FOX Sports NBA Analyst
FOX Sports NBA Writer
FOX Sports writers provide game insights throughout the NBA Playoffs. Here are her thoughts from Sunday.
Warriors 120, Kings 100: Curry refuses to let Warriors lose
No one comes into the NBA at 6-foot-3, 181 pounds, out of a mid-major college, with bad ankles, and become a two-time MVP and four-time champion without some level of irrepressible spirit.
Stephen Wardell Curry proved once again on Sunday afternoon how indomitable his mind is.
Faced with one of the biggest abdominal tests of his career, Curry put on an historic 50-point performance to lead the Golden State Warriors past the Sacramento Kings and into the second round with a 120-100 win. He now owns the record for most points in a game 7 in NBA history, beating the record of 48 set by former teammate Kevin Durant. He victimized any king who tried to stop him from both catching and dribbling with a series of floaters, layups, pull-up jumpers, and 3’s. Keegan Murray, the 6-foot-8 rookie, gave him a high-five as he launched a 3 from the top of the arc. Nothing but net. Playing the ball on the shot clock in just 1.6 seconds? No problem. Curry shoved it to Draymond Green, sliced into the corner, took the back pass and shot away. Again nothing but net. Pinned by two defenders and thrown to the ground? Again no problem. Hit the way down and land the bonus free throw for an old-fashioned three-point game.
“When I’m looking for shots, it usually works in our favor,” he said dryly.
There was reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, that wouldn’t be the case. He’s 35 now, and while he’s added 15 pounds of muscle to make up for a possible stride loss, the Warriors have looked vulnerable all season, no more than Friday night. At that point, they rather uncharacteristically missed a chance to end the streak at home and were shocked 118-99. Now, in Game 7, they faced the same wild, confident kings in their own building. Though they won Game 5 in Sacramento to take a 3-2 series lead, self-doubt inspired by an 11-30 walk-out record apparently lingered during the regular season.
“The last 36 hours have been a bit dicey,” Curry admitted.
For all of Curry’s individual success, the Warriors’ secret ingredient has been their versatility — Curry’s backcourt pal Klay Thompson is one of the league’s best two-way guards, Green is an unparalleled playmaker and defensive anchor — and an equal opportunity attack , which relies on split-screen and cutbacks as much as exquisite long-range shots.
But on Sunday there was no sauce, only curry. With a side of Looney. As in Kevon, her rebound-guzzling Domantas Sabonis son center, who outplayed his Kings All-Star counterpart throughout the series but especially in Game 7. For all the Warriors’ offensive sophistication, they turned a two-point halftime deficit into a 10-point lead that’s dampening the crowd and going into the fourth quarter throwing shots and collecting every miss until the ball finally goes in.
Kings guard Malik Monk crowed after the Game 6 win that they felt they had an advantage 48 hours into Game 5 because their young legs were recovering faster. He expected to have the same advantage in Game 7. But they never got off the blocks because the Warriors were meticulous with the ball, committed just seven turnovers and deliberated with their offense, requiring those young legs to defend for almost 24 seconds each time down the floor – and sometimes twice that, thanks to the offensive rebounds. The Warriors didn’t have a single fastbreak basket, but the Kings only had one. It took Monk 14 shots to score 14 points. De’Aaron Fox, the Kings’ all-star point guard, went 5-on-19 with nearly as many turnovers (5) as assists (6). Sabonis was arguably their best player with 22 points, eight rebounds and seven assists — making him the third-best player in the game.
“They made a big adjustment in Game 6 to go small to pick up the pace,” Curry said. “We wanted to counter that with patience on offense, finding the right matchups and just being aggressive to score with the space we had on the floor.”
Looney’s 21 rebounds included 10 from the offensive glass, seven of them in the third quarter. The Warriors shot 40% from the ground and missed 9 free throws out of 16, but still had 35 points thanks to a total of 13 offensive rebounds.
Kings coach Mike Brown was brutally honest with his players going into the closing stages. “They want it more than we do,” he told them.
Looney sure. “It’s huge for us because he finds a way to make a difference on every show and it’s loud,” Curry said. “We love him for that.”
But the rest of the Warriors cast struggled even as the Kings focused on Curry. Andrew Wiggins was 5-for-16. Thompson contributed nine points to the third-quarter burst but shot 4 from 19 overall. Green had eight assists, mostly thanks to Curry, and six rebounds in 38 minutes. Jordan Poole needed nine shots to score eight points and had a plus-minus 20 points despite the Warriors’ win.
That may not carry over to the next round when the Warriors hope to thrive against LeBron James and the rejuvenated Los Angeles Lakers. But if you firmly believe that you can overcome any obstacle, you just want the chance to face it.
“It’s going to be a huge test for us,” Curry said. “A completely different style than the one we were just confronted with. Thank God we have to worry about that.”
Curry, worry? There was no evidence of this on Sunday. Or actually always. But then he’s never had so little help in a game this big. So maybe. Or maybe it was just a figure of speech. We’re about to find out just how powerful this indomitable spirit is.
Heat 108, Knicks 101: The passing of love paves the way
NEW YORK – Kevin Love played just 16 minutes at Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon. His performance of nine points, nine rebounds and four assists was nice, but not the kind of line that jumps off the side.
And yet, Miami Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra and point guard Kyle Lowry credited Love as the catalyst for their massive third-quarter run that set the table for their 108-101 Game 1 win at Madison Square Garden over the USA New York Knicks.
“It probably started with Kevin Love’s rebounds and outlet passes,” Spoelstra said. Asked about those outlet passes, Lowry said, “It gave us an extra boost of energy and jolt.”
The first came at 8:04 in the third quarter, when Love hurled the ball overhead at a block-to-block jumping Max Strus. The next came a minute later when Love fired a line drive at a grazing Jimmy Butler from a rebound, like a slant at a wide receiver. At the 5:34 mark, Love Butler hit the court again. All three passes resulted in buckets and came in the middle of the Heat’s 21-7 run in the third quarter.
Love was sitting at his locker after the game and was asked for those passes. First, he joked that he told Aaron Rodgers, the New York Jets’ new quarterback, who happened to be sitting on the sidelines, “That I have the best QBR in New York as of now.”
He then explained how he approaches, when he hurls the ball across the court and when he pulls it back.
“There’s risk-reward. I mean, this streak, maybe even more than others, is going to be that streak of possession, possession games,” he said. “Jimmy is Megatron out there, it’s nice that he goes up and jumps and takes that ball.”
But Love also pointed out that these passes do more than just generate one-off buckets of highlights. During the regular season, the Knicks were one of the best offensive-rebound teams in the NBA, and it was their tenacity on the offensive glass that propelled them past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs. In those five games, the Knicks rebounded 38.2% of their own misses cleaning the glass.
For comparison: The top rate in the regular season was 33.2.
In Game 1, the Knicks only got 12 offensive rebounds, just 31.2% of their missed shots. That’s still a solid number, but for a team that struggled to shoot during the playoffs (43.8 FG%, the worst grade of any playoff team), not enough to even all the bricks.
Love’s outlet passes aren’t the only reason the Knicks couldn’t dominate the glass. But according to Love, they help.
“The beauty of it is that they have to send a defender or maybe two back,” he said. “They’re such an offensive rebound team and they’re so great at rebounding the ball, even their wings, for example like (Josh) Hart and their four and five are always rebounding.
“The luxury of that is we contest those long shots and they have to send a guy back. They might have to send back Hart or Obi Toppin, those types of guys. It just allows them maybe one less offensive rebounder, which helps us.”
Love made sure Heat gave Big Bam Adebayo credit for boxing Mitchell Robinson. “It’s not easy keeping that 7-1 off the table, 270, whatever he is,” Love said. “We send bodies on him and other guys clean up or I do it myself. And when Bam’s on him, I think that’s part of it.”
But he added: “We definitely want easy triggers, easy buckets, buckets in transition if we can. Tonight we felt like it worked for us.”
— Yaron Weitzman
Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.
Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.
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