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St. Pete native could help Warriors survive

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To force a seventh game in the NBA Western Conference Finals, the Golden State Warriors need unanimous NBA MVP Stephen Curry to play and shoot like Stephen Curry. To beat the Oklahoma City Thunder on the road, they need Curry’s fellow Splash Brother, Klay Thompson, to make his share from beyond the three-point line.

Odds are if the Warriors live to force a Game 7, another name will have some responsibility for that. St. Petersburg native Marreese “Mo” Speights has had a significant impact on both Warriors wins in this series and almost zero effect in the three losses.

Sure, the Warriors will be better off if the talk surrounding forward Dramond Green is about basketball plays and not martial arts kicks to the opponent. But Speights, from St. Pete’s Gibbs High School, Admiral Farragut Academy, and the University of Florida, has been a key contributor to winning efforts.

Speights does not play a lot of minutes. In both Warriors’ victories he played a grand total of nine minutes in each game, but scored at a rate greater than a point-a-minute.

In a technical must-win Game 2 in Oakland, Speights scored 13 points in only nine minutes of play in Golden State’s 118-91 blowout win. He was five of six from the field and hit both of his three point attempts.

In Thursday’s actual must-win, he chipped in 14 points and hit his only three point attempt. In last week’s two blowout losses in Oklahoma City, Speights scored a grand total of 13 points in 26 minutes. He will need to bring his point-a-minute magic to Chesapeake Energy Arena on Saturday.

Speights was recruited to play at Florida by Billy Donovan, who will sit on the opposing bench on Saturday. He played sparingly as a freshman on the 2006-07 Gator team that won a national championship.

Teammates like current NBA stars Al Horford and Joakim Noah had something to do with that. After a stellar sophomore season, Speights declared for the NBA draft, but left an impression on Donovan.

“He has great hands. He has a real feel for the game,” Donovan told the San Francisco Chronicle. “He’s a great teammate and a great guy.”

Perhaps he is also a great weapon. Much has been said about Donovan’s masterful use of his personnel in this series. Maybe Warriors’ Coach Steve Kerr might tinker with his rotation and find a few more minutes for Speights.

Along with his shooting touch, Speights plays aggressive defense. That is a facet sorely lacking by the defending NBA champions in this series.

Perhaps the Thunder is a team of destiny. If the Warriors are successful in delaying that destiny on Saturday, we should not be surprised to see Mo Speights in the post-game interview room.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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