SAN FRANCISCO — Golden State Warriors star guard Stephen Curry has won two MVPs and three NBA championships, but those who have watched him closely for years believe he continues to play the best basketball of his life during a year in which his team is struggling to hold on to a play-in spot in the Western Conference.
The latest example came during Tuesday night’s 122-121 come-from-behind win over the Milwaukee Bucks in which Curry dropped 41 points and carried his struggling team — loser of seven of its past eight — across the finish line.
“I thought he was just phenomenal,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “I mean, Jrue Holiday‘s one of the best defensive guards in the league, and I thought Jrue did a great job on Steph all night just pressing him, using his strength and physicality. And Steph still goes out there and gets 41. Pretty impressive game. Amazing.”
Curry shot 14-for-21 from the field, grabbed six rebounds, dished out four assists and played 38 minutes — coming in at the 8:09 mark in the fourth quarter, a couple of minutes earlier than his usual stretch.
“He’s playing with a ton of confidence,” Kerr said. “But it’s hard to say more than ever before because he’s always, ever since the day I got here, I’ve never seen him not play with confidence. I think the biggest thing for me watching him is he just looks stronger, physically stronger than ever. … I just think his body, his mind, everything is, it has really sort of peaked this season.
“It just feels like his awareness level, his understanding of the defenses he’s seeing, combined with the physical strength that allows him to get through a guy like Jrue Holiday tonight, or Brook Lopez at the rim, his strength is really impressive.”
It was an assessment Curry agreed with.
“Absolutely,” Curry said. “Just trying to keep pressing forward, keep finding ways to get better. That’s the confidence and the mentality. And this has been a frustrating season overall, just with the inconsistencies and what our record is, but working through all of that and embracing the challenge has brought out, honestly, a new love for the game.”
Curry, who is playing through a painful tailbone injury, knows how much his presence means to the rest of the young group. He understands he can set the tone for his teammates to follow, with Tuesday’s performance offering up another reminder of just how much the group will rally around Curry.
“I think we all should just kind of stop and appreciate what he’s doing right now,” Warriors guard Kent Bazemore said. [After] missing a majority of last season and coming in with so many uncertainties, ‘Is he going to be himself?’ All these questions around him, all that noise, but for him to go and turn on, still have that self-belief enough, it inspires and uplifts everyone.”
Whether the Warriors can build off this kind of performance remains to be seen, given the inconsistencies they’ve struggled with all year, but for a group that was feeling as down on itself as it has been all season after losing four straight, the win — combined with the fact Curry continues to dominate games when he’s on the floor — gives the organization hope it can close the season on a higher note.
“Steph is Steph,” Warriors rookie center James Wiseman said. “I just look at his focus and how he approaches the games. That’s what makes him great, the focus and being a leader. He goes out there and gets buckets and has fun. Steph is definitely one of the best point guards in history. Just his focus and just how he’s so intense and how he concentrates on the game, it’s very inspiring for me and younger players. He’s just great.”
Utah Jazz guard Mike Conley to miss Game 2 vs. LA Clippers
Conley, 33, an All-Star for the first time this season, has missed significant time because of injuries to both hamstrings during his two seasons in Utah. He missed six games in February and nine games in late April and May due to tightness in his right hamstring.
Conley averaged 17.4 points and 8.6 assists for the top-seeded Jazz in the first round.
ESPN’s Tim MacMahon contributed to this report.
USA Basketball sets plan for Olympic camps in Las Vegas
For USA Basketball, the last stop before the Tokyo Olympics will be Las Vegas.
The men’s and women’s national teams will hold training camps in Las Vegas in July, they announced Thursday, and they’ll be playing seven exhibitions there against other Olympics-bound national teams as well.
USA Basketball will open its men’s training camp, led by coach Gregg Popovich, in Las Vegas on July 6. The Olympic men’s teams from Australia, Nigeria, Argentina and reigning Basketball World Cup champion Spain will also be spending some time in Las Vegas; Argentina will start its training camp there this month.
The U.S. women’s training camp under coach Dawn Staley will likely open around July 12; the WNBA break for the Olympics starts after the games of July 11. The Olympic women’s teams joining the U.S. in Las Vegas are Australia and Nigeria.
It’ll all take place at the MGM Resorts, which was announced as USA Basketball’s training camp home and resorts partner with the sides having now agreed to a multi-year sponsorship deal.
“USA Basketball is proud to expand its partnership with MGM Resorts,” USA Basketball CEO Jim Tooley said. “We’re excited to bring our national teams to their properties as we prepare for the challenging competition that lies ahead this summer.”
The U.S. men are seeking a fourth consecutive Olympic gold medal, the U.S. women their seventh in a row. Both will enter the Olympics ranked No. 1 by FIBA, the sport’s international governing body — though it remains unknown who the Americans will have on their rosters for the rescheduled Tokyo Games.
Those rosters could be set by the end of June. Some top NBA players such as Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors, Kawhi Leonard of the LA Clippers and Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers have expressed some interest in being part of the Olympic team; others, such as LeBron James and Anthony Davis — Los Angeles Lakers teammates who were dealing with injuries when their season ended last week — are not planning to join the team.
All teams in Las Vegas will be taking part in what USA Basketball described as “comprehensive health and safety protocols … including mandatory and regular COVID-19 PCR testing, administered to athletes, coaches, officials and staff in accordance with FIBA and USA Basketball recommendations and CDC guidelines.”
Those concerns are why the international teams opted to spend time in Las Vegas. Argentina’s men’s team is conducting the entirety of its three-week camp there before flying to Tokyo, simply because it believes a controlled environment and less traveling between different countries will minimize virus-related risks before the Olympics.
“We were lucky and, at the same time, we deserved it to get an organization like USA Basketball to extend this invitation to us,” Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez said. “In such a complicated context it doesn’t get better than this.”
The games are set up as part of five doubleheaders, and fans will be able to attend the matchups at MGM’s Michelob Ultra Arena. Tickets go on sale next week.
July 10 — U.S. men vs. Nigeria, Argentina vs. Australia
July 12 — Argentina vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Australia
July 13 — U.S. men vs. Argentina, Australia vs. Nigeria
July 16 — U.S. women vs. Australia, U.S. men vs. Australia
July 18 — U.S. women vs. Nigeria, U.S. men vs. Spain
The Nigeria-U.S. women’s game will be a prequel to the teams’ Olympic meeting on July 27 in Tokyo, the first game there for both of those teams. Nigeria and the U.S. are both in Group B at the Olympics, along with Japan and France.
The Australia-Nigeria men’s game is also the warmup for an Olympics-opening matchup. They’ll play in a Group B game on July 25.
The men’s teams from Spain and Argentina — the teams that played in the World Cup final at Beijing in 2019 — are both in Group C for the Olympics. They’ll both spend some time in Las Vegas but are not scheduled to face off there before flying to Japan.
Las Vegas will see the top four men’s teams in the FIBA rankings there for the exhibitions: The U.S. is No. 1, Spain No. 2, Australia No. 3 and Argentina No. 4. Nigeria is ranked No. 22.
The U.S. women also hold the No. 1 FIBA ranking, and their July 16 opponent Australia is ranked No. 2 in the world. Nigeria’s women are ranked No. 17.
Phoenix Suns’ Chris Paul ‘makes it look normal’ after notching 15 assists, zero turnovers in win vs. Denver Nuggets
It had been seven years since a player had a game in the postseason with 15 assists and no turnovers, but Chris Paul accomplished the feat on Wednesday as the Phoenix Suns routed the Denver Nuggets 123-98 to take a 2-0 series lead.
The last player to post a 15-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio in a playoff game? Paul, in 2014, with the LA Clippers.
“Guys are open. I got the easy part. All I got to do is find them,” said Paul, who had 17 points. “They got to make the shots. It’s a credit to our coaching staff to tell you the truth. Things we’ve drilled all season long, it’s nice to see it come into play in game form, especially in the playoffs.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Paul had the 10th playoff game with 15 assists and zero turnovers since assists were tracked in 1977-78. And Paul has accounted for three of those games himself.
“Obviously 15 assists, zero turnovers is unheard of,” Devin Booker said, “but for Chris Paul, it’s a thing that he does, and makes it look normal.”
In the two games in the series, Paul has 26 assists to just one turnover. Going back to his last three playoff games, that ratio gets even more ridiculous, sitting at 38-2. He’s the first player with 10 or more assists and one or fewer assists in three straight playoff games since Maurice Cheeks in 1989.
The Suns showcased their impressive balance with six players in double-figures, including all five starters. But even with 123 points, no player scored more than 18 (Booker). It was a clinic in distribution, particularly in a raucous second half, as Paul carved the Nuggets, finding efficient possessions nearly every trip down the floor. In Game 2, the Suns shot 15-of-24 off Paul passes. Of the 15 makes, 11 were uncontested looks.
“I’m telling you man, I’ve never been on a team quite like this where everybody can shoot it the way that they do,” Paul said. “You don’t have to try to find a certain guy.”
Like in Game 1, Paul found his spots to assert himself offensively, too, hitting a flurry of shots early in the fourth quarter as the Suns put the game away. It’s one of Paul’s many rare talents, an ability to sense moments and pick his spots to attack the game himself, or get teammates involved.
When Paul joined the surging young Suns in the offseason, there was a lot of talk about his role as a mentor, as a leader, as a culture cultivator. At age 36 and plenty of tread on his tires, Paul’s cerebral presence was thought to be something that could boost the Suns just as much as his play. But as he’s shown this postseason, there’s still plenty left in the tank.
“I would never doubt Chris,” Suns head coach Monty Williams said. “His ability to manage the team, his track record, has success all over it and everywhere he’s been he’s been successful. He works his tail off and yeah, he’s 36 years old but he’s doing a lot of stuff off the floor so he can be effective on the floor.”
The series now turns to Denver, where the Nuggets are desperate for a response. Paul has been using his experience as a motivator, recounting the 2007-08 second-round series against the San Antonio Spurs where the New Orleans Pelicans took a 2-0 series lead, winning the opening two games by a combined 37 points.
“We’re cool. We’re cool. We’ve got a great locker room, guys that understand the moment. A guy like Jae Crowder, who’s been to the Finals,” Paul said. “I’ve played a lot too. I’m always talking about 2007-08, we played against the Spurs when I was in New Orleans and we won the first two games, beat the brakes off of ’em. I remember looking over there at Tim [Duncan] and all them and they weren’t fazed. It was just one game. That’s what we talk about as a team too. It’s just one game.”
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