The first round series between Warriors and Kings was fascinating. The defending champs, basketball royalty of the past decade against a team that had not been in the playoffs since George W. Bush was president. The Warriors escaped with a win in Game Four when Harrison (No, I am not Robert Horry, Why Do You Ask?) Barnes missed a three-pointer at the buzzer. That shot would have put the Kings up 3-1. Instead, the Kings-Warriors series was tied 2-2. After the game, I wrote:
“All in all, this is a series that should go seven games. And if the teams could arrange to have their Game Seven go to overtime, I believe that would be a good thing too.”
After winning that game, the Warriors got a rare road win in Game Five but then blew their chance to end the series by getting a rare home loss in Game Six. The basketball gods had apparently agreed with me that these teams, and basketball fans in general, needed to have this series decided in two of the best words in sports: Game Seven.
After six games, the teams were tied with three wins each. They also had remarkably similar stats. While the Kings and Warriors were 1-2 in scoring in the regular season, they were middle of the pack among all the playoff teams. (Amazingly, the playoff team averaging the most per game in Round One at 124 points per game was the Miami Heat, who was dead last during the regular season at just 109.5 — thanks to Playoff Jimmy Butler and a team-wide 45% from three.) In the first six games, the Kings averaged 116 per game, the Warriors 115.2. Their three-point percentages were also very similar, with the Kings hitting 31.6% and the Warriors 32.8%: both 5% or more under their regular season averages. One stat which was not close: in the first six games, the Warriors averaged 27.3 assists per game, 5 more than the Kings.
By the time the teams tipped off Sunday afternoon, they knew that the winner would play the Lakers. Because the Lakers were the 7th seed, the teams also knew the winner would have home court advantage in Round Two, thanks to the number two-seed Grizzlies losing their close-out game by forty (!!) points. I wonder if Ja Morant still believes the team did not need to worry about anyone in the Western Conference? I suppose the Grizzlies don’t need to worry about anything now, expect next season.
The first half of Game Severn tracked the first six games. The Kings led by only two at halftime, 58-56. Remarkably, the teams shot exactly the same, both overall (42%) and from three (36%). All signs pointed to a tightly contested second half, maybe even the overtime game I had wished for. But in an ominous indication for the Kings, Steph Curry already had 20. And then, with the score tied at 61 early in the third quarter, this happened after Klay Thompson missed two straight free throws:
The key play in this sequence was the missed Klay three-pointer after the Warriors rebounded his second missed free throw. Klay’s shot missed so badly it wedged between the rim and backboard. There should be a name for when this happens, as it is not technically a “brick”. A brick caroms off the rim, endangering fingers everywhere. For today, we will call the wedged shot a “smudgie”. While a smudgie should logically result in the defense getting the ball, that is not the rule at any level of basketball. Instead, a smudgie leads to a jump call at center court. They don’t even make the guy who embarrassingly just shot the smudgie participate in the jump ball. Instead, the two centers do.
Here, Kevon Looney won the tip after Klay’s smudgie. When Andrew Wiggins missed yet another shot (the fourth miss on this single trip), he retrieved the ball and kicked it out to Klay, who finally made his first three-pointer of the day. He wound up 4-19 overall, and 2-10 from three, but his most important shot put the Warriors up 64-61. The Kings never tied or led again. By the end of the quarter, the Warriors were up 10 by the end of the quarter, led by Looney’s eight (8!!) offensive rebounds in the third quarter alone.
A young team like the Kings does not want to start the fourth quarter of a Game Seven down 10 points. The defending champs pushed the lead to over 20 in the fourth quarter, Curry set a record for most points in a Game Seven with 50.
The Kings’ magical season is over. I am sure Harrison Barnes and his teammates will be re-living his Not Horry moment all summer. But with a loss by 20 in Game Seven at home — after leading at halftime — the Kings must admit that the better team won this series.
- Steph Curry is widely acknowledged as the best shooter ever, generally interpreted to mean three-point shooting. Watching this series made me think that Curry may also be the best lay-up shooter ever. And by lay-ups I mean more than shots right at the rim. Floaters, reverses, lefty, righty and especially scoop shots from anywhere. I expect everything he shoots to go in. And so does Steph.
- The Warriors often play the smallest line-ups in the NBA. At one point in the third quarter, the Warriors five players on the floor were Curry, Klay, Draymond Green, Gary Payton, Jr. and Jordan Poole. That’s four guards and a very undersized 5, which makes the next series so interesting because the Lakers are huge. Even their guards are big. Austin Reaves is 6’5’’ and D’Angelo Russell is 6’4’’. Just as the Warriors will have trouble containing the bigger Lakers, the Lakers will have trouble keeping up with the faster Warriors.
- Mike Breen pointed out at the end of the game that this will be first time the Lakers and Warriors have met in the playoffs since 1991, which is stunning.
A friend’s super-son Jack noted this very cool fact. These teams made it out of the First Round:
Nuggets 1 seed
Celtics 2 seed
76ers 3 seed
Suns 4 seed
Knicks 5 seed
Warriors 6 seed
Lakers 7 seed
Heat 8 seed
- Before the Nuggets-Suns game Saturday night, Grant Hill said Devon Booker of the Suns has been MVP of the playoffs so far. Hey, I like Grant, but I have two words for him: Jimmy Butler. Booker led the Suns over a broken Clippers team. Butler led the 8th seed Heat, without Tyler Herro, over the 1st seed Bucks in five games, averaging 37.6 per game on 60% shooting, 44% from three. Oh, and he also defended the Bucks’ best players. While we don’t have a First Round MVP, if it existed, Butler would be a unanimous selection. Except for Grant Hill’s vote.
- Finally, we will end with yet another Fun with Coach-speak moment. This ESPN headline says it all. ”Likely doubtful” sounds a lot like “jumbo shrimp” or “true lies” to me.