Man, this has been a weird little season so far. Everybody looks terrible on the second night of back-to-backs, and back-to-backs are happening all the time. Miami looks human, Indy looks unbeatable, Brooklyn looks old, J.R. Smith hates Brandon Jennings, and the tank division — Phoenix, Charlotte, Philly, Orlando, and Boston — is actually pretty good. I was getting a little confused by it all. Then, on Thursday night, the Thunder visited the Warriors. All night, Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka battled David Lee and the Splash Brothers in front of one of those electric Golden State crowds that make most gyms look like mortuaries.
It's Klay Day, fools. The belt currently belongs to Golden State, and tonight the Warriors face off against people-person Gregg Popovich and the Spurs. TITLE FIGHT NIGHT. This is basically an excuse to get you G'd up for tonight's already awesome game, show you a picture of Klay Thompson adorned with a fake championship belt, and post this:
Andrew Bogut’s impending free agency was going to be a secretly fascinating subplot to the coming NBA season, but Bogut, delightfully candid as always, yanked back the curtain by revealing the status of contract-extension talks with the Warriors in a chat with NBA.com’s Scott Howard-Cooper.
Seriously, Bogut went off about everything.
• That the two sides have exchanged salary proposals, and that while the Warriors’ offer was lower than Bogut’s desired mark, the numbers “weren’t insulting.”
• That Bogut will agree to an incentive-based contract that kicks up his annual salary if he plays in a certain number of games.
• That Bogut will not agree to an Andrew Bynum–style contract in which giant portions of the deal are entirely unguaranteed, allowing the team to cut bait at minimal cost.
• That California’s high state income taxes will factor into his decision.
• That other Western Conference teams have already expressed interest, presumably to Bogut’s agents, in signing him this summer as a free agent — even though he’s still very obviously under contract with Golden State.
• That the Warriors’ lusty pursuit of Dwight Howard will factor into how Bogut approaches free agency. The Warriors shoved loyalty aside to chase a superior talent, and Bogut warns he’ll do the same to chase superior money.
The other night in San Antonio, the Spurs “regained control” of their series with the upstart Golden State Warriors. Their winning formula was familiar: Tim Duncan and Tony Parker led the team in field goal attempts, while Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, and Danny Green each provided valuable supplements. The Spurs have a clear hierarchy of talent and leadership that generally manifests into a predictably similar order on the stat sheet.
The current Warriors hierarchy is in a bit of disarray. Although these playoffs have undeniably improved the reputations of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Game 5 it was Harrison Barnes and Jarrett Jack leading the Warriors in field goal attempts, while Curry and Thompson were off somewhere in the basement of the Alamo.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
Danny Chau: This is a shot chart of Klay Thompson’s many 3-pointers from Game 2, overlaid on his 3-point attempts during the regular season. It’s wild.
As you can see, a majority of his shots traced the beginning arc on the right side of the floor. That is his favorite area of the court, and has been since he stepped foot in the league. Nearly 40 percent of his 3s in the regular season come from that hot zone (it’s also Steph Curry’s favorite area to shoot, but he’s more bashful about it). Thompson was fantastic from the right side as a rookie, shooting nearly 46 percent, but with greater usage this season, that figure plummeted to (a still very respectable) 37 percent, making it his least effective 3-point hot zone. It was by far his least effective in the first seven games of the playoffs, too. Before last night’s onslaught, he was 2-for-10 from that area. But shooters keep shooting, and they’ll keep shooting where they want to.
In case you were busy watching The Great Gatsby in 3-D as an ill-advised cram session for your 11th-grade English final, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
The Miami Heat rebounded from a disappointing Game 1 defeat by pasting the Chicago Bulls, 115-78, to even up their second-round series. After a pair of ejections, the Bulls found themselves playing without Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich, Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, and Taj Gibson, meaning they had to play a mostly reserve lineup of B.J. Armstrong, Jud Buechler, Toni Kukoc, Bill Wennington and Luc Longley. Despite the influx of forgotten veterans, the oldest player on the court remained Heat reserve Juwan Howard, who was inactive with "being tired, man; real, real tired."
Klay Thompson had 34 points and 14 rebounds as the Golden State Warriors held off the San Antonio Spurs, 100-91. Midway through Thompson's explosive first half, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was seen staring at the Warriors' wing, mumbling, "decent athleticism, floor-stretching 3-point shooting, on a rookie contract … how do I not possess him?" Popovich then wiped off the small amount of drool that had collected at the corner of his mouth, snapped at Spurs guard Danny Green for being a "lollygagger," before making a mental note to himself to take the title of "general manager" back from R.C. Buford after the game.
The first reason I like Steph Curry is that he's a relatively normally sized human being who has figured out a way to become an NBA superstar. When you look at guys like Dwight Howard, LeBron James, or Dirk Nowitzki, it’s easy to see why they might be incredible basketball players. Stephen Curry doesn't look like those guys; someone with his exact figure could walk into any pickup gym in America and few people would notice. Curry is skinny and shortish by NBA standards, but pound-for-pound he is probably the best scorer the league has seen since Allen Iverson.
It’s Curry’s tiny frame and the current NBA injury plague that make what happened the other night in Denver more bothersome. Kenneth “Manimal” Faried stuck out his foot, in what was possibly an attempt to trip Curry, who could easily be nicknamed “beanpole.” I love Faried as much as anyone but was repulsed to see him resort to that. To me it seemed out of character and dickish (or malicious), which is a word I would never use to describe Faried or his game. Why would he resort to tripping? Those saying fouls like that are part of the game neglect to mention that this exact move could easily start a fight at any level of basketball. Tripping is never part of the game and it never should be.
A lot of people have argued, “Well, this is playoff basketball and hard fouls are the norm.” They cite the Pistons beating up Michael Jordan as an example. They imply that there’s some old-school cred associated with this stuff. There’s not, and thank god the days of clotheslining are bygone. Hurting dudes who make the NBA fun to watch is not cool now, and it never really was. If you want to watch big guys fight each other, there’s a sport for you, but it’s not basketball. There is no dignity in “touching up”; there should be no pride in substituting brutality for skill. And though it’s an argument for another time, you’ll find many of the same people who embrace the notion of hard gymnasium fouls on Friday preaching about the importance of player safety in other sports on Sundays.
Robert Mays: Considering my own, “Oh, no, not again” reaction to Steph Curry’s twisting left ankle last night, I can’t imagine what that image must’ve looked like for Warriors fans. When his foot turned late in the third quarter, Curry was 30 points into what was, by default, the biggest game of his professional career. This is the first playoff trip for Golden State since the glorious 2007 postseason, and with his fellow All-Star teammate David Lee done for the year, Curry’s performance has never mattered more. The Warriors played Denver to a standstill in Game 1, and behind a shoot-the-lights-out, dozen-or-so-assists night from their point guard, they were about to have Game 2, home court, and, seemingly, a shot to steal a series in which no one gave them much chance. Then Curry limped off the court and toward the bench, and the Warriors' hopes hobbled off with him.
In preparation for the NBA playoffs, this is second entry breaking down one play or action central to the success of each playoff-bound team. (Read the first post, on the Knicks, Celtics, Heat, and Bucks, here.) Check back tomorrow for the remaining eight breakdowns.
Denver Nuggets: Andre Miller and the Hit-Ahead Pass
It’s no secret that this Denver team loves to play fast. What may come as a shock, however, is that it’s the Nuggets’ 37-year-old backup point guard, not their speed merchant Ty Lawson, who allows them to truly achieve a breakneck pace.
This is because Miller is perhaps the best point guard in the league at the hit-ahead pass, a pass most players learn before they even hit puberty. But knowing about it and executing it are two different things. The veteran guard possesses an unbelievable ability to receive an outlet from a big man and then, sometimes even without a dribble, fling a pass on the money to a streaking teammate nearly 50 feet upcourt.
After a brutal six-game losing streak in early February put their playoff hopes in doubt, the Golden State Warriors have fared much better lately. The team has won eight of its last 12 games with a sterling point differential of +5.8 — a mark that would equate to a 57-win campaign if it held up over the course of a season. Golden State’s overall season mark is just +0.4, suggesting its real abilities lie somewhere closer to a .500 team, not one sitting 10 games above the break-even point. As ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh recently pointed out, point differential, not record, is a better indicator of future success. And that’s why this recent Warriors run is so intriguing.
Though they’ve faced a slate of middling opponents — their best wins have come at Houston and at home against Washington and the Lakers — a large part of this recent run can be attributed to the improving health of center Andrew Bogut. Since his gruesome elbow dislocation in the spring of 2010, the Australian center has been somewhat of a forgotten man. Far from productive during short-lived returns to the court, Bogut hadn’t been the defensive force he was emerging as three years ago in Milwaukee. Slowly but surely, however, Bogut has been recapturing his form, and the Warriors are reaping the benefits.
On our first full day in Houston, Jacoby, Zach Lowe, and I had the pleasure of talking with a few of the NBA's brightest stars. Jacoby spoke with Kyrie Irving about video games, 3-point shooting, and Uncle Drew. I got a chance to talk with Chandler Parsons about the Rockets' rivalry with the Warriors. I also chatted with comic-book fan (and Nets center) (and All-Star) Brook Lopez, who told me about who hogs the stereo in the Brooklyn locker room and where The Dark Knight Rises stands in the Batman canon. Finally, Zach Lowe got an incredibly detailed account of who sits where on the Blazers' team plane from LaMarcus Aldridge and heard from Warriors guard Klay Thompson about what it was like to give up 140 points in one game. Check out the full podcast, as well as the video clips, below.