Chris Ryan: With about nine minutes left in the third quarter and the Spurs holding on to a slipping six-point lead over the Warriors, Stephen Curry raced up the court off an Andrew Bogut rebound. Curry is not a normal point guard, so the normal rules of playing the position don't apply to him. This of course, is part of the fun of watching Stephen Curry over the last couple of weeks. He played like ... Stephen Curry, showing off a skill set so unique, on a pair of ankles so brittle, it felt like you were watching some endangered species. Like you sat down in your living room and boom, what in the shit, there was an Iberian lynx.
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.
In Part 1 of 2, Bill Simmons talks to Joe House about the NHL and NBA playoffs, then asks which playoff city is House's food favorite. In Part 2, Simmons calls Zach Lowe to talk about the NBA playoffs and whether Golden State can pull off the upset over the Spurs.
To listen to these podcasts, download them on iTunes here, or to listen at the ESPN.com Podcenter, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous weekend, along with ones you will remember forever.
The Black Falcon Has Landed
Jay Caspian Kang: Last spring, when the Golden State Warriors were redefining the acceptable parameters of tanking and Harrison Barnes was redefining the boundaries of how badly I could troll a player on my beloved Carolina Tar Heels, I wrote a series of columns stating the Warriors were doing the NBA a disservice and that Barnes was a bust. Around that time, I recall a friend joking that the best possible outcome would be if the Warriors tanked their way into the middle of the lottery and picked up Barnes. That way, my two beloved hatreds could be intertwined forever. If Barnes ended up being an NBA bust, the specious logic of sports predictions and the Internet record would vindicate me forever.
In case you were busy asking, "yeah, but when is Spoiled Only-Child Day?" here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
Tiger Woods won his second career Players Championship and his fourth PGA Tour event this year, finishing the tournament at 13-under. Woods benefited from Sergio Garcia's quadruple-bogey on TPC's iconic 17th hole. "I can't believe it," Tiger said after the tournament, "I thought for sure I was in trouble. You don't just stare down Sergio Garcia and live to tell the tale. I'm shocked that he made it easy for me. Shoooooocked." When told of Woods's comments, Garcia said, "Why? What's his problem, man? Guy has everything. He has a boat that holds other boats in it. He has a trophy case that is just all of the trophies he doesn't like melted down and turned into a trophy case. Why's he gotta come after me? What's he compensating for? What trouble has Tiger f-ing Woods ever had to deal with? Can we talk about that for a second? Can we talk about Tiger Woods's hypothetical personal troubles?" When told of Garcia's questions, Woods asked, "Wasn't he married to Greg Norman's daughter?" before winking provocatively at the press corps. When told of Tiger's wink, Sergio let out a frustrated scream. When told of Sergio's scream, Tiger let out a sarcastic chuckle. When told of Tiger's sarcastic chuckle, Sergio sighed. When told of Sergio's sigh, Tiger fist-pumped. When told of Tiger's fist pump, Sergio's lip began to quiver. When told of Sergio's lip quiver, Tiger didn't look up from his dinner of truffles and lobsters. When told of Tiger's feast, Sergio let one tear trickle down his cheek. When told of Sergio's tear, Tiger turned his laptop toward the reporter talking to him; the laptop had a really smug animated GIF playing on loop. When told of Tiger's GIF burn, Sergio asked, "Isn't that pronounced with a hard 'G,' like Garcia?" But it isn't, and when a reporter went to tell Tiger of Sergio's foolishness, he was too busy watching someone polishing his trophy case made of trophies to acknowledge the reporter's existence.
Even with Stephen Curry at less than full strength, the Golden State Warriors evened up their series with the San Antonio Spurs with a 97-87 overtime win. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was concerned after the game, saying, "Now that Curry is banged up, Mark Jackson discovered he's allowed to rest him. That sprained ankle cost us a massive competitive advantage in this series."
When the Warriors lost David Lee to what the team assumed was a season-ending injury in the team’s first playoff game, I was skeptical that Golden State would be able to reconstruct its offense on the fly against an opponent devoting nearly 100 percent of its scouting resources to the Warriors. It wasn’t that Lee was some kind of indispensable two-way destroyer for the Dubs; he’s a very clear minus on defense, and though he puts up gaudy individual rebounding numbers every season, his teams have generally rebounded better with him on the bench.
It was mostly that Lee was such a central cog in just about every Warriors offensive possession. He was by far Golden State’s most common screener for Stephen Curry, and on those deadly pick-and-rolls, Lee could do just about everything — pop for jumpers, roll to the hoop, catch at the foul line, and break down the defense with his dribbling/passing skills. He also soaked up a lot of Golden State possessions with a solid post-up/isolation game, particularly from the left wing. Only Curry attempted more shots per game or used a larger share of Warriors possessions.
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.
There will be no shortage of commentary on the devastating, nay, soul-decimating loss suffered by the Golden State Warriors last night. And rightfully so, seeing how it was so epic that even our typically stoic Bill Barnwell tried to find understanding in a proverbial car crash by suggesting that Warriors fans might find some solace in the music of dearly departed emo gods Thursday. His heart’s in the right place: You should listen to Thursday if you are not currently listening to Thursday. That said, their music rarely traffics in straight-up depression or cataclysmic emotional defeats. To really capture what the Warriors faithful went through last night, you need to look no further than the Bay Area.
Over the past two decades, Mark Kozelek — known to many as front man of Red House Painters and his newer band, Sun Kil Moon, as well as a solo artist — has created some of the most beautiful and profoundly depressing music. It’s the sort of thing you might reach for if you’re the type who thinks the first Bon Iver album is some weak-ass make-out music for college freshmen. I don’t know if Kozelek is a Warriors fan; he was born in Massillon, Ohio, and I don’t really know if he’s a fan of anything besides cats, boxing, and nylon-stringed guitars. That said, many of his songs seem to tap into the frustrations, pain, and unique sense of fleeting hope that afflict those who emotionally invest in Golden State.
This isn’t a list of the most depressing Mark Kozelek songs — you could pick five at random and end up with equally demoralizing results. This five-song sampler is more in the interest of abetting the healing process, songs that speak to the unique experience of loving a Golden State Warriors team that so rarely loves back. Besides, we had to keep things short since our lawyers have informed us that offering more than an hour of Kozelek’s music opens us up to some serious tort liability.
After All-Star forward David Lee went down with a torn hip flexor, it appeared this Golden State Warriors team was toast. The Nuggets were dealing with their own injured star, Danilo Gallinari, but the team’s depth and impressive second half of the regular season still put them as the odds-on favorite to win the series. Yet by replacing Lee’s production with a combination of Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green, and Carl Landry (and by riding Stephen Curry’s hot hand), Golden State roared back from a 1-0 series deficit to beat the Nuggets in six games and become the best story of the first round.
As was the case with the Nuggets, most are assuming that without Lee, Golden State’s matchup against the Spurs — a superior regular-season team inching closer to full strength thanks to the extra rest they received by making short work of the Lakers — will be the end of the road for the Warriors. But a funny thing might have happened for Golden State when Lee went down — they might have gotten better.
A survey of the players and teams making moves in last night's NBA action.
1. Stephen Curry
Brett Koremenos: Though he has made a number of incredible, acrobatic shots over the course of this series, the first 3-pointer Steph Curry made in the third quarter last night particularly stood out. As far as degree of difficulty was concerned, it was a relatively easy look for Curry. What made it stand out to me was the rush I felt when it went down. At any point during a Warriors game, one made jumper from Curry can sometimes seem like the precursor to a brilliant stretch of basketball that’s so damn fun you might want to strap yourself to the couch out of safety.
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.
So much amazing is happening, and the Shootaround crew is here to help you keep track of it all. You'll find takes on moments you might've missed from the previous night, along with ones you will remember forever.
Chris Ryan: Maybe it's just the fraying of my emotional meniscus or something, but Stephen Curry makes me nervous. You can't blame me. After Rondo, Rose, Westbrook, Kobe, and Gallo, I can't help but have the feeling like it's only a matter of time before Curry is helped off the floor by Kent Bazemore and Richard Jefferson, and we go back into the dreaded "awaiting MRI results" zone again. It doesn't help that the kid has papier-mâché ankles, is built like a Big Bang Theory cast member, and gets a little slick with his responsibilities. Before Friday's Game 3 against Denver, Curry surreptitiously removed his ankle brace, prompting his coach, Mark Jackson, to remark after the game, "I've learned very early, he's very slick." In a playoffs that has been largely about loss or absence — about teams making do without some of their key players, or with some of their key players banged up — Golden State has given us all something. They're in the black. For a lot of fans, they are getting to see a star be born. A perfect Warriors star, too — a guy who seems to embody the delirious passion of the franchise and plays as part of a legacy of "this is so fun" players who came before him.
In case you were busy on eBay trying to unload your Tim Tebow Jets jersey, here's what you missed in sports last weekend:
The San Antonio Spurs dispatched the Los Angeles Lakers, 103-82, to advance to the Western Conference semifinals. Lakers center Dwight Howard, who was ejected from the game after getting two technical fouls, said after the game, "Gotcha! Oh, man, that was hilarious! Classic Howard. I was all like, 'T me up! I totally want to never play basketball in a Lakers uniform again,' and they totally did! Joke's on them! I'm pranking people left and right! L.A. is Prank City!" When asked if this meant he was going to re-sign with L.A., Howard's demeanor quickly shifted. "Absolutely not," he said. "This has been the worst year of my life."
Stephen Curry drained six 3-pointers as the Golden State Warriors beat the Denver Nuggets 115-101 in a pivotal Game 4. "Do I feel threatened by Curry? Absolutely not; my legacy is intact," said TNT analyst Reggie Miller after the game. Miller then wiped the steam off his bathroom mirror and examined his temples. Were they grayer than the day prior? "Perhaps," Miller said to himself, "but that just means you're getting wiser. More mature. And some punk kid in Oakland can't take that away from you."