By BILL O’REAR
Tribune-Herald sports editor
The start of the National Basketball Association’s conference semifinals started with a bang Monday with the San Antonio Spurs beating the Golden State Warriors 129-127 in double overtime and the injury-riddled Chicago Bulls stunning the Miami Heat 93-86 in Game 1 thrillers.
NBA fans couldn’t have asked for two more competitive games and each contained some brilliant individual play to entice even more fans to jump on board and watch the rest of the playoffs.
After Monday’s games, a lot of fans were still talking about Golden State’s Stephen Curry, who terrorized the Spurs for a game-high 44 points. The young 6-foot-3 combo guard out of Davidson College hit 18 of 35 shots, including 6 of 14 3-pointers, to fuel the Warriors’ offensive fireworks. And the red-hot Curry continues to prove he’s not a one-game wonder while enjoying a breakout postseason.
Curry, the son of former NBA player Dell Curry, is being compared to a young Reggie Miller, the ex-Indiana Pacers superstar. Both guards have been blessed with the keen ability to catch-and-shoot or create their own shot with minimal space and drill the long-range treys. But Curry has also proven to be a better ball-handler — he plays both the point and shooting guard positions depending on coach Mark Jackson’s needs — and passer than the clutch-shooting Miller, who retired after the 2005 season.
During his NBA career, Miller, who played collegiately at UCLA, averaged over 18 points per game during the regular season and 20 ppg in the playoffs. If Curry can stay healthy for most of his career, he could exceed those marks. This year, Curry averaged 22. points and 6.9 assists during the regular season and is humming along at 27.1 ppg and 9.6 apg in the playoffs.
Curry poured in 22 points in the third quarter Monday and Golden State had a 16-point lead in the fourth period before the seasoned Spurs battled back. Then after a hard-fought first overtime when neither team could pull out the win, the Warriors grabbed a one-point lead on Kent Bazemore’s layup with 3.9 remaining in the second OT.
Against most teams, the lead would have stood up. But against San Antonio and wily veteran coach Greg Popovich, 3 seconds can be an eternity. Popovich called time out, set up a play and it concluded with gutsy guard Manu Ginobili being left open for a 3-pointer. Ginobili then buried the game-winner and it marked the 30th straight time that the Warriors have lost to the Spurs in San Antonio.
Despite the tough loss, Curry and the Warriors remain confident they can challenge the Spurs in the series. Game 2 is tonight.
“We’ve been a resilient team all year,” Curry told reporters after the game. “To have an opportunity to go 1-1, we still have a chance to do that.”
With the way Curry has played, it’s hard to question his confidence or competitive heart. The rest of the series should be fun and Golden State could make the Spurs sweat. But it’s also hard to bet against San Antonio not winning the series since they have a huge experience advantage and veteran talent compared to the Warriors’ young roster and the hot-shooting Curry, who needs more help.
Meanwhile in Miami, little Nate Robinson poured in 27 points, including seven of the Bulls’ final 10, to lift Chicago over the heavily favored Heat.
Robinson, who is listed at 5-9, collided with 6-8 LeBron James in the first half and received 10 stitches on his lip. But he came back in the second half and was the shining star in the Bulls’ big win.
James, who received his fourth NBA most valuable player trophy before the game, downplayed the upset.
“I’m not stunned,” James said. “This is what the playoffs is all about. We’re going against a really good team.”
Robinson, who played collegiately at the University of Washington, is averaging 18.3 ppg in the playoffs. He’s also been the sparkplug and main man down the stretch in games when Chicago needs points.
Robinson is the most explosive “little” scoring guard in the NBA since Calvin Murphy of the Houston Rockets was a “mini monster” back in his playing days, averaging 18 ppg for a career, with a high of 57 points in a game.
The 5-10 Murphy was a great player and super free-throw shooter. During the 1980-81 season, he made an NBA-record 206 of 215 free throws (95.8 percent), including a then record 78 in a row. He was also an amazing collegiate scorer at Niagara, averaging 33.1 ppg over three seasons and ranking high in the country along with LSU’s Pete Maravich (who averaged an NCAA record 44.2 ppg during his 3-year varsity career) and Purdue’s Rick Mount, an outstanding pure shooter.
Murphy is considered one of the greatest little men to ever play the game. The smallest player to play in the NBA: Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues, at 5-3.
OK, enough about statistics, let’s get back to the NBA playoffs and enjoy the show.
Email Tribune-Herald sports editor Bill O’Rear at firstname.lastname@example.org.