Athletics

W's continue post-break skid with loss to Wolves

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W's continue post-break skid with loss to Wolves

Feb. 27, 2011BOXSCORE WARRIORS VIDEONBAPAGE NBA SCOREBOARD

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Maybe the Minnesota Timberwolves should hold more of those brutally honest team meetings.A day after a frank discussion in which players and coaches vented about their frustrating season, the Wolves showed some rare determination and ended a seven-game skid with a 126-123 victory over the struggling Golden State Warriors on Sunday.Kevin Love led Minnesota as usual, this time with 37 points and 23 rebounds to extend his NBA-leading double-double streak to 46 games. But it was two defensive stops by rookie Wes Johnson that ultimately sealed the victory.With a chance for Golden State to win in the final seconds, Monta Ellis drove the lane as the nervous Target Center crowd - which has witnessed many blown fourth-quarter leads this season - held its breath. But Johnson swatted Ellis' shot away, and Michael Beasley was fouled after picking up the loose ball with just more than 3 seconds to play.Anthony Tolliver hit two free throws on the ensuing possession, and Johnson helped force a Warriors turnover on the final inbounds play."This was almost a must-win for us," Love said. "We felt like we haven't been playing well the past five or six games, and we had to come out and win this one. So we're just happy we did."Love had his fourth 30-point, 20-rebound game of the season as the Timberwolves overcame a 14-point deficit. The All-Star forward also went 18 for 23 from the free throw line to tie Minnesota's franchise records for attempts and makes.Love's double-double streak, however, has been a painful consolation as the Wolves have failed to show much improvement from last year's woeful campaign. Everything finally came to a head on Saturday as the players and coaches met to clear the air in the hopes of sparking something."I feel like everybody took it the right way. Nobody took it hard," Beasley said. "There's no hard feelings, you know? It's kind of what we needed. I feel like everybody took it to heart and didn't want to be all talk. We came to play."So did the Warriors, save for a miserable third quarter that proved too difficult to overcome as Golden State lost its third straight since the All-Star break. Stephen Curry led the way with 33 points while Dorell Wright added 26.After scoring 73 points in the first half, the Warriors managed only 16 in the third quarter on a terrible 5-for-27 performance from the floor."Just didn't play well in the third quarter whatsoever," David Lee said. "Couldn't buy a bucket on offense. Couldn't stop anybody on defense. Made a good comeback, we didn't give up, but that's beside the point."The Warriors had won three straight heading into the All-Star break as they tried to make a run at the final playoff spot in the West. After consecutive double-digit losses to Boston and Atlanta, a trip to Minneapolis might have seemed just the antidote for Golden State.Instead, it proved to be a rough start to the road trip."It's a seven-game road trip that's going to more or less make or break the rest of our season and this is not the way to start," Lee said.Minnesota started 7 for 9 from the floor and shared the ball well early before becoming stagnant on offense. Meanwhile, Wright, Ellis, Curry and Lee took turns getting hot for Golden State, as the Warriors built a 14-point lead in the second quarter."Just a painful loss, but you have to move on and get ready for the next game," Warriors coach Keith Smart said.Notes: Love's free throw at the 1:08 mark of the third quarter was the 3,000th point of his career. ... The Warriors arrived in Minnesota on Saturday night and immediately went through a practice. "Get them in the gym, get them breathing, and also get the bad taste of the last game out of our system," Smart said. ... Timberwolves G Martell Webster (back) missed his third straight game. Before the game, coach Kurt Rambis declined to comment on whether he would consider shutting down Webster for the rest of the season, saying he would need more information from the team's medical staff before being able to make a decision like that. ... Minnesota G Jonny Flynn admits he didn't expect a complete recovery from offseason surgery on his left hip would take so long. "I think it's really going to take a full summer of just going after it every day, really focusing completely on my rehab to get where I need to be," he said.

As balance of power shifts slightly in East, should Warriors be worried?

As balance of power shifts slightly in East, should Warriors be worried?

The pursuit of the Warriors got considerably noisier Tuesday, when the Cleveland Cavaliers granted Kyrie Irving’s wish to be traded by sending the All-Star point guard to the Boston Celtics.

Boston is slightly improved, Cleveland is roughly the same and the two teams are set to meet in the juiciest Eastern Conference Finals since James left Miami three summers ago.

As for the Warriors, they’re still holding the Larry O’Brien trophy and smoking fine cigars and waiting for rings to be presented in two months.

While not exactly yawning, they’re not sweating any more than they did last week or last month. The Warriors have good reason to remain confident in their status as the most dangerous team in the NBA.

Granted, only one team had the assets and established contender status to acquire Irving and immediately get within seeing distance of the Warriors. That team is the Celtics, who suddenly are built to challenge the champs in ways the Cavaliers no longer could.

Even with their loss to Cleveland in the 2016 Finals, the Warriors over the past three seasons fairly owned the Cavs, going 4-2 in the regular season and posting an 11-7 record against them over the past three Finals. The Warriors dominated the 2017 Finals, winning in five games.

Furthermore, the Warriors over the last six regular-season meetings have outscored Cleveland by an average of 13.5 points. Though the average margin shrinks to about 7 over 18 games in The Finals, it’s still relatively decisive.

Despite the magnified glorification of the Warriors-Cavs trilogy, the Warriors generally were superior.

Cleveland will be a factor in the East, if only because LeBron James will ensure it and Isaiah Thomas -- acquired in the Irving deal -- will provide capable assistance. But the blockbuster deal sending Irving to Boston blows a massive hole through what was left of the three-year-old rivalry between the Warriors and Cavs.

In its place are intriguing matchups between the Warriors and the Celtics, who over the past three years have played the Warriors tougher than any other team. Though the Warriors also are 4-2 against Boston over the last three regular seasons, the overall scoring difference is only 2.2 points in favor of the Warriors. Each team has a double-digit win, with the other four games decided by five or fewer points.

And that was before All-Star forward Gordon Hayward signed with the Celtics last month, before forward Marcus Morris was acquired and before Irving was brought into the parquet posse.

Hayward at small forward is a huge offensive upgrade over Crowder, who will take his solid defensive game to Cleveland. While the Warriors could sag off Crowder, Hayward will have to be guarded. Gone are the days of Boston’s offense occasionally lapsing into Thomas and four guys in spectator mode.

Irving is a better offensive player that Thomas only in that he is six inches taller. Both are among the top five players capable of breaking down defenses. Both have tremendous shooting range, though Irving is slightly more accurate. Both are 90-percent free throw shooters. Irving has a modestly better assist-to-turnover ratio. Both thrive in the clutch.

So why is Boston better with Irving than with Thomas? Defense. Irving’s poor defense is an upgrade over Thomas’ atrocious defense.

Why aren’t the Warriors more worried about a Boston team that has found ways to exploit them? It’s because the loss of Avery Bradley, a truly great backcourt defender, is going to sting the Celtics. Any defense devised by coach Brad Stevens is going to be compromised if Hayward and Irving are on the floor. That’s where Crowder and Bradley will be missed.

And that’s where the Warriors will go to eat.

This trade signals that the Celtics are serious about chasing Eastern Conference superiority and the Cavs officially are operating on a one-year plan.

The balance of power in the East shifts ever so slightly. About as slightly as the balance of power in the West when the Thunder acquired Paul George.

The Warriors, however, remain well in front of the pack. Yes, there are more and more footsteps behind them, but all of them are in the distance.