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Warriors 117, Thunder 96: Harrison Barnes Unmasked! Plus more quick hits on another marvelous Warriors win

A good photo illustrating how the Warriors are compensating for Bogut’s absence in the paint — swarming, switching, double-teaming and just laying out the effort.

It took Harrison Barnes getting clobbered under the basket early in the game to realize, `Hey, he’s not wearing that god-awful mask tonight.” We can only guess-timate how much it has affected his play since he’s had to wear it, but what he brought Monday night against Oklahoma City was a clear sign of good riddance.

Barnes led the Warriors with 23 points, hit all five of his 3-point attempts, and was one of the rotating defenders on Kevin Durant on a night when he shot 3 for 16, playing him tough and tight — particularly early, when the Warriors raced out to a 17-6 lead.

So what happened to the mask? Barnes was wearing it Sunday during practice, but as he explained, he got into a post-practice shooting contest with Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Andre Iguodola and was in fourth place among the four. “I just took it off and sort of threw it, and it never came back.”

And so how did it feel Monday night to be facially unencumbered?

“It felt great,” Barnes said with his typical tight grin. “I’m definitely not a big fan of the mask.”

Going mask-less couldn’t have come at a better time, considering Barnes generally plays so well against Oklahoma City. And this was one of his best two-way efforts against the Thunder, just another sign of his maturation as a third-year player.

“Harrison’s a very good shooter,” said coach Steve Kerr. “I think the thing with him is rhythm and confidence. He’s still very young. The last couple of weeks he hasn’t scored and shot as well as he has all season and I think a big part of that was the mask and the comfort level wasn’t there.

“He understands, too, that’s important that Kevin Durant has to guard us, too,” Kerr added. “We have to deal with Durant, so we have to make sure Kevin has to expend some energy guarding Harrison. Harrison was really aggressive tonight, and obviously, making all five 3′s was huge.”

Good thing, too, when such a good-looking guy ditches the Phantom of the Opera look.

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Warriors 126, Raptors 105: So many good numbers and story lines, you could write a book

“Mo Buckets” went for 26 on 12 of 19 shooting. He continues to astound.

Take it from a grizzled, greying sportswriter. You could write 100 inches on a performance like the Warriors gave Friday night against Toronto and still not cover everything sufficiently. There are just too many things happening, too many numerical achievements that boggle the mind, too many highlights to detail in a 20-25 inch game story like this one.

I won’t attempt it on the blog, either, because there’s still a lot of season to play and I don’t want to wear you out. But heavens, the Warriors are 26-5 and they have yet to play a game at full roster strength. So we’ll go with some quick-hit thoughts from this latest chapter of Warriors wonder.

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Warriors 105, Rockets 93: A final five minutes of hurricane defensive fury

Harrison Barnes, all man on both ends in a stellar performance against the Rockets.

So about this big storm that’s supposed to hit. Will it be anymore fierce and devastating than the Warriors were down the stretch Wednesday night against the Houston Hardens?

Man, that was a hurricane of hellacious defense when it mattered most, and without Andrew Bogut, it almost made you forget what had gone on the first 3 1/2 quarters, when Golden State struggled to find any kind of consistent rhythm at either end.

But in the NBA, it’s all about how you finish, and that was a finish of convincing force — a total knockout — by a lineup that didn’t have anyone over 6-foot-8 on the floor. Don Nelson would have been proud, if he ever had a team play defense like these current Warriors.

Steve Kerr said he saw a glimpse of small ball defensive dynamism in the second quarter and noted that the undersized lineup he had on the floor then might have put the game away earlier if not for some turnovers and missed shots. But in the final five minutes, everything clicked, with Draymond Green manning the center spot and Harrison Barnes the four, and the two young studs flying around and switching like mad to absolutely smother the Rockets inside. The burst of defense also included Klay Thompson completely shutting down James Harden, who had terrorized Golden State all night with 34 points, over the final 4:45. For good measure, he went off on the other end in his team-leading 21-point effort.

“They attacked us off the dribble, and when they went small, it bothered us,” said Houston coach Kevin McHale. “We just had trouble getting the ball into the post.”

Early on — actually, for much of the game — it didn’t like the Warriors had the defensive wherewithal to beat a 16-4 opponent without Bogut. The Rockets got 50 points in the paint for the game, so they did some real damage without Golden State’s ace rim protector to slow them down. But the Warriors solved it with sheer tenaciousness.

“We just had to make up for (Bogut’s absence) by being quick and scrappy,” said Barnes, who played an electric game at both ends of the floor — 20 points on 7 of 9 shooting, seven rebounds and stellar defense. That dangerous offensive game where he can slash to the rim and also bury the 3-pointer is back to where it was as a rookie, perhaps more so. And Harrison has added more defensive dimension to his game.

“He was fantastic tonight,” said Kerr. “He’s so quick and strong, and again, like Draymond, the defensive versatility gives us a lot of flexibility and a lot of coaches have to decide whether to go big or small. Our wings are big enough to guard post players and when we switch everything, like we did tonight, it’s hard to punish us for it because of that versatility. I think Harrison represents that versatility that we possess.”

A few other random thoughts:

–Mo Buckets, aka Marreese Speights, scored 15 off the bench and was particularly good in the third quarter when the Rockets were trying to break the game open. He didn’t get a sniff of attention in the postgame, though. That’s how significant those final five minutes were.

–Shaun Livingston is really starting to take hold in these rotations, and he was even on the floor during the club’s late-game run in place of Andre Iguodala. He played more than 28 minutes and while his stats don’t leap off the page, he’s showing himself to be very solid in so many areas — shooting, passing, defending, running the show or playing off the ball. Before this season is out, Livingston may go down as Bob Myers’ best off-season move. He might already be there.

–Then there’s the move Myers and the Warriors didn’t make — trading Thompson and Barnes to Minnesota for Kevin Love. Those two combined for 41 and played the kind of D Love has never played. They have to laugh that they even considered that swap now.

–Stephen Curry had a quiet 20, other than that incredible 9-point rush at the second quarter. But he had seven rebounds and seven assists, and like the rest of the Warriors down the stretch, played fabulous defense.

–The Warriors are stoked for this upcoming three-game trip to Dallas, New Orleans and Memphis. They know the rest of the league will be watching and looking for a bubble burst, and Green verbalized the stakes — and the goals. “This is a road trip where you can go 0-3 easily,” he said. “But this is one where we look to go 3-0 and really make a stand.”

Getting Bogut back would be an immense help — and indications are he’ll be ready for Saturday in Dallas — but this team is showing it is deep and versatile enough to weather his absences as long as they aren’t protracted.

19-2. Fourteen in a row. It’s almost unfathomable if you’re a longtime Warriors fan who has endured so much misery. But this group is the real deal. They showed it against a good Rockets team with that finishing kick.

That big, bad incoming storm has a tough act to follow.

Warriors 98, Magic 97: Way too early for MVP chants, but Curry making it hard to scold

With 1:38 to go in Tuesday night’s crazy, unlikely game, Stephen Curry went to the line for two free throws to tie the game — which, of course, he made. But while he was shooting, the “MVP, MVP” chant unexpectedly went up at Oracle Arena.

One’s first thought was, “Wow, this is way to early to be starting this. The Warriors are 17 games into an 82-game season.” But then Curry took it and put an exclamation point on the chant. He knocked home a game-winning 3-pointer (replete with a shake-and-bake move on Orlando’s Tobias Harris) with 2.2 seconds left to give the Warriors a miraculous 98-97 victory in a game in which they trailed the Magic by 9 with less than four minutes to go.

OK, go ahead, chant until we advise otherwise. Hey, if they stopped the season today, it’d probably would be pretty close to unanimous. Curry WOULD be the MVP. He’s the best long-range shooter in the game. He comes up big when it matters. He’s leading a team that’s 15-2 and won 10 straight. He’s averaging nearly 24 points and eight assists, he’s playing the best defense of his life, he’s shooting over 92 percent from the line, and to boot, he’s one of the league’s most model citizens. What more could anyone want?

Coach Steve Kerr showed some good rookie coaching chops by deciding not to call timeout when Draymond Green rebounded the ball with eight seconds to go and the Warriors down by two.

“I’ve always believed if you have individual brilliance, a guy like Steph Curry in the open floor, you let him go,” Kerr said. “I don’t particularly like to call timeouts, allow the other team to make substitutions and get their defense set. Everybody scouts every play you run these days. You come out, and they recognize it, the coaches are yelling right in front of their bench what’s happening. You get Steph Curry in the open floor … it’s a way better option.”

From Curry’s perspective, it was only right to make the final shot considering he missed two easier 3-point attempts in the final two minutes that might have salted the game away earlier.

“You don’t want to miss your last shot on the court,” he said. “The first two were kind of rushed, but I felt like I had enough space and I had my legs under me. You’re frustrated after that, but still, you want to see what the next opportunity might be. It definitely feels good to redeem yourself after missing two missing two chippies I wish I’d made.”

Curry said he wasn’t bothered at all by the sprained left ankle he suffered in Detroit on Sunday, even though he had his foot doused in a bucket of ice afterward. That was good news for a player who was listed as questionable going into the game. He wound up scoring 22 points, and Klay Thompson, who was also questionable with a quad contusion, also made big shots down the stretch and scored 20.

It wasn’t a pretty performance by any means for Golden State, but excusable after a grueling road trip. As Green said afterward, it was a bit of a trap game considering how easily the Warriors handled Orlando last week in Florida. The Magic came into Oakland emboldened by a win at Phoenix, and probably played their best game of the year. The Warriors might have played their worst, or at least one of their worst, but still mustered enough down the stretch to pull it out.

Hence, on Thursday, the Warriors can go for their 11th straight win on Thursday against New Orleans, which would tie the franchise record. These are heady times for an organization and a fan base that has suffered so much over the years. If they want to chant for their MVP, go for it.

Here’s the final game story.

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Warriors 112, Hornets 87: Stephenson upstaging impressive home win is a real slap in the face

Out in cyberspace, nobody really cares that the Warriors staged their most electric win of the year, replete with a 39-point second quarter in which they shot 64 percent and did just about everything right defensively.

Nope, no big deal. But Lance Stephenson slapping himself in the face, feigning a flop and drawing a foul on Harrison Barnes? Now that’s the stuff that is destined to go viral as part of the growing Stephenson legend, something that will be long remembered on YouTube and Vevo long after this result is forgotten, alongside the quirky forward blowing in LeBron James’ ear during last year’s playoffs.

Here is Saturday night’s Stephenson special, captured on video:

Have to admit, it was a pretty clever and funny maneuver by Stephenson, particularly since it worked, and it may have been the most creative thing the Charlotte Hornets did all night in a game where they were fairly well steamrolled by the Warriors after the first quarter. The league office might have something to say about it, however, once they review the film that was all over the Internet long before the game was over.

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Game 81 rewind: Occasion of 50th win allows Warriors to make another strong statement for Mark Jackson

MarkJackson

Man … way, way too much to write about on this night. Andrew Bogut’s injury. Stephen Curry going off yet again with a 30-point, 14-assist game. Draymond Green delivering career highs in points and rebounds — 20 and 12, respectively — and how about this number? Plus-27. David Lee, looking almost like the old David Lee after a rough start, hitting 12 of 14 shots from the floor. Klay Thompson coming up with another marvelous two-way performance. And we’ll give a nod to the amazing Kevin Love, too, who scored 22 first-quarter points to shoot Minnesota out to a 19-point lead at one point and finishing with 40 in a losing cause.

But at the end of the day — and that phrasing is key here — it was all about Mark Jackson. At the final buzzer of Win No. 50, several of the heroes on this night made a beeline for the bench and swarmed their coach. They jumped up and down around him and made a point to demonstrate how much their sideline leader has been responsible for these 50 wins, and a second straight berth in the playoffs for the first time in 20 years.

Even Jackson seemed taken aback by the emotional demonstration as someone who, depending on who you want to believe, might be on his way out. Quite honestly, it’s tough to see that happening if Warriors management has any degree of sanity whatsoever. You’re going to alienate Curry right now? You’re going to upset the whole dynamic this team clearly has under Jackson, whose No. 1 strength these past two years has been making these guys believe they could be winners simply by showing unwavering faith in them.

But first, what was it like being in the middle of that celebration?

“I didn’t expect it,” Jackson said. “I saw them jumping up and down and I was like, `What are you guys up to?’ The next thing I knew, they were all around me and it got hot. Obviously, I love these guys to death. I appreciate everything they’ve done, the way they’ve conducted themselves, how they’ve fought and continue to fight. One thing I learned from my dad the last six months of his life is that you have to show emotion and appreciation. It’s all right for men to say `I love you,’ it’s all right to hug, it’s all right to embrace and it’s all right to cry. There’s no shame in my game. I’m going to celebrate every moment, and it’s going to make some people mad. But I wasn’t always like I am today, and I thank God for this group and this platform.”

For those who think all Jackson does is process corny cliches and over-effusive epithets, take another good read of those powerful words. That all came from the heart, and one can only imagine what types of words of inspiration he gives to his players in behind-closed-doors sessions. It’s no wonder he’s so beloved by the people who wear the uniforms, if not so much those who sit upstairs in the suits and ties. This is a man of character and substance. And he has molded a group of men who play and comport themselves with character and substance. It didn’t happen by accident.
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Game 56 Rewind: A grab bag of thoughts following a critical victory over the Nets

Good to be back with the Warriors, if only for a game, subbing for Diamond, as he gets an early jump on the six-game road trip. It may be my last fill-in assignment for awhile, as by the time they get back from this trip, I’ll be off to spring training for 12 days. But I’ll get some GSW down the stretch, and hopefully in the playoffs as well.

There were so many things to ponder following Saturday night’s 93-86 win over Brooklyn (I managed to cover two Nets games without calling them “New Jersey”), I’m going to go “darting here and there” on the blog tonight, just a bunch of quick hits on things that merit mention.

–Kevin Garnett wants a blood transfusion from Jermaine O’Neal. Awesome Garnett quote after the game following O’Neal’s 23-point, 13-rebound performance: “I haven’t seen J.O. play like that since Indiana. I’m glad he found the Fountain of Youth.”

–Without question, O’Neal was fabulous, but to score like he did, he got a lot of great feeds down low from Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala and Steve Blake. I framed a question to O’Neal after the game in that context and he was understandably appreciative. He said many of his baskets came in the wake of setting screens, just going to an open spot, and guys finding him open. A few times during the game on plays he made, I told those sitting around me, “Toney Douglas doesn’t make that pass.”

–A lot of people will call Curry’s huge banked 3-pointer with 37.2 seconds left lucky. He didn’t, and I wouldn’t. As he noted, he had proper balance and a solid follow-through, and said his momentum was simply carrying him left when he let the shot fly. Great shooters make their own luck.

–The Warriors are 12 games over .500 for the first time this season. Just going .500 over the final 26 games would give them 47 wins. That might not be enough in the crazy Western Conference. But if they go 16-10, they win 50. That’s definitely doable.

–David Lee must have spent some time in the hospital, or perhaps just an emergency room, after missing the game with the stomach flu. He posted this Instagram photo after the Warriors’ win, congratulating O’Neal and Draymond Green on their big performances. He’s really sucking the fluid out of that I.V. http://instagram.com/p/kv26V1EwOZ/

–Even though he had trouble defending Deron Williams, Steve Blake’s second game as a Warrior was better than his first. He made a couple of big 3-pointers down the stretch, and also had five assists, including some timely feeds to both O’Neal and Green. If Blake’s efforts result in just three wins over the final 26, it could be the difference in making the playoffs and not. I would contend his effort against the Nets counts as the first.

–You wonder what Green could do if he played 30-35 minutes a game. He was a somewhat ugly 5 for 16 shooting, but he had 10 rebounds, 3 steals and was part of the key deflection in the final minute that salted the game away. He’s had issues at the free throw line this year, but went 8 for 10 on this night and in the final three minutes, 6 for 6. The guy’s just a winner, pure and simple.

–Marreese Speights didn’t play in the second half. If you saw the first half, you know why. Pretty much awful. Jordan Crawford wasn’t much better, going playground and shooting 2 for 10. The bench was outscored 30-15 in the game, and Harrison Barnes was also a non-factor save one monster dunk. Hopefully on this road trip he develops some rapport with Blake when the subs come in.

–In two games against the Warriors, Andray Blatche has looked something akin to an All-Star.

–Iguodala won’t get much run what with O’Neal and Green grabbing the spotlight, but he was pretty special on this night — eight points, eight assists, 11 rebounds, four steals. This is what the Warriors paid all those millions for, and he also played 44 minutes. If he plays like this down the stretch, 16-10 to get to 50 wins won’t be a problem.

–Green noted it was special getting this win against a team that has three future Hall of Famers in Paul Pierce, Garnett and Joe Johnson. He threw in “and maybe Kirilenko.” Sorry, Draymond. Maybe Deron Williams, but not Kirilenko.

–Curry, who went into the All-Star Break averaging more than four turnovers a game — worst in the NBA — has four turnovers in three games since the break — 0 against Sacto, 2 against Houston, 2 against the Nets. He said during the morning shootaround he’s analyzed where he’s making most of his turnovers — he’s trying not to make a play before it develops and he’s not leaving his feet when he passes. It seems to be working.

–You want to know why the Warriors want to move to San Francisco, you only had to be at the Coliseum grounds Saturday night. A monster truck jam was held at the stadium, and most of that one-time crowd arrived before the Warriors fans who show up every game. Hence, a lot of Warriors fans got shut out on parking spaces, and the lower bowl of the arena was filled with empties throughout the first half and it only got slightly better in the second half. So why couldn’t they have scheduled the truck jam for Friday night? If I’m Joe Lacob, I’m raising holy hell.

–Well, I could go on and on, as I am wont to do following an exciting, important win in any sport. And what the Warriors achieved Saturday night definitely was. Curry said afterward the Warriors simply can’t throw away any more home games, hence the Houston/New Jersey double was huge for the team’s position and confidence heading into this six-game trip. If they handle this upcoming six-gamer like the last seven-gamer (6-1), they’ll be in the clover for the playoffs. A 4-2 roadie would be great, 3-3 just fine. After this trip, the Warriors will have 13 home games left, just 7 on the road.

And speaking of the road, time to hit it. Pleasure serving you.

Twitter: @stewardsfolly