bad games as anyone I’ve ever seen. I’ve seen this a lot of times, so no, I wasn’t worried.”

“His three is like someone else’s dunk,” Draymond Green said. “I don’t mean to disappoint, but I’ve seen crazier from him.”

“It was frustrating that I had the right intentions, got five wide open threes and only one went in,” Curry said. “You keep searching for the right openings...saw the opening and just hit singles, like Coach likes to say.

“I’ve just been talking to myself. You have to be your biggest fan sometimes. You gotta find whatever it is to get you going, use that energy to let your teammates know you’re with ‘em. I did my job tonight, and now I have to do it again.”

Yeah. Easy as that.

Then again, it was delivered in the perfect context in a postseason that has struggled to find close games and great moments. Indeed, this was the standout game in a set of conference final games that have been remarkable for their lack of competitiveness. Only three other conference finals in league history have been decided by such a huge margin, and the average score in the six games to date has been 117-93.

And now that Stephen Curry has healed himself, the only reason to think this series could change again is if Houston has a new way to break his spirit. Historically, though, Curry is not recaptured once he breaks free of an opponents’ clutches, so it may very well be that this series was crushed for good Sunday night, and the only thing left for anyone to see is Curry’s smile.

The one that belies his essential ruthlessness.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Game 2 Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Game 3 Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Game 4 Oakland -- Tuesday, May 22nd at 6pm
Game 5 Houston -- Thursday, May 24th at 6pm
Game 6 Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Game 7 Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm

Warriors held up their end and stood on the Rockets' chest in Game 1

Warriors held up their end and stood on the Rockets' chest in Game 1

The worst thing about Game 1 of any series is that people think it foretells the future, but that’s the fault of people, not the series.

But recency bias stops becoming bias after Game 2 when Game 2 resembles Game 1, and that is the task of the Golden State Warriors Wednesday in Houston.

The Warriors spotted the Rockets eight minutes Monday night – the first eight minutes. Draymond Green got a technical for overmodulation 67 seconds and change into the game, and his teammates missed five of their first seven shots.

After that, well, you know what happened. Even the tinfoil hat brigade who thought official Scott Foster would beat the Warriors by himself because they remember an unpleasant game in Portland long ago had to surrender their conspiracy theories to reality by the early third quarter. Klay Thompson got the looks he needed, Kevin Durant didn’t even need looks, and Golden State simply efficient-ed Houston to death.

They are now 14-1 in Game 1s, 11-3 in Game 2s, 7-7 in game 3s and 8-6 in Game 4s. They are also 9-1 in Game 5, 3-1 in Game 6 and 1-1 in Game 7. What this tells us is that they win 85 percent of the time at home, typically by large margins, and can lose a bit of interest and want-to when they hit the road.

But this series is unlike all the others. They bring their ability to make an early statement to Houston, and if form holds, they will go home for Games 3 and 4 with every reason to finish this with the same ruthless efficiency.

And the only reason not to think this is how things will play out is the notion that Houston is too good to be run out of their building twice.

This idea flies in the face of the dismissive tone America took after Game 1, in which Durant, Thompson and the more quiescent Green took command when the game turned in the third quarter. The entire postseason had been framed with this as the centerpiece series, but Game 1 just sort of...well, sat there.

It reinforced the notion that the Warriors are oppressive when inspired, and that teams do not catch the Warriors as much as the Warriors allow themselves to be caught. James Harden got 41 and Chris Paul 23 and 11 rebounds, but the rest of the Rockets were hardly noticeable. That will not do if the centerpiece is to avoid being shoved aside for the green beans and yams.

In short, this series has gotten off to a poor start if drama and elite basketball is your end game. The Warriors held up their end, but in doing so stood on the Rockets’ chest. If that is the way this series is to play out, we’ll have built up a very tall building only to have it Jenga’d out in five moves, tops.