Don’t let the “just another game” attitude of this year’s Golden State Warriors fool you, this game mattered. It didn’t really mean anything in terms of record, or anything more broad than just a singular mid-February game, but the unbridled joy proved otherwise. The 112-80 final score did not necessarily describe how tense the atmosphere got at Oracle Arena throughout the first and early second half. And in front of a crowd that hung onto every single bucket, we saw the happiest Warriors team all season.
You’d have to go back to Game 5 of the 2017 NBA Finals to see a happier Stephen Curry. And before that, perhaps the Game 7 win against OKC. Though the accomplishment on Saturday night was a far cry from the other two wins, the reaction was similar. Ironically enough, the point guard that most don’t consider a good enough passer, Steph got his two biggest players to Nick Young: a dribble drive to Swaggy, then a whirling dribble exhibition under the baseline with the clock winding down and a whip pass to the opposite corner for a buzzer-beating 3. The motion Steph made as the shot fell through the rim was NSFW, and a glimpse into Ayesha Curry’s recent Baby 3 announcement.
It was a classic statement game the Warriors have unleashed across their rivals over and over again in the last three seasons. The Cleveland Cavaliers, the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets, and the San Antonio Spurs have all felt some variation of that as the Warriors have imposed their will on the league. Just like old times, it was made possible by the greatness of the small-ball lineup. Down 35-30 after an atrocious first quarter of shooting for both teams, the Andre Iguodala, Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson quintet unfurled a 22-10 run. On every offensive possession, there was a wide open shot. Backdoors, splits cuts, curls, fades, transition 3s, it was all going. The Klay on George, KD on Russ, and Draymond on everyone defense was sublime.
Then in the third quarter, the Thunder stormed back, and the Warriors so many times this season have been comfortable enough to simply go back and forth and at times even lose the game in the final moments. Steve Kerr said before the Los Angeles Clippers game that they’d be ready. And a 30-10 run with Zaza Pachulia in the game, of all people, was enough to let the rest of the world understand one salient point of all of this: The Golden State Warriors are the NBA Champions. Don’t let anything else fool you into thinking there’s a real chance at beating these guys when they’re going this way.
There might be more good news coming as well as it appears Steve Kerr is starting to become more versatile in allowing the Warriors more freedom at the center position. The Javale McGee at center experiment isn’t permanent but the matchup-center experiment is. Once Jordan Bell is back, the former two bigs might see scant minutes, at best. And in keeping with everyone’s favorite lineup, Draymond Green can be playing the most center minutes ever. The urgency is there, the Warriors know they might not be the overwhelming favorite they once were just a few months ago. And the coaching staff is adjusting. If that’s going to be the case, they will revert right back to the overwhelming, unstoppable favorite once again.