Warriors snap home losing streak, smother Blazers 103-88

By Gabe Schapiro

The Golden State Warriors (27-18) got back in the win column, easily beating the tough Portland Trail Blazers (33-12), 103-88, Sunday night, at Oracle Arena. They won this one thanks to strong team defense and the lethal Stephen Curry. The Trail Blazers came into the contest as the NBA’s top scoring offense, and the Warriors made them look helpless for several stretches. For Portland the 88 points are a season-low, to go with 33% shooting from the field, also a season-low.

With their poor play as of late, it was important for the dubs to come out of the gates strong, and they did just that. They established an early lead, and set the tone with smothering defensive play. The splash brothers started especially hot, combining to score 18 of the team’s first 20 points, on 3-3 from beyond the arc. Through 12 minutes of play they led 28-22.

In the second quarter, however, the Blazers swung the momentum back in their favor. They scratched their way back and eventually took back the lead, which they hadn’t owned since the opening moments of the game. They led by as many as seven, before the Warriors re-inserted most of their starters and made a strong late push before halftime. Heading into the locker room, Golden State trailed by one, 55-54. Thankfully, the second was basically the only blip on the radar.

The Warriors thoroughly dominated the third quarter, and early portion of the fourth. At one point, during a 16 minute span, they outscored the Trailblazers 35-10, eventually building a 21-point advantage.  Portland had one last gasp in them. They went on a 16-3 run late in the fourth, momentarily making Golden State sweat a little. The Warriors weren’t going to let this one slip away, however, and closed it out strong.

Curry finished with a game-high 38 points, to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. David Lee had a prototypical David Lee game, posting 17 points and 12 boards. Andre Iguodala notched his second double-double of the season, with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists. Klay Thompson had an off shooting night, hitting just 6-of-21 shots, but still contributed 17 points and fantastic defense.

The theme of the night, however, was of course their superb defense. LeMarcus Aldridge lit up the Warriors in their last meeting, and tonight they held him to just 2-of-14 from the field. He still managed to finish with a double-double, but ultimately didn’t have much of an impact on the contest. They also held star point guard Damian Lillard at bay. He finished with 16 points, 5-of-16 from the field, and five assists.

Tonight was a textbook look into how the Warriors need to play to compete with the league’s best. Hopefully they can springboard off of this win and continue this kind of play.

Golden State’s home stand continues this Tuesday, when they will be taking on the Washington Wizards. The game begins at 7:30 pm.

Last second shot downs Warriors, lose 121-120 to Wolves

By Gabe Schapiro

The Golden State Warriors (26-18) lost a hectic back-and-forth contest to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 121-120, Friday night, at Oracle Arena. The game featured a ton of offense, and seemed to come down to which side would blink first. The Warriors grabbed a late lead, before a Kevin Martin 20-foot jumper with eight seconds left ultimately put the Timberwolves ahead for good. Three Minnesota players finished with 20+ points in the win.

The fast pace was set early on, as both squads combined for 72 points in the first quarter alone, deadlocked at a 36-36 tie. The foes continued to go blow-for-blow, with neither establishing a significant lead. The Timberwolves opened up the game with a 6-0 run, but that would be the biggest advantage either would enjoy until the third quarter.

Heading into the locker rooms at half time, they remained tied, 63 all.

Late in the third quarter, Golden State finally made a bit of a run. Minnesota failed to score for the final 2:53, sending the Warriors on a 10-0 tear, and a seven-point lead, heading into the fourth. It appeared as though the dubs could fight them off, but the rollercoaster ride wasn’t over.

In the fourth the momentum slowly swayed back in the Wolves favor. With 5:54 remaining in the contest, a Martin three-pointer had erased Golden State’s lead, and had taken back a one-point lead of their own. They continued to trade punches down the stretch. With 27 seconds left a pair of Andre Iguodala free-throws gave the Warriors their last lead of the game, 120-119. With eight ticks left, Martin played the game-changer again, sinking a jumper. Harrison Barnes had one last shot at the buzzer, after a double-teamed Stephen Curry passed the rock his way, but his attempt clanged off the rim.

In all five Warriors finished in double figures. Curry led all scorers with 33 points, including six three-pointers, to go along with 15 assists. David Lee pitched in 23 points and seven rebounds. Andrew Bogut set a Warriors season-high with seven blocked shots, to highlight his line of eight points and 11 boards. Klay Thompson had 18, Iguodala finished with 16.

Kevin Love led the way for Minnesota, filling up the stat sheet with 26 points, 14 rebounds, and eight assists. Martin did plenty of damage as well, chipping in another 26 points. Center Nikola Pekovic scored 22, and hauled in 14 rebounds. Ricky Rubio led the team with 12 assists.

Golden State will look to get back to their winning ways this Sunday, when they take on the tough Portland Trailblazers, back at Oracle. The game begins at 6:00pm.

Warriors comeback bid is too little too late, fall to Pacers 102-94

By Gabe Schapiro

The Golden State Warriors (26-17) couldn’t overcome a big early deficit, losing to the Indiana Pacers (33-7), 102-94, Monday night, at Oracle Arena. Falling behind quickly against the league’s best team is rarely going to be a recipe for success. The Warriors have made a habit out of big comebacks at home, but there would be no thrilling storybook ending on this night.

Both squads came out of the gates on fire, combining to make the games first nine shots. From there, however, the Pacers started to pull away. Golden State trailed by 14 after the first quarter, and would eventually trail by as many as 20. Indiana holds the league best record, and at times it certainly looked like the Warriors were overwhelmed going up against it.

In the second half, it initially looked like more of the same. The Pacers opened up the third with a 7-0 run. As we’ve seen them do countless times this season, Golden State refused to go down quietly. They finally appeared to wake up, and mounted a run of their own. They kept on slowly chipping away at the lead. Flash-forward to two minutes into the fourth quarter, and a Harrison Barnes three-pointer brought the dubs to within two. However, that would be as close as they would get to a lead.

The Warriors kept themselves within striking distance until the final seconds, but the mountain proved to be too high to climb. They misfired on a couple of key possessions, and Indiana put the game away with some late free throws.

Stephen Curry wasn’t at his best, but still scored a game-high 24 points. He finished one assist shy of completing the double-double. He was nine-of-20 from the field, and just three-of-11 from beyond the arc.

Mr.double-double himself, David Lee, notched another one. He finished with 20 points and 12 boards.

Andrew Bogut missed a couple of crucial minutes late in the game after he appeared to tweak something, but was re-inserted into the game. He contributed 10 points, 13 rebounds, and two blocks.

For the Pacers, Paul George led the way with 23 points. Roy Hibbert was his usual force in the paint, adding 14 points, 14 boards, and two blocked shots. All five Indiana starters finished in double figures, the first time an opponent has accomplished that feat against Golden State this season.

49ers one giant step away from another Super Bowl birth

By Gabe Schapiro

For the San Francisco 49ers, the road to their second straight Super Bowl appearance fittingly runs through Seattle. This Sunday at 3:30 pm, the 49ers and Seahawks face off in the NFC championship game. The two heated rivals finished first and second in the NFC West this season, and split their two regular season matchups.

Last weekend San Francisco suffocated the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round, winning 23-10. Colin Kaepernick’s stat line won’t blow anyone away, but he did what he had to, and didn’t make any costly mistakes. He completed 15-of-28 throws, for 196 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a rushing score. Anquan Boldin had a stellar game, with eight grabs for 136 yards. Ultimately though, it was the defense that dominated and won it for the 49ers. They sacked Cam Newton five times, and had two interceptions. The Panthers scored 10 points in the second quarter, but were shut out for the second half.

This week features two very similar teams. Both have young and athletic quarterbacks, run-heavy offenses, and fearsome defenses. For the 49ers, the Seahawks may well be their toughest opponent. Russell Wilson is wise beyond his years, and rarely makes a mistake. Marshawn Lynch is a bruiser, and despite a lot of mileage on his legs is still one of the leagues best running backs. They don’t have a real stand out number one receiver, but they get production from a lot of different sources. Six targets have multiple touchdown grabs this season, and four of those have four or more. In the regular season they scored the eighth most points per game.

However, their defense is their real calling card, boasting the leagues best. They allowed the fewest points and fewest yards in the NFL. They easily have the league’s best pass defense, with their only very slight weakness coming against the run, where they finished seventh. Similarly to their offense, they get production from a lot of different sources, with 10 different players recording more than one sack, and 10 more recording at least one interception in the regular season. Richard Sherman headlines the group as the teams best corner.

The good news for San Francisco is that they won their last matchup with the Seahawks, and they are a team you can run against. The bad news, is that this time they are playing in Seattle, where they may have the leagues biggest home field advantage. Including the playoffs they are 8-1 at home this season.

The last time the 49ers traveled to Seattle they were blown out, 29-3. With San Francisco playing their best football of the year, and the addition of Michael Crabtree to the lineup this time around, things should certainly be more competitive. However the mountain to climb remains steep. Kaepernick will have his hands full, and they’ll need to get Frank Gore going to be successful.

They’re just one step away from another Super Bowl appearance, but that step is an awfully big one.

49ers travel to Carolina for Divisional Round

By Gabe Schapiro

One down, three to go. After last weeks win over the Green Packers, the San Francisco 49ers advanced to the Divisional Round of the NFL playoffs. This Sunday they travel to Carolina, where they will be taking on the Panthers. The second seeded Panthers won the NFC South title with a 12-4 record. They had a first round bye.

Carolina started the season 1-3, before going on a tear and finishing the year on a 11-1 run. They are led by quarterback Cam Newton, who is one of the most athletic QB’s in the league. He struggled at times, but overall the third year rising star had his best season yet. However, he doesn’t have great weapons at his disposal. His favorite targets are tight end Greg Olsen, who leads the team in receiving and touchdown catches, and wideouts Steve Smith and Brandon LaFell. None of the group are real game breakers. As a whole they scored the 18th most points per game in the regular season. They lean significantly on their running game, which ranked 11th. They finished an abysmal 29th in passing yards per game.

The reason the Panthers are still a team to fear, is because of their stout defense. Linebacker Luke Kuechly is the captain of the unit, and is seemingly in on every play. Defensive end Greg Hardy is a great pass rusher, and finished with 15 sacks this season. They allowed the second fewest points in the league.

This matchup isn’t quite a unstoppable force hitting an unmovable object, but it’s close. The 49ers feature the third best rushing attack in the NFL, and they’ll need some solid production against the Carolina, which counter with the leagues second best run defense.

These two foes faced off in Week 10 at Candlestick Park, and the Panthers came away with a hard fought 10-9 victory. In the contest the 49ers failed to reach the endzone, but thanks to three field goals held a lead for much of the game. A late field goal by Carolina sealed the comeback win.

As the saying goes, it’s tough to beat the same team twice in one season. However, the 49ers are fresh off of accomplishing just that last week. This weekend the conditions will be nicer, but the opponent is tougher. Colin Kaepernick will need to be a game manager. He needs to limit his mistakes and grab the few opportunities he’ll get. Michael Crabtree appears to be getting better every week, which is a great sign. Frank Gore wasn’t busy, but did well when given the carries in their previous matchup. He rushed for 82 yards on 16 carries, good for 5.1 yards per carry.

Expect another hard-nosed, low scoring affair. It’s certainly a winnable game, but it could come down to which side blinks first.

49ers head to the Frozen Tundra for Wild Card round

By Gabe Schapiro

Playoff football is upon us, and for the San Francisco 49ers the quest for six begins in the not-so-friendly confines of the Frozen Tundra. They’ll be taking on the Green Bay Packers, this Sunday at 1:40pm, at the legendary Lambeau Field. On the final day of the regular season the Packers clinched the NFC North title with a win over the Chicago Bears. The 49ers head into the playoffs as the fifth seed, after winning a Wild Card spot.

In Green Bay, San Francisco will be taking on a team that has and continues to battle injuries, and went through several ups and downs this season. On the bright side for the 49ers, star linebacker Clay Matthews has already been ruled out for the contest. On the not-so-bright side for the 49ers, last weekend the Packers got back the face of their franchise, quarterback Aaron Rodgers. In addition, talented wideout Randall Cobb is also back and is already making an impact.

With Rodgers, Green Bay has a lethal offense. They lost tight end Jermichael Finley earlier this season, but are still loaded with weapons; namely Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and rookie of the year candidate, Eddie Lacy. Despite being without Rodgers for eight games, as a unit they still finished tied for eighth in the league in points scored. They were ranked sixth in passing yards, and in a new development, thanks in large part to Lacy, they ranked seventh in rushing.

Their big weakness is on defense. They’re missing multiple starters, and have been shaky much of the season. They gave up the ninth most points this season, the ninth most passing yards, and the eighth most rushing yards.

Finally, the last potential cause of concern for the 49ers, will be the harsh elements. As of this writing the expected high temperature this Sunday in Green Bay is a freezing -5. No, that’s not a typo. Add in wind chill, and the forecast is calling for Ice Bowl-esque numbers of -30 degrees or lower. It is expected to be one of the coldest games in NFL history.

The Packers are more accustomed to dealing with such frigid weather, but when you’re talking about record-breaking levels of cold, both teams will certainly be feeling the ill effects. I wouldn’t expect it to be a major factor to swing the odds in either direction.

With such bad conditions, look for the winner to be the squad who makes the least mistakes, and establishes the better running game. Thankfully for San Francisco, in the regular season they topped the Packers in both categories.

In addition, of late the 49ers have just had the Packers number. You can throw numbers and everything else out the window, that’s just been the trend. Back in Week 1, San Francisco came away with a 34-28 win over Green Bay. In last years divisional round, these foes faced off, and again the 49ers were victorious, 45-31. Colin Kaepernick has struggled at times this season, but you’d think he was the best QB on the planet if you were just looking at the last two times he faced off with the Packers.

The normal high-scoring affair expectations might need to be tempered because of the conditions. I would expect both sides to lean more heavily on their run game. And generally speaking, that plays in the favor of the 49ers. They have a strong run game, and a significantly better run defense.

With all of that said, anything can happen in the playoffs. Expect the cold, expect some snow, and expect the unexpected.

49ers seek sixth straight win in regular season finale in Arizona

By Gabe Schapiro

This Sunday at 1:25pm the San Francisco 49ers (11-4) will be facing off with the Arizona Cardinals (10-5) in the regular season finale, at the University of Phoenix Stadium. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West, one game behind the Seattle Seahawks. They will clinch a division title with a win Sunday and a Seahawks loss. They have already sealed a playoff birth. The Cardinals are in third in the NFC West, one game back of San Francisco. To get into the playoffs Arizona must win, along with a New Orleans Saints loss.

Last weekend the 49ers outlasted the Atlanta Falcons, winning 34-24, in Candlestick’s swan song. The game remained close throughout, with a huge NaVorro Bowman 89-yard interception return with 1:10 remaining in the game hammering the final nail in the coffin. Colin Kaepernick completed 13-of-21 passes for 197 yards and a touchdown, to go along with 51 yards on the ground and a rushing score. Frank Gore rushed for 97 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries. Michael Crabtree continues to shake the rust off, and had five receptions and 102 yards. Vernon Davis was uncharacteristically held without a catch on three targets.

San Francisco had more trouble than some expected last weekend with the struggling Falcons, but still got the job done. They have won five straight and are looking to make it six before heading into the playoffs. To get to number six they’ll have a tough task, having to beat one of the league’s hottest squads in the Cardinals. They’ve won three straight, including a big upset over Seattle last weekend, and are 7-1 in their last eight contests.

Arizona’s offense has been very middle of the road this season. At quarterback veteran Carson Palmer can still make plays, but is mistake prone. He is among the league leaders with 21 interceptions. At wide receiver he has the always dangerous Larry Fitzgerald to throw to. He has been slowed due to injuries this season, but remains a threat. Michael Floyd has emerged as a strong secondary threat, and leads the team in receiving yards. Rashard Mendenhall has been their go-to back for much of the season, but Andre Ellington has proven to be an explosive change of pace option. As a unit they rank 16th in the NFL in points per game.

The Cardinals defense is far and away their strongest asset. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is having a great season, Patrick Peterson has stepped into his own in the secondary, and the pass-rushing two-headed monster of Calais Campbell and John Abraham have been a force. They allow the sixth fewest points per game, and are especially stout against the run. Surrendering just 84.5 rushing yards per game, they are the league’s best.

This matchup will be a classic case of great running game going up against a great run defense. In their week 6 meeting, Frank Gore still managed to run for 101 yards on 25 carries, but the Cardinals have been at their best recently. Look for Kaepernick and an ever-improving Crabtree to make some significant moves in the passing attack, where Arizona is much more vulnerable.

Physical rivalry renewed, Warriors edge out Clippers, 105-103

Photo credit: Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty

By Gabe Schapiro

The Golden State Warriors (17-13) and Los Angeles Clippers (20-10) claim that no rivalry exists between them, but Wednesday night’s tilt begged otherwise. In a very feisty matchup that included multiple technicals, two ejections, and much pushing and shoving, the Warriors outlasted the Clippers,105-103, at Oracle Arena.

Golden State came out of the gate slowly, and fell behind big early. At one point it looked like Los Angeles could run away with this one, after opening up a 13-point lead part way through the second quarter.

The Warriors woke up in the waning minutes of the first half, however, and began making a game out of it. They had reduced the 13-point deficit down to just two as both sides headed into the locker rooms.

The second half was a true heavy-weight battle. The lead traded hands countless times as the two California foes both got in their swings, sometimes literally. At the very end of the third quarter Draymond Green was ejected after a tussle with Blake Griffin. Just minutes later Griffin himself was ejected after earning his second technical, this time getting into a skirmish with fellow big man Andrew Bogut.

After the dust settled the two sides hunkered down for the final stretch. Neither side led by more than five points at any point in the fourth quarter. For several stretches the game turned into a point guard battle, with Stephen Curry and Chris Paul each taking their turns to pull their team back out in front with dazzling plays.

Paul has become known as possibly the NBA’s best closer. If true, tonight will go down as one of the few blown saves on his record. He was his normal brilliant self at times, but at the bitter end came up short multiple times.

With 1:08 remaining in the game, two Harrison Barnes free throws gave the Dubs a 105-103 lead. In the final minute Paul uncharacteristically missed a 9-foot jumper and a layup. He drove to the basket again with one second left only to have Klay Thompson come up with a huge block. On the final in-bounds play Jamal Crawford heaved up a long three-point attempt that just nicked the front of the rim as the buzzer sounded.

Curry was nearly a non-factor for much of the night as the Clippers blanketed him often, taking him out of the game. However he came up big when it mattered most hitting multiple big shots in the final 12 minutes. Despite he comparably down night for him, he still finished with a double-double. He had 15 points and 11 assists, to go along with six rebounds.

Bogut and David Lee also each contributed double-doubles. Bogut posted 10 points and 14 rebounds. Lee contributed 23 points and 13 boards. They are the first set of teammates to each have 10+ rebounds in 10 straight games since the 1978 New Orleans Jazz, when Rich Kelley and Truck Robinson accomplished the feat.

Thompson had his best game in a while, filling up the stat sheet. He tied for a team-high 23 points, and had four assists, five rebounds, two steals, and two blocks.

Barnes played some big minutes down the stretch, especially with the ejection of Green. He had 14 points and five boards in 25 minutes off the bench.

Paul had a game-high 26 points and 11 assists in the losing effort for Los Angeles. Griffin was having a fantastic game before his ejection, compiling 20 points and 14 rebounds. Deandre Jordan was a monster down low, posting 13 points, 13 boards, and six blocks.

Turnovers doom Warriors, fall to Spurs 104-102

By Gabe Schapiro

The Golden State Warriors (14-13) fell just short against the savvy San Antonio Spurs (21-5), 104-102, Thursday night, at Oracle Arena. San Antonio was without their big-three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli, but still made it work. Golden State got some strong performances, but as a unit played poorly, and ultimately couldn’t overcome their own mistakes. On the night they turned it over a whopping 24 points, which the Spurs converted for 31 points. A familiar face, former Warrior Marco Belinelli, led San Antonio with 28 points off the bench.

The night didn’t start off so poorly. After the first quarter the Warriors held a 23-18 lead. They weren’t playing great, but they were getting it done. From there, however,  the miscues started to snowball.

San Antonio came back with a great second quarter, at one point going on a 19-4 run to steal back the lead. They had grabbed the momentum and rode it through to the end of the game. Heading into halftime they had comeback to take a two-point lead.

The Spurs extended their lead to eight-points heading into the final frame. The Warriors started scratching their way back into the game, and it looked like they were setting up for another classic late-game comeback. With 28 seconds remaining Stephen Curry sunk a huge three-pointer to tie the game up at 102-102. San Antonio ended the comeback hopes with a sloppy but successful last possession, which ended with a Tiago Splitter rebound and put-back to take the two-point lead. The 104-102 score would stick, as a Curry 32-foot heave with less than two seconds left was no where close to hitting.

Curry would finish with his 12th consecutive 20+ point effort, contributing a double-double with 30 points and 15 assists. On a more negative note he also did have five turnovers.

David Lee was great on the offensive end, posting a game-high 32 points and 13 rebounds.

Andrew Bogut was very strong down low. He scored eight points, hauled in 18 rebounds, and blocked three shots.

For the Spurs Kawhi Leonard finished with a double-double, 20 points and 11 rebounds. Patty Mills also had a strong game, with 21 points, five rebounds, and three steals.

49ers looking to give the Stick a proper sendoff against Falcons

By Gabe Schapiro

This Monday at 5:40pm the San Francisco 49ers (10-4) will be taking on the Atlanta Falcons (4-10), in Candlestick Park’s swan song. The 49ers are in second place in the NFC West, two games behind the Seattle Seahawks and one game up on the Arizona Cardinals. The Atlanta Falcons are in the basement of the NFC South, tied for last place with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. They have long been out of the playoff hunt.

Last weekend San Francisco throttled the Buccaneers, 33-14, winning their fourth straight. The 49ers jumped out to an early 17-0 lead. Tampa Bay put up a bit of a fight, getting within six points to open the fourth quarter, but San Francisco quickly squashed their momentum with two field goals and a touchdown. Colin Kaepernick had a strong performance, completing 19-of-29 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Frank Gore ran for a tough 86 yards on 22 carries, and as a team they ran for 86 yards. Vernon Davis caught his 12th touchdown of the season, and Michael Crabtree also hauled in his first score since returning from injury. Crabtree becomes just the third 49ers receiver to catch a touchdown pass. Eric Reid grabbed his fourth interception and Aldon Smith had two sacks.

This week marks the second consecutive matchup against an NFC South bottom feeder. As they did last week with the Bucs, they shouldn’t run into too much trouble with the Falcons.

Atlanta has become synonymous with playoff contender in recent years, but they have struggled mightily this season. They have dealt with major injures to many of their best skill players. They lost star receiver Julio Jones for the season, and Roddy White and Steven Jackson have also both missed time and been ineffective when trying to play through ailments.

QB Matt Ryan has been one of their few constants. He is still very talented, but hasn’t had a lot to work with, and it has shown. He’s not having a bad year, but is certainly having a down season. His favorite targets in the passing game have been Harry Douglas and veteran Tony Gonzalez. As a unit they have been very middle of the road. They are 22nd in points per game, and 16th in total yards.

Their biggest downfall, however, has been their porous defense. In nearly every facet they have been bad. They are the fourth worst in yards allowed, sixth worst in points allowed per game, fourth worst against the run, and eighth worst against the pass. They have some strong solid rushers in Osi Umenyiora and Corey Peters, but that has been one of the few bright spots.

As they have been excellent at in recent weeks, the 49ers should be able to find a nice balance to their offense against a weak defense. Gore is always reliable, and Kaepernick seems to be benefitting from the addition of Michael Crabtree to the lineup.

San Francisco got some bad news this week, when it was announced that FB Bruce Miller was placed on injured reserve with a shoulder injury, ending his season. The fullback position is not one that many teams utilize, but Miller has gotten a heavy workload this season. He is Gore’s lead blocker, and is used often in the passing game. He is the teams third leading receiver in receptions and yards. The 49ers re-signed FB Will Tukuafu to try and soften the blow.