James Harden scored 14 points in the first quarter Sunday in Utah. (Rick Bowmer)
The New Orleans Pelicans couldn’t get it done against the Golden State Warriors and fall behind in the series 3-1. The Utah Jazz are hoping to avoid a similar hate against the Houston Rockets. Follow along here for the latest analysis and commentary from The Post’s NBA reporter Tim Bontemps, and ask him questions in the comments section. Catch up on yesterday’s games here.
• The Warriors stopped messing around in Game 4 and put the New Orleans in a 3-1 hole as the series shifts back to Oakland.
• Golden State doesn’t need Steph Curry to be great. The team has Kevin Durant after all to carry the load.
• Steve Kerr isn’t comfortable calling his smallball lineup the Hamptons Five, apparently. “I can’t say that. But you can.”
The Jazz are doing their best to hang around. But the Rockets simply have too much firepower – and that’s on a night when they aren’t hitting threes.
Through three quarters, Houston leads 79-65, with Chris Paul (23 points, nine assists) and James Harden (21 points) as the only Rockets in double-figures. That’s because Houston is a combined 8 for 31 from three-point range in this game.
The problem for the Jazz? They are only 6 for 24. Against a team like this, Utah simply has to make outside shots. If it’s not, like it isn’t today, it’s in real trouble.
So far, Game 4 of Rockets-Jazz has been Chris Paul and James Harden vs. Donovan Mitchell. And while the rookie has acquitted himself quite well after a slow start, that’s a battle Houston is going to win most of the time.
The Rockets lead 58-48 at halftime, with Harden scoring 18 points (14 coming in the first quarter) while Paul added 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Mitchell, meanwhile, has 15 points of his own to go with two rebounds and two assists.
But Dante Exum has nine points as the next leading scorer for the Jazz … and he didn’t even play in the second quarter because of foul trouble. Someone else on Utah besides Mitchell needs to step up to give the Jazz a real chance in this one.
Chris Paul is a terrific player. But he can be exhausting to watch.
Take this play at the end of the first half of Game 4 against the Jazz. Paul made a great play to steal the ball with a few seconds left in the half, but instead of going upcourt to get a shot to close out the half, he tried to draw a three-shot foul on Joe Ingles 75 feet from the basket.
Then, when the foul wasn’t called, Paul flung the ball back toward the opposite basket, and as the horn sounded to end the half intentionally ran into Ingles again and waved his hand at the referees as he walked off the court. Mike D’Antoni then went and gave referee Ken Mauer a piece of his mind, as well.
This is the kind of stuff Paul tries to do all the time. He’s the guy who tries to find every possible loophole in the rules – and then exploit them.
Which, again, is why he can be both great and exhausting.
The Jazz have enough trouble scoring without Donovan Mitchell having any issues. Early here in Game 4, though, it appears he might have one.
Mitchell left the bench for a short time in the second quarter of Game 2, only to emerge with a tape job on two of the fingers on his left hand. He eventually checked back into the game, but has been all-but invisible since then.
Joe Ingles has been operating as the point guard offensively, with Mitchell standing in the corner primarily, though he later attacked the rim twice, making one layup and missing another.
Utah needs Mitchell to get going if they want any chance to compete in this game. Otherwise, the Jazz simply don’t have enough firepower to keep up.
The first quarter of Game 4 went much better than in Game 3 for the Jazz, but it still ended with the same result.
Houston leads Utah 30-23 after one here in Salt Lake City, where James Harden already has 14 points – and, more importantly, has gotten the Jazz into foul trouble.
Dante Exum, who scored nine points for the Jazz, picked up three fouls – including two in a row late in the quarter when Harden drew contact and got a favorable whistle. Jae Crowder, who started in place of Derrick Favors, picked up a pair himself.
The Jazz, predictably, came out with far better energy in Game 4, and the Rockets looked a bit more complacent than they did Friday night. But, in the end, the Jazz were always likely to have issues keeping up with Houston on the scoreboard. And, so far in this game, that’s proving to be true once again.
With the Jazz already missing Ricky Rubio, the last thing they need is another injury to a perimeter player.
But Rubio’s replacement in the starting lineup, Royce O’Neale, left the game in its opening minutes after banging knees with a Rockets player and went straight to the locker room.
O’Neale has returned to the bench, where he is flexing his left leg still. It remains to be seen if he’ll be back, but Utah could use him – particularly after he scored 17 points as one of the few brights spots in Utah’s Game 3 loss.
After Golden State’s dominant victory in Game 4 over New Orleans, a reporter asked Warriors Coach Steve Kerr a question about the “Hamptons Five” – the small lineup featuring the five players who met in the Hamptons two summers ago – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala, plus the man they were there to recruit: Kevin Durant.
But when the questioner was finished, Kerr couldn’t help but go back to the idea of calling the lineup the “Hamptons Five” – and that it’s just become the default name for the group.
“I still am amused that we just matter of factly call them the Hamptons Five,” Kerr told reporters with a smile. “[The Athletic’s] Tim Kawakami deserves all the credit then.
“I just feel strange, as a coach saying, ‘Well, the Hamptons Five played well tonight.’
“I can’t say that. But you can.”
Kawakami is the one who came up with that phrase after Durant chose to join the Warriors in July of 2016, after that fateful string of meetings in the Hamptons where teams came to meet him and make their respective pitches.
It was a way to differentiate from the “Death Lineup,” which is what Golden State’s original smallball lineup under Kerr – featuring the four Warriors who met with Durant along with Harrison Barnes – came to be known as.
But while it’s been picked up by just about everyone outside of the Warriors locker room, at least, it appears Kerr isn’t quite on board with it.
And regardless of what it’s called, it clearly worked like a charm in Game 4.
While Jazz guard Ricky Rubio’s hamstring will keep him out for Game 4 against the Rockets, forward Derrick Favors sounds likely to play through a sprained ankle.
Jazz Coach Quin Snyder said before the game that Favors was going to through workouts pregame before a determination would be made on his status. But Favors was seen walking through the locker room after Houston’s blowout win in Game 3 with only some light tape on his ankle. It would be surprising if he sits out.
The Warriors stopped messing around. As a result, they took back control of their Western Conference semifinal with the Pelicans.
Going to their best lineup – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala – for Game 4 Sunday afternoon served as the catalyst it was expected it would be. Golden State jumped out to an early 14-4 lead and never trailed in an eventual 118-92 victory in New Orleans. The win moved the Warriors to within one victory of advancing to a fourth straight Western Conference finals – a victory they can get Tuesday when they face the Pelicans back in Oakland in Game 5.
Kevin Durant was unguardable Sunday, scoring 38 points on 15-for-27 shooting, once again exposing the Pelicans’ lack of size defending on the wing. Stephen Curry had a late spurt to finish with 23 points in 32 minutes, as well, while continuing to ease himself back into game action after returning in Game 2 of this series from five-and-a-half weeks sidelined with a sprained MCL.
Anthony Davis led the Pelicans with 26 points, 12 rebounds, an assist, a steal and two blocks, and E’Twuan Moore added 20 for New Orleans. Nikola Mirotic, however, went just 1 for 7 from the field, as the strategy of having Iguodala guard him – as he did in the first two games when Golden State went small – again paid off.
New Orleans also shot 4 for 26 from three. Golden State didn’t shoot well from behind the arc, either, going just 11 for 33. But against a team like the Warriors, being outscored by 21 points from behind the arc – not to mention committing 19 turnovers that became 21 Golden State points – is fatal.
There has been plenty of debate over the past week about whether Stephen Curry is going to be fully healthy for this playoff run, like he clearly wasn’t two years ago when Golden State lost in seven games to Cleveland in the NBA Finals.
Here’s the thing, though: Those Warriors didn’t have Kevin Durant. These Warriors do.
So while Curry has been solid, but unspectacular again in Game 4, Durant has been dominant. With 29 points, eight rebounds and four assists in 26 minutes so far, Durant has been the difference maker in this series – just as he has been from the moment he arrived in the Bay Area as a free agent two years ago.
Coming into this series, the main stylistic difference between these two teams was that the Pelicans had no one who could credibly guard Durant. As Game 4 is proving, that remains the case.
Game 4 has seen the Warriors give the Pelicans their best shot – and the home team is still standing.
That’s an awfully impressive thing for the Pelicans to be able to say. The question now is if they can not just remain standing, but come out on top.
What once was an 18-point Golden State lead has been cut all the way down to as little as four late in the first half, and now stands at 58-51 at halftime in New Orleans.
It’s an awfully strange box score, though. Golden State is shooting 52.1 percent; New Orleans is shooting 38.1 percent. Golden State has an edge in fast break points (9-7) and have committed three turnovers that have become five Pelicans points, compared to eight Pelicans turnovers becoming 14 points for Golden State.
So how are the Pelicans in this game? They have gone 18 for 19 from the foul line. The Warriors, on the other hand, have gone just 4 for 5. Golden State has also missed its final nine threes of the first half – many of which were open looks that just didn’t go down.
None of this is to knock the Pelicans, who fought back admirably to give themselves a chance in the second half. But it’s clear New Orleans is going to have to clean some things up if it wants to not only be competitive in this game, but win it.
Ricky Rubio will remain out for Game 4 of Utah’s Western Conference semifinal series with Houston here in Salt Lake City.
Rubio, who hurt his hamstring in Game 6 of Utah’s first-round victory over Oklahoma City, was seen doing some jogging and movement drills after shootaround Friday morning before Game 3, but didn’t look all that close to being able to go full-speed. There was some optimism Rubio might be able to play in Game 4 after he was upgraded to questionable Saturday, but those hopes went away when the Jazz announced about four hours before opening tip that he would not play.
Power forward Derrick Favors, who sprained his ankle in Utah’s blowout loss to Houston in Game 3, remains questionable for Game 4. If he can’t play, Jae Crowder would seem to be the most likely candidate to replace him in the Jazz’s starting lineup.
If you want to know whether the Warriors can be beaten, there is one stat worth paying attention to: the combined three-point shooting percentage for Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala.
When Golden State has at least one of Green and Iguodala rolling from three-point range, an already high-powered team is basically unguardable. While Iguodala hasn’t taken a three in either of the last two games, Green is now 7 for 13 after making two in the first quarter Sunday.
With Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson on the court, defenses are going to force Green and Iguodala to shoot by default. If at least one of them is taking advantage, it takes the Warriors from being a tough team to stop to one that simply can’t be stopped.
It’s amazing what happens when a team plays its best lineup to start the game, isn’t it?
Golden State has made six of its first eight shots, including three-pointers from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, to take a 14-4 lead over New Orleans in the opening minutes of Game 4.
Sometimes, this stuff isn’t complicated. Don’t play JaVale McGee, start your best lineup and good things will follow. The Warriors are experiencing that early in Game 4.
Rajon Rondo and Draymond Green have had numerous incidents over the first three games of the Golden State Warriors-New Orleans Pelicans series.
Warriors Coach Steve Kerr is fine with Rondo serving his usual role as a professional irritant. What he’s not fine with, though, is Rondo potentially hurting Stephen Curry.
“I don’t see anything wrong with it, other than the tripping,” Steve Kerr told reporters after Saturday’s practice of Rondo’s typical antics. “I’m all for getting underneath a guy’s skin, but you can’t try to step on a guy’s foot or try to swipe a guy underneath his feet while he’s shooting. Those are dangerous plays.”
Kerr later said the Warriors were going to alert the league to the plays, but that “it’s not going to do anything.”
This is what Rondo has done for his entire career, going back to his days as the understudy to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen with the champion Boston Celtics a decade ago. One of the smartest players in the league, he’s also one of the wiliest competitors in the league, one who knows exactly how to get under the skin of every opponent he’s facing.
He’s undoubtedly done that to the Warriors thus far — and, in particular, Green, whom Rondo has made a point of going after time and again so far in this series. It has looked like Green might lose his cool a few times and go over the edge, as he did in taking a swipe at San Antonio Spurs forward Davis Bertans in the first round and picking up a flagrant foul point.
Remember: earning four such points results in a suspension. Green and the Warriors know this all too well from two years ago, when Green was suspended for Game 5 of the NBA Finals — a game that allowed the Cleveland Cavaliers to launch their comeback from down three games to one in the series and win the championship.
But Green, to his credit, has avoided picking up either a flagrant point or a technical so far in this series, despite myriad run-ins with Rondo — including one, at halftime of Game 2, that led to Charles Barkley blurting out, on national television, that he wanted to punch Green in the face.
“I don’t think there’s such thing as crossing the line in basketball. You competing,” Green told reporters Saturday. “So when you competing, you gonna do what you gotta do to win. I never understand when somebody say someone is crossing the line. I said he’s trying to bait me. Yeah, he’s trying to bait me to get a technical foul.
“But at the end of the day, that’s still him trying to win a basketball game. Y’all create these narratives of someone crossing the line. There is no crossing the line to win. You gonna do whatever you gotta do to win.
“I don’t believe in crossed lines. Y’all say I crossed lines. I say I did what I set out to do or I didn’t do what I set out to do.”
Regardless of how Game 4 turns out Sunday, Rondo will be in the middle of everything that happens. He’ll make sure of that.
The Warriors gave the Pelicans a chance to get into Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series Friday night by starting JaVale McGee in place of Andre Iguodala.
Will Steve Kerr make the same mistake twice in Game 4 Sunday afternoon? He isn’t saying before the game, but one would have to think he won’t.
It is still baffling why Kerr went away from starting small in Game 3, after it had so much success in the first two games of the series. His argument after the game — one he repeated again Saturday to reporters at the team’s practice in New Orleans — is that the Warriors have so many centers that he was trying to buy some minutes with McGee on the court because the team had two games in less than 48 hours.
Just my two cents: I’d personally have avoided the extra 48 minutes that will come with New Orleans facing Golden State in Game 5 back in Oakland — the minimum extra time this series will go after the Pelicans won Game 3.
The guess here is that Kerr will go with the small lineup of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Iguodala to start Game 4. That will only make it stranger that he didn’t choose to do so at the start of Game 3.
- Golden State Warriors at New Orleans Pelicans (GSW leads 2-1), 3:30 p.m., ABC
- Houston Rockets at Utah Jazz (HOU leads 2-1), 8 p.m., TNT
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