Social media has been a gift and curse for the greater sporting landscape. The “wait-and-see” approach is dead and instead replaced with instant reactions, hot takes and memes that may or may not be safe for work.
If a team starts 5-0, a team is bound for the Finals and is armed and ready to take on anybody that is on the opposite end of the floor. If a player is averaging 27.7 points per game, 7.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds, the MVP is assuredly there for the taking. If a coach begins his tenure undefeated through the first week, he’s bound for the Hall of Fame.
The Warriors started their season off in frenetically fun ways, beating their California rivals on both ends of Oracle in the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers. They squeaked out an impressive win in Portland and then thumped the Los Angeles Clippers by 17 points. But, their last three games – with their loss to San Antonio on Tuesday night being the most evident – shows that this team isn’t ready to live up to these instant, grand proclamations.
“I don’t think it was the turnovers,” said Kerr. “It was mostly running into a team that just hung their fifth banner a few weeks ago.” For a coach that has lauded the coaching styles of Gregg Popovich, this was the reality check that this team – and fans – needed.
As much as this team has shown signs of improvement, especially on the offensive end, they aren’t the San Antonio Spurs, they aren’t the favorites and they shouldn’t be considered the crème de la crème of the NBA just yet. Yes, they’re contenders with a vastly improved coaching staff and bolstered bench, but it’s not enough.
There’s an old boxing adage: “You can’t be the champion unless you beat the champion.” While you can’t just knockout a team in one punch, you can make a statement with one. With the Spurs on the back end of a back-to-back, the Warriors had an opportunity to cement their early season success with a win against the champions.
While they failed to make this statement, it wasn’t because they gave it away a la their previous loss against the Phoenix Suns. The Spurs only committed eight turnovers, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard combined to shoot 64% and Stephen Curry failed to make a three-point shot for the first time in 75 games. This is no accident, as the Spurs have mastered the art of exposing weaknesses while simultaneously employing their strengths.
“He [Curry] and Klay [Thompson] have to be dealt with and that starts at the three point line,” said Popovich. “We’ve been doing this long enough that we should at least recognize what we have to take away from another team and I thought we did a pretty good job of that tonight. They’re a tough cover.”
The greatness of the Spurs is inherently about the system as it is about the talent. We’ve seen plays file through San Antonio and contribute in ways not previously seen. The Spurs aren’t just a machine, they’re an institution. This is the type of system Steve Kerr is trying to establish with the Warriors, and it’s foolish to think that through a measly six games this system was in place. It’s developing, but the finished product is far from near.
Injuries have hindered Kerr’s ability to properly build on this system as David Lee, Shaun Livingston, Brandon Rush and Festus Ezeli are all facing or playing through ailments. Still, we’ve seen some signs of this new system in place and the team is fighting through all the miscues that comes with such a change.
The Warriors currently lead the NBA in turnovers with 22.3 per game and also boast the league’s worst assist-to-turnover ratio in the league at 1.04. These are growing pains. The systematic changes taking place are (mostly) the cause, with the turnovers of “insanity” being the rest. Against the Spurs, it doesn’t matter what kind of turnovers are committed, any and all will hurt.
The Spurs threw a ton of looks at Stephen Curry on Tuesday night, resulting in a season-low 16 points on 7-18 shooting and a team-low (-15) in 35 minutes. Curry is mortal, bad games will happen and add on the fact that Curry was shading Tony Parker for most of the night, this type of game was almost acceptable.
What isn’t acceptable is the lack of a primary scorer off the bench, and the regression of Andre Iguodala – at least so far – is concerning. Iguodala has attempted just six shots in his last 53 minutes of play. While Iguodala was never signed to be a dependable scorer, the team can’t afford him to shy away from scoring either. Barnes prefers the starting lineup, but it’s clear who is struggling to his new role.
A team adapting to a new system played against a team that has been practicing the same system for decades. Even given the back-to-back, the Spurs were the toughest test in this infant season for Golden State. The Warriors have hopes of being on that same level one-day, but they aren’t there yet. The Spurs exposed them on Tuesday night, but contrary to most, it isn’t time to panic.
“I’m not disappointed in this loss at all,” said Kerr. “I think our guys fought, we did some good things. I thought we got better with our execution. We lost to a great team, but we learn, keep improving and move on.”
Even in sports, patience is a virtue.