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NBA Sunday: Western Conference Upset Brewing
Posted By Derek Page On April 28, 2013 @ 10:38 am In NBA | No Comments
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Western Conference Upset Brewing
The three-seed, six-seed matchup appeared ripe for an upset with the Denver Nuggets heading into the 2013 NBA postseason missing one of their best players in Danilo Gallinari. Considering second-year breakout forward Kenneth Faried was also entering the playoffs hobbled, the Golden State Warriors were a trendy pick to make it into the second round for the first time since 2007.
This forced the Warriors to insert veteran point guard Jarrett Jack into the lineup, going to a smaller, three guard lineup with Lee on the shelf. Sporting a 2-0 record and taking a 2-1 series lead since the switch, the move by head coach Mark Jackson seems to have invigorated these Warriors.
Setting the tone has been point guard Stephen Curry, who has been dealing with an ailment of his own due to a sprained left ankle. Scoring at least 29 points and featuring back-to-back double-doubles over the last two games, the 25-year old point guard has put Golden State on his back despite the recurring ankle injury.
Even though he’s hobbled, Curry believes there’s no excuses as Golden State tried to take a 3-1 lead tonight at home.
“No excuses,” Curry said. “If you’re out there, you’ve got to try to get it done the best you can. They have some athletic, quick guards that require a lot of attention, a lot of physicality and you’ve got to do what you can to stop them. Obviously Ty Lawson had a big game last game but we feel like if we can just key-in on him and slow him down, keep him out of the paint, that’ll be big for us.
“The opportunity is bigger than me so you have to step up to it – I take it for what it is.”
Another key factor in the Warriors’ surge has been the play of former All-Star center Andrew Bogut. A frustrating season for Bogut saw the big man miss 50 games on the year but he’s been crucial in the first round. With game-highs in rebounds in each of the first three games this series, Bogut is the main reason why the Warriors hold a 133-105 rebounding edge over the Nuggets. Golden State has yet to be outrebounded in a game this series and that’s been an important factor in the Warriors’ recent success.
“Defensively and rebounding, I set myself a goal for this series and as a team it was not to lose the rebound count and we haven’t done that yet,” Bogut said. “If we keep doing that, I think we have a good chance of winning this series.”
Bogut’s physical play over the last few games has drawn the ire of some Nuggets’ players but the Warriors insist that physicality has been the difference.
“It’s nothing personal,” Bogut said. “They’re physical. Kenneth Faried runs around and he hits people and we’ve just got to match their intensity. If it gets personal and during games guys want to have a crack at you, that’s playoff basketball. I’m not sitting here right now and saying I hate [JaVale] McGee or I hate Faried but right now in this series if they want to put it on the line and be physical, we’re going to be physical back.
“We’re not going to take a step backwards.”
That hard-nosed mentality has carried over throughout the team with Golden State refusing to back down even as the intensity level this series has continued to rise. Bogut says he relishes playing the villain role in the mind of opposing fans.
“If at the end of a playoff series, the other team likes you and says good things about you and their fans like you and say good things about you then that’s probably not a good thing,” Bogut said. “Looking at my Twitter feed yesterday and a lot of Nuggets’ fans were abusing me – that’s how it should be.
“I don’t want them to like me and I don’t want them to send me love messages. ”
With two straight wins, the Warriors have stolen home court advantage from the Nuggets as they’ll play two of the next three games at home to try and sew this series up. Golden State was 28-13 at home this season compared to just 19-22 on the road so capturing home court is huge moving forward. Despite the massive fan-presence at Oracle Arena, Coach Jackson doesn’t want his team resting on its laurels heading into Game Four.
“The crowd will not win a game [in this series],” Jackson said. “It’s going to be up to us to do the things we’ve been doing to put us in position to win. We will not be fooled into believing that makes a difference against the Denver Nuggets.”
Writing these Nuggets off, who have dealt with their fair share of adversity already this season, would definitely be a mistake moving forward. However, it’s clear that Golden State is in the driver’s seat heading into Game Four to knock off the West’s third-seeded Nuggets.
Durant, Thunder Survive Without Westbrook in Houston
With All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook done for the remainder of the playoffs, Kevin Durant knew it was on his shoulders to lead Oklahoma City to victory in Game Three. After all, the NBA’s second-leading scorer over the course of the season is no stranger to putting up points in bunches and that’s exactly what he did last night.
Durant tied a playoff career-high with 41 points and brought down 14 rebounds as the Thunder held on to secure a 104-101 victory in Houston against the Rockets.
“I didn’t feel the same,” Durant told The Associated Press. “And I knew I just had to give my all from here on out … every game is for him.”
The Thunder jumped out to a 26 point lead in the first half behind Durant, who nearly outscored the Rockets by himself in the first quarter (16-19) and played like a man possessed over the first 24 minutes. Durant finished with 27 points in the first half featuring a bristling intensity rarely seen from the mild-mannered 24-year old.
“He’s an amazing scorer,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said, “and he sets up a lot of guys to get easy buckets.”
Serge Ibaka also picked up the slack in Westbrook’s absence, scoring 17 points and bringing down 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double. Replacing Westbrook in the starting lineup was second-year player Reggie Jackson, who scored 14 points and drained two crucial free throws in the final minute of his first career start. No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit so both sides knew how crucial this contest was and the Thunder stepped up and delivered when it counted the most.
“It’s been an emotional time the last 48 hours,” Brooks said. “We all love what Russell (Westbrook) is about. He’s got probably the biggest heart I’ve ever been around.”
While a 3-0 series lead virtually guarantees that OKC will be moving on to the second round, the Game Three victory didn’t come without it’s warning signs. The Thunder coughed up a massive 26-point lead to the Rockets in a third quarter that saw Durant go cold and his teammates unable to pick up the slack. Oklahoma City needed all but 44 seconds of game action, 30 shots and a magical, rim dancing 3-pointer from Durant to handle a Rockets squad that dominated the Thunder in the second half.
If Kevin Martin continues to struggle as he did in Game Three to the tune of a 12 point, 3-11 showing last night, the Thunder might be in for a quick ousting in round two.
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