Andrew Bogut

Warriors clinch their first Pacific Division title in three-point line era

Golden State Warriors Pacific Division champs 2014-15

We’ve gotten to the part of the season where the Warriors start clinching things. Team achievements, individual awards, they’re all heading our way. Well, the Warriors’ way, since they’re the ones actually defending teams and racking up fancy assists, while we’re all sitting in comfortable clothes watching them play while eating or digesting dinner.

The Pacific Division doesn’t mean much. It never did, really, but it means even less today with three divisions instead of two in each conference. When I was a kid, the NBA standings were always listed in division format — only 10 or 15 years ago did most websites and some newspapers move over to conference by default when listing win-loss records. The Lakers won the Pacific Division more often than not, and the Warriors never came close. Never in my life have the Warriors clinched a Pacific Division title, and I’d bet at least half of this site’s readers could say the same. So that’s pretty cool, and the fact that they did it on March 24 is ludicrous, because it was never this easy before.

They’ve never had a team like this, with the kind of defense that can make teams look as rotten as the Wizards and Blazers looked in the third quarter these last two nights.

The Warriors have been so good that it’s been difficult to get a frame of reference. One starts wondering, “Are there any other good teams in the NBA? Is every other team plagued by injuries?” The Wizards were playing the second game of a back-to-back on the other side of the country, and West Coast swings are a lot more challenging than East Coast swings these days. The Blazers were without one of their two best players in LaMarcus Aldridge, their glue guy in Nicolas Batum, their starting shooting guard in Wesley Matthews, and their backup caveman center in Chris Kaman.

But they had Damian Lillard, and the Warriors went into halftime down five and it seemed like they were lucky it wasn’t 10 or 15. This was despite a really good shooting performance by Golden State in the first two quarters; whether it was a four-games-in-five-nights situation or the simple fact that Portland is and always has been a tough place to play, the Warriors just weren’t quite as crisp or scrappy as usual in the first two quarters.

Then the third quarter happened. Portland made its first two shots, then got nothing besides a Lillard three over the next 7:07. The Warriors stretched their lead to double-digits, and kept the clamps on the rest of the way until they won 122-108.

The Assist List

Golden State finished with 37 assists on 50 made shots, which sounds like a big deal until you remember that they had 39 assists on 44 baskets when they beat the Hawks a week ago.

1. Stephen Curry (who dunked!) led the team with 10 assists to go along with his 33 points, and if MVP awards were handed out based on a player’s “amazing shots to free throws attempted ratio,” Curry would win in a landslide. More on that in a bit, but luckily for Curry the current MVP voting method of “best player on a really good team who has a bunch of moments that scream out ‘this is HIS year‘” means he’s still the favorite by quite a bit.

2. Draymond Green nearly had a triple-double: 16 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. He let Alonzo Gee get behind him for a lob dunk to start the second half, and that was it. From there, all of the best parts about his game shined. The ability to guard anyone within 12 feet, seamlessly switching and challenging shots. All of his rebounds were on the defensive end, and that’s what the Warriors needed on a night when they made 60.2% of their shots.

But the most noticeable recent change in Green’s game is his willingness to push the ball in transition, to the point where he’s starting — and converting — several one-man fast breaks. His athletic ability doesn’t get enough credit. He’s undersized for a power forward, but he isn’t small, and he’s starting to bring the ball up a little like another, slightly more famous Michigan State alum. And how about that play where he saved that loose ball on the defensive end by tip-toeing the length of the baseline? His coordination allowed him to be a productive player at a higher weight, and now that he’s in shape he’s borderline unstoppable sometimes.

3. Andrew Bogut had six assists, 10 points and 16 rebounds in … wait, that’s probably a typo … 24 minutes? It’s obvious that Bogut knows this team is on its way to something great, because he’s defending like his life depends on it.

4. Leandro Barbosa had five assists in 17 minutes. He went 1-for-3, making this his first game as a Warrior with more assists than shot attempts. Am I imagining things, or is Barbosa less of a sieve defensively lately, too?

5. Andre Iguodala had four assists. Much more importantly, he’s playing like an All-Star. That shouldn’t seem so weird, because he’s a former All-Star who’s widely thought of as one of the smartest players in the NBA, plus he’s still in really good shape. But with his offensive game sputtering early in the season, and people conveniently forgetting how effective he was in the playoffs last April because they lost that series to the Clippers, some were broaching the possibility — the inevitability, even — of the Warriors dumping Iguodala’s contract in the future.

Five turnovers is always too many. Yet when it’s mixed in with 21 points (same number he reached against Atlanta) on 9-of-11 shooting, multiple dunks and pull-up jumpers shot with extreme confidence, along with how tentative Iguodala looked early on this season as he felt his way through a new offense and let the game come to him, the overall bravado is striking. He was driving and dishing to Ezeli (who’s starting to make his mini-Shaq dunk a regular thing) and hitting shots in the same manner we saw five years ago. To other teams already so worried about Curry and Klay Thompson, to have that kind of force off the bench is unfair.

Dub Steps

— Magic number to clinch the Western Conference: four

— Magic number to clinch best record in the NBA: eight

— It’s getting to be a frightening sight for opposing teams when Green and Iguodala race upcourt with the ball, for different reasons. Iguodala is one of the better open-court players in the league and makes so many great decisions, while Green is completely unpredictable and someone you really, really don’t want to try to absorb a charge against. Also, both are very unselfish.

— If Curry wins MVP, is he going to get a few more calls next season? I know I just brought up Shaq, but this is like bizarro Shaq. O’Neal was so big that officials allowed opponents to get away with murder. Curry is slight, so it’s like officials go the other way and figure any level of contact will send him flying, so don’t overdo it with the whistles.

— The Blazers probably didn’t like Curry’s scoop-lob pass to Iguodala at the end of the game when the Warriors were up by plenty and didn’t need to showboat. Here’s the thing — the Warriors don’t care what other teams think. It’s part of their charm, really.

— Also, the Blazers kind of asked for it when they “ripped” off the Warriors’ famous “The City” logo for t-shirts they sold at the Moda Center.

— Another DNP-CD for David Lee. That’s six this month and three in the last five games.

— Oh, Klay:

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