The narrative was perfectly set up. The Golden State Warriors, 2-seed and limping into the All-Star Break, would sleep off the turnover issues, defensive miscues, and tired legs. They’d come out against a good, but not great, Los Angeles Clippers team and hammer them in typical Warriors fashion, with most of the starters sitting the fourth and setting up a rest of season scenario where the postseason ramping begins. Instead, it was more of the same. The questions start to swirl around the mystique of a once-great defense: where has it gone?
Before we can even dive into that, now or later, the greatness of Stephen Curry must be noted. It comes with a tinge of unease as it took all 44 points on 14/19 shooting to get the Warriors to the finish line. But the aerial display remain all too familiar. The dribble step in rhythm pull-up 3 from two feet behind the arc, the acrobatic finishing at the rim, and the smile at Clippers owner Steve Ballmer after a made shot. It was all visible, forever vicious, and felt a little 2016 Warriors-y for a team that is built for so much less of that.
And that’s perhaps where we are with these Warriors. I will caution that it is entirely too early for this notion. With that prefaced, I think it’s safe to theorize that the 2018 Warriors are a little worn down like the 2016 team, just with a different mental handle. That team was arrogant to the point of no return. They felt unbeatable and put Icarus to shame. The energy spent across the 82 regular season games caught up to them when Curry sprained his knee in the first round. By the 7th game of the NBA Finals, there was nothing left in the tank. The 2018 Warriors are a different kind of exhausted. They’ve kept meticulous care of themselves, to nearly no avail to this point. Nearly every player has sat through minor and medium nagging injuries. There have been games, though they wouldn’t admit it, that they’ve tried to turn the switch on to no results. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Clippers are just two examples and they still needed Unanimous MVP Steph to pull those out at the end.
What’s it all mean? It took a Steph injury, superhuman LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, a Draymond Green suspension, and a miracle 3, to send the Warriors to a series loss that totaled a final plus/minus of -2. What’s the closest team that can come close to that Cleveland Cavaliers defensive tenacity combined with incredible one-on-one scoring? Perhaps it’s them again, or Paul George and Russell Westbrook, or more likely it is the Chris Paul and James Harden show. And even then, this has yet to take into account the addition and singular greatness of the Finals MVP Kevin Durant himself. Even if the fatigue becomes untenable, the upper limits of the KD/Steph pairing will become more necessary than ever before. 16-1 didn’t necessitate anything special. But a tired Warriors team grinding down with two MVPs swinging away to defend a championship and to fulfill a dynasty? We’re getting close.
1. Man was there a ton today that didn’t make it into the game story. First off, JaVale McGee started and looks to do so again on Saturday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He was not great, but not terrible. Zaza Pachulia came in and looked dreadful, unable to close out, hedge, recover, but at least made some free throws.
2. The rest of the older players like Andre Iguodala, David West, and Shaun Livingston looked capable and ready for the stretch run. West ‘s fadeaway was sharp and the touch was back after a mini-slump. Livingston had a vintage rhythm dribble pull-up J. And while Iguodala didn’t make a 3, he was ubiquitous in the passing lanes.
3. Draymond Green is ready to go on defense. Enough coasting. He yelled at Javale after a missed baseline rotation. He ran down then screamed at the ref on a missed foul call. Then even gave it to Steph for reaching on an Austin Rivers drive. He’s the heart of the defense and the good first quarter was attributed to him. Now if the rest of the team can follow.
4. Kerr unleashed the Steph/KD PNR multiple times in the first quarter and it perhaps the Warriors most signature play, the Steph/KD PNR ended the game with a Steph drive and kick to KD in the corner for a 3.
5. Looks like Klay Thompson was treated nice in LA, eh?