Analysis: Curry best cure for Warriors' crunch-time woes

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AP

Analysis: Curry best cure for Warriors' crunch-time woes

OAKLAND -- Joining the Warriors after nine seasons in Oklahoma City put Kevin Durant in foreign territory, which explains much what he has been saying, often unprompted, ever since his July arrival.

He is watching and learning and listening. He is receptive constructive criticism, eager for give-and-take with teammates and coaches. Durant is that superstar that clearly wants everyone to understand he embraces feedback.

The Warriors, he is discovering, are willing to provide it.

If the Warriors are to win a championship -- the only goal this season -- Durant will have to break the “iso” habit that has made him one of the NBA’s top five players.

Isolation offense, last seen falling flat Friday night in the fourth quarter of a stunning overtime loss to Memphis, must be pushed to the rear of Durant’s closet, to be pulled out only in rare instances, such as back-to-back MVP Stephen Curry being off the floor.

If Curry is on the floor, he gets dibs on the ball and decides where it should go.

This may not be easy for Durant. “Iso ball” has been good to him, helping him become a four-time scoring champion and the winner of the 2014 MVP award.

“Iso ball” also has been bad for Durant, hurting chances to win a championship in Oklahoma City, where Durant and the Thunder once reached the NBA Finals and thrice reached the Western Conference Finals. All four series ended in defeat.

Durant came to the Bay Area get a ring. There will be no ring if the Warriors can’t figure out to best utilize their talent in the closing minutes of a close game. Through 37 games this season, “crunch time” has been the tack in their shoe. It’s the area with which they stumble mightily, partly because they’re trying to accommodate Durant and partly because Durant reverts to habit.

“It’s all a learning experience,” Durant says. “I’m glad it’s happening now, rather than later in the season or in the playoffs.”

The Warriors generally have no great need for clutch plays. They’re 31-6 and they’re winning by an average of 11.9 points, the largest difference in the league. They’ve won 19 games by double digits, 11 by at least 20 points. They’re able to find time and space to tinker and experiment without sacrificing games.

But the Warriors’ Christmas Day loss at Cleveland exposed the troubling issues and the loss to the Grizzlies served to shine a brighter light on exact problem. There was an abundance of uncertainty and a shortage of assurance. The result? Offense adrift.

Which brings us back to Durant. His late-game numbers are surprisingly feeble, much more so than those of Curry. Since coming to the Warriors, Durant, according to NBA.com statistics, is shooting 28 percent in the last five minutes of close games -- defined as defined as within five points -- while Curry is at 47.1 percent. Durant is 1-of-11 from deep, Curry 6-of-18.

The numbers suggest Curry should, at least for now, keep his job as the team’s closer. He earned it two years ago. He’s not putting up MVP numbers, but the Warriors operate best when Curry is the catalyst. He doesn’t always have to take the shot, but he should have the ball. Then, too, he is more likely than Durant to find the open teammate.

This trial-and-error phase the Warriors are going through this season is at times painful, resulting in losses they have no business taking. Is Curry the go-to guy? Is it Durant? And while both are wondering how this is supposed to work, coach Steve Kerr is allowing both the room to figure it out.

They haven’t. Yet.

“We’re not even halfway through yet, and we’re incorporating Kevin into a group that’s been here for a couple years,” Kerr says. “And we’re not used to the fourth-quarter struggles. We’ve really closed teams out well the last couple years. So it feels different. It feels weird.”

Kerr wants to see as much ball movement as possible, for as long as possible. So does Curry. So does Draymond Green. So does Andre Iguodala and, well, pretty much everybody on the roster.

And while Kerr will allow opportunities to use the pick-and-roll, knowing it can be highly effective, the foundation of the offense is movement of the ball and the players, in search of the best possible shot. It worked beautifully last season and during the Warriors’ championship season two years ago.

It works beautifully this season, too, except in those instances when the Warriors get away from it. They have to stay with it. And Durant has to find his place within it. And, boy, is there a place for someone with his skills.

“We still have to get better,” Curry says. “There’s no denying that, with the looks we want to go to, the flow and timing and aggressiveness of executing those plays, and just being sure that we know what we want to get out of every possession.”

If Durant is as adaptable as he says, they’ll get it right, maybe within weeks, certainly before April. Hey, LeBron James lets Kyrie Irving go to work in Cleveland. Durant endorses letting Curry go to work. Let him.

Seventeen narratives to tide you over until Game 1 of the NBA Finals

Seventeen narratives to tide you over until Game 1 of the NBA Finals

It’s time once again to play, “Narrate That Narrative,” with your increasingly weary hosts, the Golden State Warriors.
 
And we say increasingly weary because, in playing 12 games (slightly less than 29 hours of elapsed time) in 46 days (slightly more than 1,100 hours of real time), the Warriors have spent far more time engaging, rejecting, advancing and goofing with narratives than they have with actual ball-related duties.
 
You know, the idiotic side stories with a two-day shelf life until someone serves up a new narrative, because after all, sports are really just delivery systems for disposable tales of no enduring value and very little transitory value. I’ve known cheeses left too near a heater than maintained their integrity longer.
 
But with another nine days (eight now, in case your narrative happens to be mindless timekeeping) before Game One of the NBA Finals, all we have is narratives. And yes, for that we can very definitely blame the Warriors, for without their refusal to mix in a devastating loss that really isn’t, we’ve had atomic clocks of time on our hands.
 
So muscle up, kids. This is your future until tipoff.
 
LEGACIES: This is without question the stupidest of them all, because trying to figure out an active athlete’s legacy is one of the most pointless things you can do with yourself. The Warriors will either be a budding dynasty or a one-hit-wonder-in-the-making. They will not be the best team of all time (the 1960s Celtics have that locked away), nor will they be the new Buffalo Bills (who unlike the Warriors tried many times and never won). They will be a team still fashioning their legacies, which as it turns out won’t actually be written accurately for decades.
 
In other words, remember O.J. Simpson’s legacy when he stopped playing football, and think of it now.
 
STEVE KERR: His spinal cord has a worse reputation than Stephen Curry’s ankles, and at this point it seems awfully likely that he will be an interested spectator with an all-access credential for the Finals. Thus, he remains the second best coach in NBA history in winning percentage (.848 if you include playoffs), behind only Not Steve Kerr (92.4).
 
KEVIN DURANT’S DECISION: It was a good one. He’s happy. He’s winning games. He’s wired into the Bay Area business community. Russell Westbrook is a year ago and Oklahoma City is a million miles away. Nothing new here, as there hasn’t been since the last time they played nine weeks ago. This story was old in August, and has been dead since January. Stop.
 
LEBRON JAMES: Is he Michael Jordan? Is he better than Michael Jordan? Does he like to troll people? Is he smug? Is he justifiably proud? All fascinating subjects if you just like making stuff up in your head based on your very limited ability to see inside the souls of others. But hey, you paid your fees just like everyone else. Psychoanalyze away.
 
ZAZA PACHULIA AND BRUCE BOCHY: He has become bigger than Andrew Bogut in Warrior lore because of his ill-placed foot in Game One of the Western Conference Final, and because his head was deemed far too large in Monday’s postgame celebration to accommodate a hat. Now you see how these two are linked?
 
JAVALE MCGEE: More fun than Zaza Pachulia, though dealing with Tristan Thompson will probably mean that his fun will be significantly truncated.
 
ANDRE IGUODALA’S KNEE: That’s not a narrative, that’s an injury report.
 
ANDRE IGUODALA’S DEFENSIVE ASSIGNMENT: See above. If the knee is sound, it will be LeBron James. If not, Draymond Green, David West and whatever else will work.
 
DRAYMOND GREEN’S TEMPER: 21 technical fouls, a flailing foot and a hideously timed suspension a year ago, 16 this year, no suspensions. Plus, only two technicals this postseason. His history remains his history, and he has been both targeted and given some slack depending on the official (he damned near chased Scott Foster down the floor one night this year and Foster patiently eased him off the ledge). He has been a voluble and expressive model citizen as these things go.
 
KLAY THOMPSON: Poor shooting in the San Antonio series has condemned him despite his offensive and defensive ratings both being up from a year ago. It’s a talker if shooting is your deal, but he won’t play any fewer minutes in this series than any of the other 11. His “struggles” are a mild amusement for those who still think trying to force drama on these guys is a useful exercise.
 
STEPHEN CURRY: I give up. Is there anything new to say about him?
 
JOE LACOB GIVING AN INTERVIEW TO THE FINANCIAL TIMES: Quick, everyone head for the shelters.

SCOTT FOSTER: Last year's officiating bete noire, now not even worth a mention. If you need something, the Warriors are 20-0 with Ron Garretson and 17-4 with Ed Malloy in the last three years. Just keep it to yourselves.

PLAYOFF HISTORY: Right now, the Warriors could become the first team to win all 16 postseason games, but even if they don’t, they can still go 16-3, tie the record currently held by the 2005 San Antonios and still have a parade. They did good – as long as they win. If they don’t win, the hell they will pay will be at full retail prices with the usual jewelers’ markup.
 
PLAYOFF BOREDOM: If Cleveland wins, this is the series you all demanded. If Boston wins, you get a surprise. But neither will make us happy because the playoffs weren’t sufficiently entertaining for us. That’s how we do our cultural life now – we reflexively turbo-bitch about something because it keeps us from getting diabetes, or some other excuse. As a result, we are the worst generation so far, and those who come behind us are very likely to be worse unless they can cure themselves soon.
 
LUCK: Yep, lucky again. No Yusuf Nurkic to allow Portland to play at its best. A limited Rudy Gobert to allow Utah to play at its best. No Tony Parker and only 28 minutes of Kawhi Leonard to allow San Antonio to be at its best. They were lucky two years ago as well, and the ring was just as big and the parade just as sunshiny. They weren’t as lucky a year ago (Stephen Curry’s wobbly legs, Draymond Green’s suspension, the auto-asphyxia of the last five minutes of Game Seven of the Finals).
 
In other words, it’s good to put yourself in a position to be lucky. Every champion ever, in every sport, on every continent, they’ve all been lucky. Luck is a compliment not wasted on second-round losers. Deal with it.
 
THE OPINIONS OF OTHERS: There has never been a champion that was universally beloved, with the possible exceptions of Leicester City when it won the Premier League last year, and maybe Secretariat. Every other one ever had critics based on style of play, level of success, arrogance, dismissiveness, bullying, plain geography or just, because . . . well, see “turbo-bitching.” It won’t be that hard. It was two paragraphs ago. Suck it up, scroll your screen and move your eyes.

The point is, one word of criticism from Charles Barkley is somehow louder than reams of glowing reviews. Warrior fans are like all the others in that they demand universal worship of their favorite team, and they hear “just a bunch of jump-shooters” no matter what Barkley actually says at any given moment.
 
See, they don’t have to like your team, and it affects nothing. Stop caring. 
 
There will be more, but these are the main ones that should tide you over until game time, whether it’s the series you want (Cleveland) or the series you never expected (Boston). We’re all very sorry if we couldn’t make it the New York Knicks, or LaVar Ball, just to name two narratives you won't have to deal with in the coming days. 

Joe Lacob's current mindset: The Warriors are Mike Brown's team now

Joe Lacob's current mindset: The Warriors are Mike Brown's team now

The Warriors are 10-0 in the playoffs under interim head coach Mike Brown.

Following Golden State's sweep of the Spurs, Joe Lacob was asked several questions about the team's head coach situation.

1) Is it Mike's team now?

“You know, it is. He’s coaching on the floor. But Steve (Kerr) is obviously around, there, very involved. And he put in the systems we operate under and the style of play. He has a tremendous amount of responsibility for us getting here.

"But Mike has done a terrific job.”

2) How comfortable are you with this two-coach approach you have going?

“I’m not really thinking about it. We have to make it work. That’s our situation.”

3) At this point is Mike Brown your coach going into the Finals?

“That’s up to Steve, honestly. We’ll see how he feels. We’ve got nine days between now and then. I certainly would hope he’d feel better. But if not, we’re prepared to go the way we are. Whatever it takes, our players are ready.” 

On Monday night, NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole spoke with Kerr.

“Mike (Brown) is doing great," Kerr began. "He’s such a wonderful human being. He’s so unselfish and team-oriented. I’m proud of him and the job he’s doing, along with the rest of the staff. I wish I could be out there with them. And maybe I will. I don’t know. We’ll see.

“He’s a great partner. And we’re in this together, obviously, but he’s got to make decisions with the staff without me. He’s done a great job of navigating the games. We’re undefeated, so he’s doing something right.”