The Week That Was:
I said last week that this would be one of the biggest stretches of the entire season. Fortunately, the Warriors delivered with quality performances that set the table well for the next few weeks.
Beating the Pacers in Indiana should qualify as their second-best win of the season and it was great to see the bench play well in the second half before Coach Jackson left them in too long after the Indy starters returned. It also displayed the importance of Steve Blake for the team and hopefully he will get used for longer stretches with Curry to reduce Steph’s ball handling responsibilities.
From there, they flew straight to Boston and picked up a comfortable win against the feisty but undermanned Celtics. The first game back after a road trip followed form but the Dubs still took out the Hawks with superior talent and an amazing defensive fourth quarter to close the door.
Finally, the Warriors kept the high notes coming with a strong win against the Suns. Even though they were without Eric Bledsoe, beating Phoenix and muddying up the tiebreaker (the Suns would have had it outright with a win) means quite a bit considering the insanely close quarters at the moment.
An excellent week top to bottom as long as the injury scares to Klay [EDIT: a lower back strain suffered on Friday against the Hawks] and Steph do not have lingering effects.
The Soapbox: The Suddenly Advantageous Golden State Bench
After spending much of the year as a punching bag, the Warriors at full health have to consider their bench a strength, especially compared to their counterparts in the playoff picture. While the #FullSquad and discussion about it dominated the first part of the season, each of Bob Myers’ bigger moves since the season started made this group deeper and more useful.
Having three core pieces in Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and Jermaine O’Neal at the outset certainly helped. While I do not love Harrison and Draymond playing extended minutes together because each needs a more reliable three point shot to stretch the floor, both are incredibly capable of playing meaningful minutes and helping the team win. Bogut missing time may have provided a silver lining by showing just how much JO has left in the tank- he has four double figure scoring nights since the All-Star break while playing with energy on defense. It would be another large piece if Festus can come back and be the gap filler for O’Neal and Bogut because we know they will need it.
Most importantly, adding Steve Blake fixed the biggest weakness on the entire team. While the three guys I just talked about are all quality players, none of them can run an offense or score effectively without a proper distributor. Bringing Blake in allows the team to keep humming along when Curry sits. That has already paid dividends since Steph is currently battling a leg injury that has limited his minutes the last few games.
Finally, adding Blake has allowed Jordan Crawford to assume more of a wild card role that best fits his game right now. While Steezus should become a better all-around player as he matures, having him as a “break glass in case of emergency” scorer helps even if the Warriors have a better one in Curry. His swagger and shot-making can help get the crowd into it as well. Here’s hoping playing with a veteran in Blake can help curb some of his worst habits.
It has been remarkable to see how adding Blake and Crawford has totally changed the outlook on the bench. While I still think there should be more commingling of the starters and non-starters (especially Draymond playing with starters and Harrison at the four with Bogut), Blake makes the drop-off less severe. That addition helps keep the team afloat when the starters sit and makes it more OK for Jackson to keep doing the substitution pattern he appears to be more comfortable with.
We will have to see if either Blake or Crawford comes back next season but at least Myers and the front office now have a template of what they should be looking for in bench players.
The Week to Come:
March continues to be challenging for the Warriors even with only one game out of California this week. With a day off after Phoenix, the Dubs host the Mavericks and then have to immediately head down to LA to face the Clippers on the tail end of a back-to-back when the Clippers will be playing after an off day following a home game. While some may consider that a schedule loss, this team cannot afford to let that thinking take over with the West so tight.
From there, the team gets a day off to return to the Bay Area and defend their home court against Kyrie Irving and the Cavs. Dispatching them quickly will prove important because of the game’s place after that tough back-to-back and immediately before a huge road game in Portland on Sunday.
I am expecting a 2-2 week because of the quality opponents and rough timing but they could surprise for 3-1, which would be quite impressive.