Warriors clinch first playoff berth since 2007

Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry, left, and David Lee wave to the fans. (AP/George Nikitin)
April 10, 2013, 1:14 AM

OAKLAND, Calif. — Klay Thompson scored 30 points, Stephen Curry added 24 points and 10 assists and the Golden State Warriors clinched a playoff berth by routing the Minnesota Timberwolves 105-89 on Tuesday night.

David Lee finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds to propel the Warriors to their first post-season appearance since 2007 and just their second in 19 years.

Andrei Kirilenko scored 15 points and reserve Chase Budinger had 17 points for the depleted Timberwolves, who were outshot 43 to 37 per cent. Ricky Rubio missed all 10 shots from the floor to go with six assists and five rebounds as Minnesota watched the Warriors celebrate something it had hoped to accomplish this season.

Chants of “Playoffs! Playoffs!” rang out from the fans in the final seconds. The public address announcer then told the crowd: “The Warriors are heading to the 2013 NBA Playoffs!” Co-owner Joe Lacob shared hugs and handshakes with fans from his courtside seat, raising his right hand to the 30th straight sellout crowd announced at 19,596.

“This is what we came here to do,” Lee told the crowd during an interview at half court after clinching his first playoff berth in eight NBA seasons.

At long last, Bay Area basketball fans have reason to cheer again.

After blowing a chance to seal a playoff spot against Utah on Sunday night, the Warriors needed a win and a loss by the Los Angeles Lakers or the Jazz to clinch this time. Golden State knew it had a chance before halftime, when Utah’s 90-80 loss to Oklahoma City Thunder flashed across the corner scoreboards.

Thompson scored 25 points in the first half and made his first nine shots from the floor, including five from beyond the arc, before Curry and Co. found their rhythm. The Warriors went ahead by 18 early in the fourth quarter and left little doubt about what this win meant.

The catchphrase “We Believe” that gained popularity in the Bay Area during the team’s surprising run to the second round of the 2007 playoffs has turned into “We Belong.” So sure of a post-season appearance, Andrew Bogut — who had a season-high 14 rebounds — even convinced teammates to grow beards a few weeks ago until the Warriors clinched a spot.

They can finally shave the scruff after sealing a milestone moment for Lacob and Peter Guber, who bought the Warriors for an NBA-record $450 million in 2010. The owners overhauled the franchise by hiring Mark Jackson as coach and Bob Myers as general manager, even though neither ever held those titles at any level.

Lacob endured boos last season during Hall of Famer Chris Mullin’s jersey retirement ceremony after trading fan favourite Monta Ellis for Bogut, who is just starting to regain his past form following left ankle surgery. Jackson also took his share of criticism for promising the playoffs before the team finished 23-43 during last year’s labour-lockout-shortened season.

Despite the rare playoff appearances in the past two decades, the basketball-booming Bay Area has supported the Warriors surprisingly well. The team ranked 10th in attendance last season and has made sellouts a regular occurrence this year.

Golden State (45-33) remains a game ahead of Houston (44-34) for the Western Conference’s sixth seed. Both teams have four games remaining.

Minnesota’s balanced approach made it tough at the outset, offsetting Thompson’s scoring and quieted a crowd eager to cheer a playoff berth — at least for a while. J.J. Barea’s 3-pointer put the Wolves up six point midway through the second quarter before Lee corralled Kirilenko’s turnover in the waning seconds and passed ahead to Harrison Barnes, whose dunk gave Golden State a 55-54 halftime lead.

The emotions heated up in the third quarter when Thompson and Luke Ridnour exchanged light shoves then officials whistled Ridnour for a technical foul for pushing Thompson while the two guards ran down court. Thompson smiled and walked away when Ridnour tried to get in his face.

The Warriors had the last laugh.

Curry’s ensuing free throws were part of a 19-4 run that helped Golden State go ahead for good. Thompson, Curry and Barnes each hit a 3-pointer during the stretch, capped by Curry’s floater that put the Warriors up 78-64 late in the third quarter.

Barnes finished with 15 points and 10 rebounds to help Golden State take an 88-70 lead early in the fourth, too much for Minnesota’s depleted roster to overcome. The Timberwolves’ injury-shattered season had received another big blow Monday night, when the team announced Kevin Love would have arthroscopic surgery to remove a buildup of scar tissue in his left knee.

The Warriors have now won six straight over the Timberwolves and 12 of 14 — none bigger than the last to give fans what they had long hoped: a playoff appearance, and the hope for more.

NOTES: Jarrett Jack was called for a flagrant-1 foul for clubbing Kirilenko in the head while trying to block a layup in the third quarter. … Thompson’s previous career high was 32 points at Cleveland on Jan. 29. … Thompson (203) and Stephen Curry (249) are the first teammates to each hit 200-plus 3-pointers since Boston’s Antoine Walker and Paul Pierce in the 2001-02 season. … The Wolves had won consecutive road games. They hadn’t lost on the road since March 21 at Sacramento.

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