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.

Jazz hold off Clippers in Game 5, take 3-2 series lead

Jazz hold off Clippers in Game 5, take 3-2 series lead

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- Gordon Hayward scored 27 points, Utah controlled the paint, and the Jazz beat the Los Angeles Clippers 96-92 on Tuesday night to take a 3-2 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Hayward returned after missing most of Utah's win in Game 4 because of food poisoning that caused him to lose weight and energy.

Chris Paul's 3-pointer drew the Clippers within two with 5 seconds left. After George Hill hit two free throws, Paul struggled getting the ball under control near the sideline and couldn't do anything as time expired.

The Jazz made five 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, including three by Rodney Hood, who finished with 16 points.

Paul led the Clippers with 28 points and J.J. Redick added 26 with injured star Blake Griffin watching from the bench, his right foot encased in a black walking boot.

The Jazz can clinch the series with a victory in Game 6 on Friday night in Salt Lake City.

The Clippers rallied from an 11-point deficit early in the fourth to tie the game. They made 12 of 15 free throws in the final period, but never managed to take the lead.

Paul and Hayward were called for double technical fouls with 40 seconds to go. Paul had already pushed Hayward in the back after they got tied up scrambling for a rebound in front of Utah's bench. Hayward made both shots for a 90-85 lead.

Joe Johnson's step back jumper extended Utah's lead to 92-87.

Neither team shot well, but the Jazz were better at most everything else. They owned a 34-28 edge in the paint, and the team that has done so has won each of the first five games in the best-of-7 series.

Utah outscored the Clippers on second-chance and fast-break baskets.

Utah took the game's first double-digit lead early in the fourth on a 3-pointer by Hood that made it 69-58.

The Clippers clawed back with an 11-0 run featuring five straight free throws by Redick and two consecutive 3-pointers from Paul that tied the game at 69-all.

Suddenly, the quiet crowd was on its feet cheering and Utah called time out.

The Jazz regrouped to take a 77-69 lead. They ran off eight straight, capped by Haywood's 3-pointer after the Clippers' defense shut down Hill inside and forced him to pass out to the perimeter with the shot clock winding down.

TIP-INS:
Jazz: Neither team has won by more than eight points so far in the series.

Clippers: Griffin's injured big right toe needs further evaluation before it's decided whether he'll require surgery. ... G Austin Rivers played 17 minutes in his return from a strained left hamstring. He was 0 of 4 and had two points. ... They fell to 1-11 all-time in Game 5 of a playoff series that was tied 2-2.

 

Blazers GM: Former Warriors big man will not play for Portland next year

Blazers GM: Former Warriors big man will not play for Portland next year

Festus Ezeli will not be back with the Blazers next season, Portland GM Neil Olshey said on Tuesday.

Last summer -- after the Warriors let Ezeli walk in free agency following the addition of Kevin Durant -- he signed a 2-year contract worth just over $15 million.

But Year 2 was essentially a club option with a $1 million buyout.

A knee injury prevented Ezeli from ever suiting up for the Blazers this season.

He underwent cadaver ligament replacement surgery in early March.

The Warriors drafted Ezeli 30th overall in 2012.

Over 46 games (13 starts) with Golden State in 2015-16, he averaged 7.0 points and 5.6 rebounds over 16.7 minutes per contest.