Historic season not over yet, Dubs back in the NBA Finals

by Michael Martinez

picture credit Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Down in the Western Conference Finals three games to one, the Golden State Warriors looked lost, worn out and defeated. While the Oklahoma City Thunder seemed unstoppable and their path to the NBA Finals appeared clear.

But did people forget that this Warriors team won a record setting 73 games? If anybody could come back down three games for just the tenth time in league history, it would be these guys. And the Warriors showed their resiliency and in game seven their fearless leader, Steph Curry showed that his second MVP selection, an unanimous decision, was no fluke.

The best player on the planet and his team defeated the Thunder, 96-88, in a tough game 7.

The first quarter was all Thunder as their defense was relentless and made Golden State take tough shots. The Warriors only scored 19 points, while Kevin Durant looked to be locked in. Oklahoma City showed up in the first and gave the impression that they had forgotten about the past two games.

However, the second quarter was different and the Warriors went back to what they do best, shooting the three ball. Klay Thompson got off to a rough 0 for 7 start, but knocked down four triples in the second to help his team cut the Thunder’s lead, who looked poised to take a big lead.

At the half, OKC led Golden State, 48-42 and out of the half, the MVP reigned supreme.

Curry made three big triples in the third and the Warriors played tremendous defense. The defending champs outscored the Thunder, 29-12, in the third quarter. The third quarter was the turning point and the home team never looked back.

While Curry had a solid third quarter, his clutch performance in the fourth proved why he is currently the best player in the NBA. Curry went 5-6 from the field, including 2 for 3 from beyond the arc for 15 fourth quarter points. Curry absolutely went off and made the big shots when the Thunder tried to make a come back of their own late in the game.

The Warriors lived by the three in tonight’s game, shooting 45.9 percent from behind the three point line. Their defense also did a great job of not allowing Durant the ball and holding their opponents to a shooting percentage of 38.2 percent.

Durant did finish with 27 points on 10 of 19 from the field for a team high and Russell Westbrook totaled 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds. But Westbrook had difficulty shooting as he went 7 of 21 on the night.

Curry finished with a game high 36 points, hitting 13 fields goals on 24 tries with seven of those field goals coming from three point range. The Warriors win was definitely a collective effort as the team had to come together strong to make this incredible series come back. Thompson ended the game with 21 points of his own as the Splash Brothers once again guided their team to one of the franchise’s most important victories.

The Warriors spent a ton of energy on winning this series and that could be a factor as their next task begins on Thursday. But, the Warriors are headed to back to back finals. They have a player who won back to back MVP trophies. And now, repeating as champions is in plain sight.

The Cavs and LeBron James look better than the team the Warriors saw last year, but again do not count out the Western Conference Champions. History is unfolding right in front of our eyes, can the Warriors be historical once again?

Tune in to ABC on June 2 at 6 p.m, where Golden State and Curry will take on James and company at Oracle Arena in front of a rambunctious Oakland crowd.


Sharks and Blues: Western Conference Final Preview

By Mary Walsh

AP photo: St Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott stops a shot from the San Jose Sharks Patrick Marleau 12 as Blues defenceman Cotton Parayko 55 watches on Sunday night in the third period

The Western Conference Final is upon us. Past results reveal that the San Jose Sharks and the St. Louis Blues have followed very similar paths to this point, and neither team is a clear choice for favorite. Even intangibles cannot give us a hint. Both San Jose and St. Louis are hungry for success. The Sharks have never made it to the Stanley Cup Final, and the Blues have not been there since 1970. They both unseated recent Cup winners in the first round. They both defeated up and coming teams in the second round, by the a five goal margin, in the seventh game. The likeness is uncanny, and utterly proper. The final teams in the Stanley Cup playoffs should be equals, it is only right that the results be entirely unpredictable. The results of the Stanley Cup Final could be easier to predict, especially with the Eastern teams taking such heavy casualties after just one game. I predict that the Western team will win the Cup, and that team will be from a city named after a saint.

A glance at the current NHL Leaderboard shows three Sharks leading in playoff scoring categories. In points, goals, and assists, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Brent Burns top those charts. Logan Couture is in the top three in all of those categories, while Pavelski and Burns are top five in two. The Blues have two players in each of these categories, with Vladimir Tarasenko listed in the top five in points and goals, Robby Fabbri top ten in points and assists, and David Backes ranked fifth in goals. The teams are pretty close when it comes to high ranking for their top scorers.

Those numbers tell us which players the opponent will zero in on defensively. They also tell us, by omission, which players previous opponents probably spent most of their defensive energy on. For the Sharks, Joe Thornton did not rack up quite as many points as he might be expected to, especially being one of Joe Pavelski’s linemates. Joel Ward fell from fifth to eighth on the team in goals. Tomas Hertl dropped from fourth to ninth on the team in goals. Patrick Marleau should have produced more, especially since he spent so much time not on a line with Couture or Thornton. I say that because he should have been able to slip under the radar of the Kings or the Predators, if the top lines drew top defense away. So either Marleau did get the defensive attention he can deserve, or he just was not playing that well. Either way, he is one who could suddenly start producing in this series.

Even if underproducing players do not break out, how many goal scorers has it taken to get the Sharks this far, compared to the Blues? The Sharks have seven players with three or more goals in these playoffs. Apart from the league leaders mentioned above, the Sharks have four goals from Marleau, three each from Thornton, Chris Tierney, and Joonas Donskoi. Joel Ward, Tomas Hertl and Melker Karlsson have two each. Matt Nieto and Tommy Wingels each have one tally.

For the Blues, eight players have scored three or more goals. Tarasenko has seven, Backes has six, Troy Brouwer has five, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund each have four, while Robby Fabbri, Jaden Schwartz and Paul Stasny each have three. Seven more St. Louis skaters have one or two goals. During the regular season, Tarasenko also led his team in goals, and the rest of the top six were essentially the same as they have been in the playoffs: Backes, Brouwer, Fabbri and Steen.

Though none of the Blues defensemen can challenge Brent Burns in the scoring department, St. Louis has gotten more points from their defense than the Sharks have. They have four defensemen with four or more points, Kevin Shattenkirk leading there with ten points. The Sharks have four defensemen with three or more points, Justin Braun and Paul Martin having just three.

The Blues have three more goal scorers than the the Sharks have, but the Sharks have scored .28 more goals per game. The Blues have given up a few more goals (2.43) than the Sharks have (2.33), if you go by games played. One could argue that the Sharks should not have it held against them that they did not give up goals in games they did not play by defeating the Kings so quickly. But since the Blues and the Sharks will play the same number of games in this series, games played is probably a better measure than total goals against.

The Sharks’ 30.9% power play is the best among teams in the final four. The Blues are right behind them with a 27.5% success rate. The Sharks’ penalty kill is a couple of ranking spots higher than the Blues, with San Jose at 82.3% and St. Louis at 79.5%. Either of those special team rankings could be reversed in the course of a single game, so again the teams are darn close.

The Blues gave up more shots (31.3) per game than the Sharks did (28.5) , but not many more. The Blues played Chicago and Dallas, while the Sharks played Los Angeles and Nashville. The habits of their respective opponents may have skewed those figures. During the regular season games, the Sharks consistently outshot the Blues, but usually by a fairly small margin.

In the playoffs, faceoff win percentages are be heavily influenced by the opponent, but it is still worth looking at. The Blues have been better at 50.7 % than the Sharks at 46.2%. Both teams were better during the regular season, but the Blues were a little better there too at 51.3% to the Sharks’ 50.7%. Thornton and Hertl are the only Sharks who have won better than 50% of their faceoffs in the first two rounds, and Hertl has only taken 20 draws. For the Blues, Paul Stastny, David Backes and Jori Lehtera took the lion’s share of faceoffs in both the regular season and the playoffs, and all three are over 50%. Paul Stastny won an impressive 59% of his draws in the first two rounds.

Could it come down to goaltending? Brian Elliott gives the Blues and edge in save percentage (.929-.918), Jones has the edge in goals against average (2.16-2.29), and they each have one shutout. Elliott is the more seasoned starter, but he has never gotten so far in the playoffs. Jones has seen his team win a Cup, but was only there as a backup. Both teams have above-average backups, but only the Blues’ Jake Allen saw any ice time in the first two rounds. Again, and again and again, the Sharks and the Blues look so close on paper that neither clearly has an edge.

The victor will be the team that bests their best first.

Warriors send Rockets packing in dominating fashion

by Michael Martinez

picture credit CBS 46 Atlanta

Well, Steph Curry did not play and yet the Warriors showed why they made history for the best record in NBA history. Normally, a team without their star player has a lot to worry about. The Warriors showed no problems minus the reigning MVP and proved why they are the team to beat besides the fact their last year’s champs. Golden State annihilated the Houston Rockets in a 114-81 victory at Oracle Arena.

Let’s be honest, there’s not much to say about this game. The game went exactly as most would have figured given that the Warriors routed Houston in game four and not to mention they’re the Golden State Warriors.

The Warriors played great, the Rockets played atrociously, which is a recipe for disaster. The Warriors played with great togetherness and to nobody’s surprise, they shot out of this world. Golden State made it look easy as they finished with a 54.9 shooting percentage while Houston could not find a way to score with a 32.6 shooting percentage. Golden State played solid defense as they forced 18 turnovers for 25 points.

James Harden was the only Rockets’ player to show any offensive life finishing with 35 points. Besides Harden, Michael Beasley was the only other Houston player to finish the game in double figures.

Klay Thompson did his best to fill Curry’s shoes and finished with 27 points. Thompson knocked down seven buckets from behind the arc on 11 shots and finished 10 of 14 from the field overall. Draymond Green was tremendous overall as usual and totaled 15 points, grabbed nine boards and dropped eight dimes.

Shaun Livingston had a good game on offense as well and scored 16 points on seven of eight shooting. The Warriors looked just as good as they always are and bounced the Rockets out of the playoffs.

Throughout the game, Curry showed incredible excitement from the bench and supported his teammates like no other. And this is why the Warriors are so dangerous, they have some of the greatest team chemistry I have witnessed in my lifetime.

The Warriors won the series and only allowed the Rockets to win one game, which came down to the wire.

Golden State will either face the Los Angeles Clippers who are without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin or the Portland Trailblazers. Portland won game five in their series to go up 3-2 and it appears like they will be Golden State’s semifinal opponent.

Whoever the Warriors play, fans are hopeful that Curry can make his way back into the playoffs. But, with the way Golden State played tonight, let Curry take as much time as he needs to get ready for the Western Conference Finals. I am knocking on wood though, so the whole Bay Area doesn’t freak out on me and say I jinxed them.


Curry Leads Warriors to the Conference Finals

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

By Jeff Hall


The Golden State Warriors are headed to the Conference finals for the first time in thirty-nine years with a 108-95 win over the Memphis Grizzlies.

The Warriors came out hot with all five Warriors starters scoring points in the first five minutes of the game. Klay Thompson started well for the Warriors with nine points under half way through the first quarter and it was a quarter the Warriors dominated. The Warriors opened the game 11 of 15 in field goal shooting in the first.

Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson had 11 points in the First quarter and together their combined 22 points outscored the Grizzlies in the first quarter that ended with the Warriors leading 32-19. Thompson was 3 of 3 from three-point range and Curry was 2 of 3 from beyond the arc.

Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies in scoring with six points. Mike Conley had four points for the Grizzlies in the first.

Both Curry and Thompson slowed down in scoring in the second quarter, but the Warriors continued their solid defensive play to sustain their big lead and by the half the Warriors lead was 58-49 over the Grizzlies.

Marc Gasol led the Grizzlies with 14 points in the first half.

Once again the Warriors played extremely well on both ends of the court holding the Grizzlies in scoring and the Grizzlies’ Bench scored 19 points in the first half.

The Grizzlies stayed in the game thanks to the pure toughness of Marc Gasol who practically carried his team on his back in the third. Gasol helped to shut down the Warriors offensively and defensively. Gasol stopped 4 shots that came his way within the paint. The Warriors became cold shooting in the third and that allowed the Grizzlies back into the game. The Grizzlies pulled within one point with three minutes remaining in the third . Wiping away the Warriors largest lead of 15 points reducing it to five but with no time remaining Curry knocked the wind out of the Fed-ex Forum after he fired up nearly a full court shot and gave the Warriors a 76-68 Warriors lead with a seventy-five foot basket to close out the third. That Basket drove the Warriors into the Western Conference Finals. 1976 is the last time the Warriors have made it this far in post-season action.

After the Curry shot the Warriors went on a 14-4 run to begin the fourth quarter. and the Warrriors held the lead through the entire game.

“We’ve come along way since I’ve been here.  We came to play every night, it’ nice to see the results” said Curry after the game.

Curry led all scoring with 32 points and was 8 of 11 with the three-point basket. Klay Thompson had 19 points and Draymond Green had 14.

The Warriors did not allow the Grizzlies to score 100 points in the series.

Up next the Warriors will face the winner of the Los Angeles Clippers – Houston Rocket series. Game one is scheduled for Tuesday Night at the Oracle Arena.

The Best in the West To Finish Sunday

By Mary Walsh

As the NHL Scouting Combine is under way, and draft rankings and reviews are cropping up all over Twitter and hockey sites, it is hard to focus entirely on playoff games that don’t involve the local team. Still, the Los Angeles Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks have done their darndest to keep us entertained with a pretty good Western Conference Final.

It has already been called one of the best series, certainly in these playoffs, maybe one of the best ever. Los Angeles and Chicago are still slugging it out, so to speak, neither heavyweight willing to concede. That will end Sunday in Game Seven. What impresses most about these games is the speed that they are playing at. Even in double overtime, they seem to play faster instead of slowing down like any reasonable person would expect. But how are they playing, compared to how they played in the regular season?

The Kings, as several opposing coaches have observed now, are playing well above their regular season level. In the regular season, they were 26th in goals per game, with an average of 2.42. In these playoffs, they are first, averaging 3.4. Defensively there has been a predictable drop off. In the regular season they were first in goals against, averaging 2.05. They gave up the fewest goals at even strength, but their penalty kill was only 11th, with a success rate of 83.1%. In the playoffs they have now given up an average of 2.8 per game, putting them 8th among playoff teams.  Their penalty kill is also weaker, ranked 9th among playoff teams at  82.7%. It is hardly surprising that their defensive numbers have taken a beating, since they were playing playoff teams in fairly long series. On top of that, to make such a jump offensively they have to take risks. Obviously, those risks have paid off so far. They are just one win away from a return to the Stanley Cup Final.

The Blackhawks, on the other hand, have not seen much of a change in their scoring or defensive numbers. In the regular season they averaged 3.18 goals per game, good for second in the league. Their power play had a success rate of 19.5%. In these playoffs, they have averaged 3.00 goals per game, with their power play chugging along at 19.2%. Defensively they have slipped only slightly, allowing an average of 2.78 goals per game, compared to their regular season average of 2.58. They have seen an uptick in their penalty kill, killing 84.1% in the playoffs, compared to 81.4% in the regular season.  In general, despite the changed conditions that come with a playoff schedule, they have remained pretty consistent.

The Kings are described as a team that is built for the playoffs. Maybe that is a way of saying they don’t hit their stride until playoffs, but if the Blackhawks had made an offensive jump for the playoffs akin to the one the Kings made, they would probably not be playing a seventh game. Is Chicago tapped out? Did they burn all their reserves during the regular season compensating for injuries to key players? Were they ever a better team than the Kings? That they are meeting in the Conference Final for the second season in a row suggests there is not much to choose between them, outside the regular season. The Kings have won two games by more than two goals and the Blackhawks have won only once by more than a goal. That certainly weighs in the Kings’ favor, but a win is a win. You can’t read too much into how much the team won by. Heck, maybe the Blackhawks are due a a big lead.

It is hard to imagine the New York Rangers beating either of these teams, except that the Rangers seem to have finally found their depth. Additionally, the Kings and the Blackhawks are doing a good job of taking the edge off each other. Fatigue will be a slightly bigger issues for the Kings, as this is their third seven game series. Chicago hasn’t had a much quicker trip, with two six game series before this one. It still seems like a stretch that a team so reliant on their goaltender could beat teams who have come so far despite some erratic goaltending. Still, it might be an entertaining Final, which is good since it will probably attract a lot of viewers. Broadway versus Hollywood has obvious appeal but Chicago can bring a sizeable audience as well. The NHL must be humming a gleeful tune.