Warriors

Durant plays role of closer, puts Warriors on precipice of perfect postseason

Durant plays role of closer, puts Warriors on precipice of perfect postseason

CLEVELAND -- In a little more than a minute, in game that does not clinch a series, Kevin Durant locked up what surely should be the most coveted individual award in the NBA.

That would be, of course, the Bill Russell Award that goes to the MVP of The Finals, to the player who was great in the most games of the most important series.

For when things looked bleakest Wednesday night, in a building holding 20,562 people screaming for his failure, Durant dived into the moment, pushing the Warriors to a 118-113 victory in Game 3 that gives them an imposing 3-0 series lead over the Cavaliers.

One more victory, and the Warriors will have their second championship in three seasons.

If that win comes Friday night in Game 4, they will become the first squad in major American team sports to sweep four games in four consecutive series to finish 16-0.

Durant, with 14 fourth-quarter points, is primarily responsible for putting them in this position.

“He was their closer tonight, for sure,” Cavs guard Kyrie Irving conceded after a game the needed to win to give this series at least semblance of legit competition.

“He took over,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “You can tell, he knows this is his moment. He's been an amazing player in this league for a long time, and he senses this is his time, his moment, his team.

“When I say his team, I mean it's not literally just his team, it's that we’ve got a group around him that can help him and create space for him with the shooting and the playmaking, and I think he's having the time of his life out there.”

Stephen Curry was fabulous, with 26 points, a team-best 13 rebounds and six assists. Klay Thompson was remarkable, with 30 points and six rebounds. Andre Iguodala was impactful off the bench, producing 7 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals.

But at a time when the Warriors needed someone to carry them home, Durant did.

With the Warriors trailing 113-109, with 1:24 remaining, Durant came out of a timeout and drained a jumper over Cavs center Tristan Thompson that put the score at 113-111 with 1:15 to play, forcing a Cleveland timeout.

“We know in that situation to get that man the rock,” Thompson said. “He's 7-foot, can shoot over almost anybody and has amazing shooting touch, and he made a dagger 3. Well, not a dagger, but a huge 3 there. And we're confident in him taking that shot every time.”

The Cavs tried to answer, but Kyle Korver’s 3-point attempt missed, the rebound going to none other than Durant, who went sprinting into the frontcourt, firing a 3-pointer over LeBron James that bottomed, giving the Warriors their first lead since late in the third quarter.

And, moreover, silencing Quicken Loans Arena.

“He lives for those moments,” Andre Iguodala said of Durant.

“We know if we get off the board and push, we're a dangerous team,” Durant said. “And I (saw James) backing up, and I just wanted to take that shot.”

An Irving miss led to another Warriors possession that ended with a pair of Durant free throws, for a 116-113 lead with 12.9 seconds remaining.

Scoring 7 points in roughly 62 seconds, Durant extinguished any reasonable hope of a Cavaliers comeback in Game 3, and practically putting them on ice for the summer.

“Came down to the stretch, and they made some big time plays,” Irving said. “KD comes down, hits a big 3, puts them up one, iso on the wing. I'll probably be replaying that play for a while.”

Durant through three games is averaging 34 points (on 56.1-percent shooting), 10 rebounds and two blocks. He’s coming for LeBron, coming for the first championship of a 10-year NBA career.

Another solid performance in a Warrior victory, and Durant will have that, along with trophy that ought to be cherished above all others and in his case would have to serve as the last word to his critics.

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

Warriors have earned respect with sixth straight 50-win season

OAKLAND – They don’t celebrate 50-win seasons around here. Not anymore. Not when it’s a mere signpost along the way to something worth cherishing.

That’s what 50 wins has become for the Warriors. When they hit No. 50 on Sunday with an indistinct 121-114 victory over the Detroit Pistons, there was but the slightest few moments of reflection.

“Pretty impressive,” coach Steve Kerr said.

“It’s special to be a part of something so great as these last six of seven years have been for us,” Draymond Green said.

Beg pardon? Impressive? Special? For a franchise that reached 50 wins four times in its first five decades in the Bay Area to string together six consecutive such seasons is right out of the late Franklin Mieuli’s wildest fantasy.

Mieuli owned the Warriors for the first 24 years (1962-86) of their Bay Area existence, first in San Francisco and then in Oakland. The Warriors reached 50 wins twice in that span.

Mieuli sold the team to Jim Fitzgerald and Dan Finnane, who owned the Warriors for nine seasons (1986-95), during which there were two 50-win seasons.

The Chris Cohan ownership lasted 15 seasons (1995-2010) and never saw a 50-win season. The most successful team under Cohan was the 2006-07 “We Believe” squad that finished two games over .500 (42-40) – enough to be revered for eternity.

Among the few employees remaining from the Cohan era is Stephen Curry, drafted one year before the current ownership group, led by Joe Lacob and Peter Guber. The Warriors were 25-56 in Curry’s rookie season, 36-46 the following season and 23-43 in his third season. So there was a time . . .

Curry knows, as do the team’s longtime fans, how absurd this turnaround has been.

“It’s surreal, to be honest, when you talk about the history of the organization and how hard it is to win NBA games, win championships and string together year after year after year,” he said. “It takes a collection of talented guys, a commitment to trying to put together the best team possible every year. And that’s the front office, the coaching staff, all the way down.”

The Warriors and their fans have evolved from the years of praying for the playoffs to the annual expectation of championship parade. They once hoped for satisfactory. They now anticipate excellence.

“When I came here, I think there was a 23-win season the year before that,” said Green, who was drafted in 2012, three seasons after Curry. “The next year was my rookie year and we made the playoffs and we won (47) games. To have the run that we’re currently having, it’s a special thing.

“But in saying that, we get the opportunity to do it with a special group of guys, a special organization, a special coaching staff, a special ownership group, a special front office. It’s more about the people that you come work with every day. That’s what makes runs like this possible. That’s what makes runs like this sustainable.”

[RELATED: Kerr's message after Mavericks loss]

The Warriors were 51-31 in Mark Jackson’s final season as coach. They’ve since won 67, 73, 67, 58. Here in Year 5, they are at 50 – and counting.

Which is why, in part, Kerr says he didn’t sweat that putrid performance the Warriors laid down Saturday in a 35-point loss to Dallas at Oracle.

“It’s hard for anybody to understand what these guys go through physically, emotionally and spiritually, trying to defend the crown, trying to win the title, trying to stay on top of the mountain,” Kerr said. “It’s hard. And last night they had nothing. They had nothing in the tank.

“The great thing about this team . . . is they always bounce back because they have so much pride. What they have accomplished – this team has the best record over the last four seasons (265-63) as any four-year run in the history of the NBA. What they have done is just remarkable. Last night was tough, but it’s really tough to do what they have done, too. We’re going to give them a pass and we are going to move on.”

Understand, 50 wins guarantees nothing in the postseason. The NBA graveyard is replete with headstones marking the first-round demise of 50-win teams. In the first of their six 50-win seasons, 2013-14, the Warriors were such a team, ousted in seven by the hated Clippers.

[RELATED: KD, Kerr on six-shot night]

Here’s the one thing a succession of 50-win seasons can assure: Respect. That’s something the Warriors had to earn.

“I have a true appreciation for what we’ve been able to do,” Curry said. “But I want to continue this for as long as we can.”

How Draymond Green's defense set tone for Warriors in win vs. Pistons

How Draymond Green's defense set tone for Warriors in win vs. Pistons

OAKLAND - Ten minutes into the first quarter of Sunday's win over the Pistons, Draymond Green found himself in the post against fellow forward and former adversary Blake Griffin. With 10 seconds left in the shot clock, Griffin took a couple of jab steps, trying to make room along the baseline, but not before Green's defense forced the All-Star to fumble the ball, allowing the shot clock to expire.

Green then tapped Pistons head coach Dwane Casey and held a blank stare to the crowd. The play, like his one-on-one battle with Griffin on Sunday night, set the tone Golden State's 121-114 victory over Detroit.

"I thought Draymond's energy and defensive effort sparked us all night," Steve Kerr said following the game.

From the onset of Sunday's matchup, Griffin, who finished with 24 points on 6-of-14 from the field, seemed to be playing the memories of yesteryear as much he played Green. For his first several possessions he sought out the Warriors' forward in the post, hoping his array of powerful post moves would beat the former Defensive Player of the Year.

Instead, he shot just 3-for-8 in the first half.

“At some point, somebody gotta figure it out," Green said. "Like, don’t target me in the post. I’ve been dealing with that my whole career. It used to piss me off, now it's like whatever. If y'all are going to do that, you'll probably lose.”

As Green's reached championship heights over the years, it's important to remember Griffin's role in Green's career. It was Griffin, then a member of the Clippers, who got under Green's skin in 2013 on Christmas Day, when both were ejected late in the second half of a Warriors win. It was Griffin and the Clippers who provided a stage for Green, then a role player, to break out in the 2014 Western Conference playoffs four months later, when Green averaged 11.9 points and 8.9 rebounds. And it was Griffin whom Green looked to as he hit a 3-pointer in the final moments of a Warriors win in 2014, one of the lasting images in the rivalry and the beginning of Golden State's current run.

This season, Griffin has been fantastic, averaging 24.7 points, 7.6 rebounds and 5.4 assists, earning his sixth All-Star appearance last month. Now, years later, Green still gets up for the matchup against Griffin, even as he plays more than 2,000 miles away from Los Angeles.

"I enjoy playing against great players and taking on a challenge," Green said. "Blake is a great player, he's gotten a lot better since the last time I faced him and I try to be physical. Very strong, likes to go bully ball from time to time, just staying my ground and trying to make him take tough shots."

Green's performance also helped whip the stain of a 126-91 loss to the Mavericks on Saturday night. In the first half, the Warriors held the Pistons to 44 percent from the field and 21.4 percent from 3-point range. The outing came as the Warriors are trying to stay atop the Western Conference with nine games remaining.

[RELATED: Kerr on plan to rest Curry]

This season, Green has battled injuries, sideline shouting matches with superstar teammates and the expected failure to reach his goal of the Defensive Player of the Year award. But, at least for a night, the Warriors' heartbeat set the tone guarding the Pistons' best player.

"He takes the challenge when he faces Blake (Griffin)," Kerr said. "They have been going head to head for many years and its a hell of a challenge, Blake is tough as anybody to guard and Draymond was fantastic."