Friday NBA Roundup: Warriors Rolling Ahead of Finals Rematch with CavaliersDecember 24, 2016
To paraphrase the late, great Dennis Green, the Golden State Warriors are who we thought they were: the NBA's leanest, meanest winning machine.
Golden State extended its league-best record to 27-4 on Friday with a gritty 119-113 victory over the Detroit Pistons in what will be its final trip to the Palace of Auburn Hills. (The Pistons move to downtown Detroit next season).
Native Michigander Draymond Green could barely buy a bucket all night. He clanked all six of his three-point attempts and didn't scratch from the field until the one minute, 31-second mark of the fourth quarter. But that dunk off a Klay Thompson pass gave the Dubs a 112-110 lead they wouldn't relinquish.
In Green's defense, he was a bit rusty. He missed Golden State's win in Brooklyn on Thursday to see his son, Draymond Jr.—whose birth he watched via FaceTime en route to San Francisco—before catching an overnight flight to the Motor City.
Despite his exhaustion, Green found other ways to impact the game. He led Golden State with 10 rebounds and 12 assists, falling five points shy of his second triple-double in 2016-17.
While it may not be easy being Green, having superstar teammates like his all but eliminates any scoring burden he'd otherwise bear.
Kevin Durant piled up 32 points on 13-of-18 shooting in Detroit. Stephen Curry imitated Durant's stride to the hoop, then closely copied his scoring efficiency to the tune of 25 points on 15 attempts along with eight assists.
Klay Thompson chipped in 17 points, but the sharpest shooting night of all came from...JaVale McGee? Granted, the Shaqtin' A Fool favorite only took layups and dunks, though 15 points on 6-of-7 from the field looks good regardless of where the points come from.
The Warriors' win doubled as their 21st game of the season scoring 110 points or more. Beyond another impressive output, it was far from Golden State's sharpest effort—though the result was a marked improvement over last season's 113-95 loss in Michigan.
The Pistons turned 12 steals and 23 total Warriors turnovers into 33 points. They outscored Golden State in the paint (54-46) and on the break (19-12) while shooting better than 50 percent from the field. Tobias Harris torched the Warriors for 26 points off the bench, with Andre Drummond (15 points), Reggie Jackson (17 points, six assists) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (25 points) all landing in double figures.
Golden State will have to be better on both ends if it's going to extend its current winning streak to eight games. The Warriors' next tilt is the marquee matchup of Christmas Day: the season's first faceoff with the Cleveland Cavaliers, who erased a 3-1 series deficit to upend that 73-win squad in the 2016 Finals.
The current Cavs won't be whole for this one. They'll once again be without J.R. Smith, whose fractured right thumb could keep him out of action until April.
"We're going to miss J.R., his effort on defense, his tough shot making," Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said on Wednesday, per ESPN's Dave McMenamin. "But it's no excuses for us. It's next man up, and we've got to be ready to play. We've got to do it by committee. I think our guys are ready to step up to the challenge."
Cleveland didn't need much help from Smith's spot in stomping the Brooklyn Nets at Quicken Loans Arena, 119-99. Between DeAndre Liggins (who started for Smith), Mike Dunleavy and Iman Shumpert, the Cavaliers squeezed 24 points out of their available shooting guards.
Dunleavy wound up as one of seven Cavs in double figures. Two nights after setting a career high with 13 assists, Kyrie Irving (13 points, 10 assists, five rebounds) tied his personal best with six steals. LeBron James led all Cavs in points (19) and minutes (27). Kevin Love logged his 17th double-double (14 points, 15 rebounds) in 25 minutes.
That group built the foundation of a lead that stretched to 46 points and gave the Cavs' core courtside seats for the entire fourth quarter. Cleveland's best will need that extra rest to survive on Sunday without Smith, who averaged 10.6 points against Golden State in the Finals before re-upping with the Cavs for four years and $57 million. The Warriors they'll find at the Q are a whole different animal compared to the one that crumbled in June.
Durant, who long battled LeBron James with Russell Westbrook by his side, has supercharged the Dubs with his own sleeker self. His career-best field-goal percentage (54.1 percent) is a testament to how snugly he fits into Golden State's pass-happy, second-ranked offense. As Warriors head coach Steve Kerr explained to ESPN's Marc Stein:
He was brilliant in OKC, but the way they play, there's a lot more isos. It was sort of take turns: Russell would go, then KD would go. I think KD understands he's going to have the ball in his hands less [with Golden State], but he'll be in more advantageous positions to score. I think he's really embracing the style. I think he likes making plays for other guys, and vice versa. It's a fun way to play.
Durant's also had a ball on defense, even while playing more power forward than ever. He ranks first in blocks (1.5 per game) and third in steals (1.3) on a Golden State squad that's paced the Association in both categories and trails only the Memphis Grizzlies in defensive efficiency, per NBA.com, despite being third in possessions per game.
It's a remarkable combination, albeit one that's plenty familiar for the Warriors. Since Kerr's arrival, Golden State has played elite ball on both ends at a breakneck pace.
|Warriors' Two-Way Excellence Under Steve Kerr|
|Offensive Rating (Rank)||Defensive Rating (Rank)||Pace (Rank)|
|2014-15||109.7 (2nd)||98.2 (1st)||100.69 (1st)|
|2015-16||112.5 (1st)||100.9 (4th)||101.65 (2nd)|
|2016-17||113.4 (2nd)||100.6 (2nd)||102.84 (3rd)|
The Cavs have seen that spectacular brand of basketball 17 times over the same span. They've won just seven times, though four of those victories against Golden State came when they counted most last spring.
For that reason, among others, these Warriors will be stoked for their first look at the opponent that denied their title defense six months ago. This time, though, they'll do so with full knowledge of the stakes—or lack thereof.
"I think our guys are excited, for sure," Kerr said in Brooklyn, per the Washington Post's Tim Bontemps. "It's Christmas Day, and the Cavs, and all that. So it's an exciting game. But these guys have been around for too long. What happens on Christmas has nothing to do with what happens in June. We proved that, unfortunately."
Grizzlies Gain Ground Out West
The Memphis Grizzlies could have more than a puncher's chance come playoff time.
On Friday, they added the Houston Rockets to the list of Western Conference playoff foes they've felled this season by way of a 115-109 win. That point total marked a new season high for the Grizzlies, whose offense ranks a gruesome 29th in the league, per NBA.com.
Memphis figures to improve in that regard, now that its core group is finally fit. In his second game back from injury and eighth overall this season, Chandler Parsons, registered four points, three rebounds, two assists and a steal in 15 minutes against the team that drafted him.
Of greater consequence was the stellar play of Mike Conley Jr. The Memphis star point guard scored a team-high 24 points—his most since returning from a back injury in mid-December—along with five assists. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph—long staples of the Grit-N-Grind—scored 16 points apiece. Vince Carter and James Ennis combined for 27 points on 15 shots off the bench.
Tony Allen (nine points) nearly became the sixth Grizzly in double figures while doing his usual number on defense. He helped pester James Harden (16 points, 17 assists, seven rebounds) into nine turnovers amid early foul trouble.
With Harden saddled by three first-quarter infractions, the Rockets started the second period 0-of-11 from the floor. And without the injured Clint Capela, Houston had little recourse against Randolph and Gasol beyond some distracting swipes to the face.
If the playoffs started today, these two teams would go toe-to-toe during the first round in the 4-5 matchup. The Grizzlies (20-12) would have to like their odds against the Rockets (22-9), despite having to start the series on the road.
Should Memphis advance, it would line up a second-round tilt with Golden State—which it clobbered by 21 points without Conley on Dec. 10—before potentially advancing to the conference finals against either a Los Angeles Clippers squad it's beaten in L.A. or a San Antonio Spurs team with a soft spot up front.
Batum Bumps Bulls Below .500
The Chicago Bulls are living a nightmare, thanks in no small part to Nicolas Batum's dream-like evening. The frisky Frenchman tallied his seventh career triple-double (20 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) to help the Charlotte Hornets hold off the Bulls at the Spectrum Center, 103-91.
Kemba Walker (20 points, five rebounds, four assists) tied Batum for the team lead in scoring, with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Cody Zeller and Frank Kaminsky also finishing in double figures. Marvin Williams (nine points) fell just shy of joining that club, but he unwittingly helped Charlotte seal its 17th win anyway.
With the Hornets up 98-89 with 38 seconds left in the game, Williams and Zeller caught elbows to the neck from a frustrated Robin Lopez. That touched off a brief scuffle that ended with Lopez and Taj Gibson hitting the showers early.
The trip, as a whole, turned out to be troubling for the Bulls. Their offense once again looked stagnant and sticky, with only Jimmy Butler (11-of-19 for 26 points) and Jerian Grant (2-of-3 for four points) hitting at least half of their shots. As a whole, the Bulls hit 39.6 percent of their field-goal attempts and failed to sniff triple digits on the scoreboard for the fifth time in six games.
Not surprisingly, Chicago's dropped all five such outings. What may be more surprising—at least to those dazzled by glitzy names like Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo—is where the Bulls stand as a result of this latest loss.
At 14-15, Chicago slipped under .500 for the first time this season. Last year, the Bulls didn't sink below that mark until March 28, but promptly pulled themselves back over it before falling one game under again and ultimately finishing at 42-40—outside of the East's top eight.
Chicago now finds itself back in ninth place. The team may need more time to sniff a winning record again, with a Christmas Day trip to San Antonio on tap.
Boogie Bests KAT in Big Blue Battle
Debate all you want about which Kentucky big is the NBA's best, but DeMarcus Cousins has bullied them all, at least as far as individual production is concerned.
He's manhandled Anthony Davis, albeit while posting a losing record in 15 matchups on behalf of the Sacramento Kings.
|Boogie vs. Brow|
Last season, Boogie took eventual Rookie of the Year Karl-Anthony Towns to task.
|Boogie vs. KAT, 2015-16|
Cousins did it again to KAT on Friday, this time during a 109-105 Kings win in Minneapolis. He sliced and diced the Minnesota Timberwolves defense for team highs in points (32), rebounds (seven), assists (seven), steals (four) and blocks (two).
Towns wasn't too shabby himself. He tallied 20 points, 13 boards and five dimes while watching Zach LaVine score a career-high 40 points.
But all that firepower wasn't enough to preserve what had been a seven-point Timberwolves lead to start the fourth quarter. Nor were the 'Wolves able to stop Cousins, who put up 12 of Sacramento's 31 points in the final frame.
Thanks to Boogie's big finish and the Portland Trail Blazers' loss to San Antonio, the Kings now find themselves hanging on to the eighth seed out West by the skin of their teeth.
New Feat for Greek Freak
Giannis Antetokounmpo is more than a human highlight reel, though he was certainly that during the Milwaukee Bucks’ 123-96 win over the Washington Wizards on Friday.
The Greek Freak also happens to be one of the best players in the NBA, regardless of age or position. He demonstrated as much at Washington’s expense. He drove and dunked his way to a career-high 39 points on 12-of-19 shooting from the field, 15-of-17 at the free-throw line and but one attempt from three—a miss.
Then again, who needs to launch from deep when you’re nearly seven feet tall with long arms and even longer strides? And who needs to just score when you can stuff the stat sheet like Antetokounmpo can?
He finished with eight rebounds, six assists, two steals and a block for good measure. If the Bucks continue to hover around .500—where they currently stand, at 14-14—Antetokounmpo should be a shoo-in for the All-Star Game. His numbers alone (23.4 points on 52.5 percent shooting, 9.0 rebounds, 5.8 assists, 2.1 steals, 1.9 blocks) should earn him a trip to New Orleans in mid-February.
Selection or snub, Antetokounmpo’s efforts, along with Jabari Parker’s star turn, could be enough to lift the Bucks back into the playoffs, despite losing Khris Middleton to injury before the season.
Russ Gets Ridiculous in Boston
Russell Westbrook was overdue for a triple-double.
Which is to say, he’d gone all of two games without one. To his credit, Westbrook scored a combined 88 points in those games.
The All-Star point guard put all of those elements together to carry the Oklahoma City Thunder to a 117-113 win over the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden. Westbrook scored 45 points—20 in the fourth, enough for his third straight 40-point game—along with 11 rebounds and 11 assists. It marked Westbrook’s 14th triple-double of the season and, more importantly, moved OKC to 11-3 when he stuffs the stat sheet to that extent.
“There’s really nobody like him in the NBA,” Thunder head coach Billy Donovan said, per the Norman Transcript’s Fred Katz. “There just isn’t.”
Westbrook, though, didn’t do it alone. The Thunder also got 20 points apiece from Domantas Sabonis and Enes Kanter. Sabonis logged his new career high by hitting his first seven shots of the game, including his first three treys.
The more OKC's Euro-bigs can contribute from night to night, the less Westbrook will have to carry on his shoulders while Victor Oladipo recovers from a hand injury.
Lowry Rises in the Clutch
Kyle Lowry can dish a lick as well as he can take one.
The Toronto Raptors needed that resilience from their All-Star point guard in Salt Lake City. After missing most of the third quarter to repair a cut on his lip suffered in a collision, Lowry returned in time to explode for 19 points on 9-of-10 shooting in the fourth and carry the Raptors to a 104-98 win over the Utah Jazz.
“We needed a win. They made a run when I went out and I sat back and wanted to get a win, that’s all,” he said, per the Toronto Sun's Ryan Wolstat.
“We kept fighting. We never let them get anything easy tonight. We worked hard. [I] do whatever it takes to win games, help my team win. Loose balls, open shots. We all do it and we do it together. That’s what it’s all about.”
All told, Toronto’s All-Star point guard finished with 36 points on 15-of-20 shooting. The total fell just shy of Lowry’s career high, though in the opinion of TSN’s Josh Lewenberg, it might’ve been his finest performance to date.
Friday's Final Scores
- Charlotte Hornets 103, Chicago Bulls 91
- San Antonio Spurs 110, Portland Trail Blazers 90
- Orlando Magic 109, Los Angeles Lakers 90
- Cleveland Cavaliers 119, Brooklyn Nets 99
- Oklahoma City Thunder 117, Boston Celtics 112
- Golden State Warriors 119, Detroit Pistons 113
- Milwaukee Bucks 123, Washington Wizards 96
- Memphis Grizzlies 115, Houston Rockets 109
- New Orleans Pelicans 91, Miami Heat 87
- Sacramento Kings 109, Minnesota Timberwolves 105
- Atlanta Hawks 109, Denver Nuggets 108
- Toronto Raptors 104, Utah Jazz 98
- Phoenix Suns 123, Philadelphia 76ers 116
- Dallas Mavericks 90, Los Angeles Clippers 88
All stats accurate as of games played Dec. 23 and via NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise noted.
Josh Martin covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and listen to his Hollywood Hoops podcast with B/R Lakers lead writer Eric Pincus.