The Warriors didn’t just lose an exciting, back-and-forth game in Portland, they lost their starting center. Andrew Bogut is out “indefinitely” with a fractured rib, an injury that in all likelihood will end his season.
So Golden State will go into these playoffs without their second best player from last year’s postseason run, which means winning their first round matchup — against the Clippers, in all probability — seems like a nearly impossible task.
But that’s the Warriors way, isn’t it? The “We Believe” team got their name because so few people actually believed outside the team’s own locker room. Few expected last year’s first round triumph after they lost David Lee in Game 1. The 1975 champions only won 48 regular season games.
Golden State claimed their 50th victory of the season Monday night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. It was the fifth time in the franchise’s 68-year history that they’ve reached that milestone, and Mark Jackson wasn’t in a mood to downplay his team’s accomplishment.
“We’re going to try to put pressure on future players, future coaches, future people in this organization to try to chase down what we do,” he said.
“You don’t take 50 for granted. Some of them never hit 50. And I don’t want to be prophetic, but some of them, there’s a chance they won’t hit it ever again. So while you’re here, enjoy it. It should be acknowledged and celebrated.”
It was unclear who Jackson meant when referring to “them,” whether it was the team’s current roster or the franchise as a whole. But despite what anyone thinks about Jackson as a coach or a person — and his players seem to think a lot of him in both capacities — 50 wins is a nice bullet point for any coach’s resume.
It didn’t look like the Warriors were going to pull it off on Monday night, at least during a first quarter where Minnesota played mediocre defense and Golden State played no defense at all without Bogut and Andre Iguodala, who sat out the second night of a back-to-back. Kevin Love scored 22 points and grabbed eight rebounds in the first quarter, which ended with the T-Wolves ahead 42-28.
Love ended up with 40 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, but the Warriors came away with a 130-120 win thanks mostly to three players: Lee, Draymond Green and Stephen Curry.
Lee got yanked just 3:08 into the game with the T-Wolves up 19-4. Love was red-hot, and Lee was part of the reason. But Jackson said he liked the way Lee “battled” throughout the rest of the game, and at halftime he realized Lee wasn’t the only one to blame for Love scoring at a high rate. Lee had no problems throughout the game offensively, scoring 25 points on 12-of-14 shooting to go along with nine rebounds.
Green came off the bench, but he played 38 minutes including the entire fourth quarter. This might have been Green’s best game as a pro: career highs in points (20) and threes (four), 7-of-9 from the field, and a career-high-tying 12 rebounds. He also had five assists, four steals and two blocks, to go along with a plus-minus of +27. They don’t count “outstanding screens that free up Curry” on the stat sheet, but Green surely led the team in that category.
“I question so many executives that left this guy on the board,” Jackson said. “Just chases down victories instead of numbers. And when you chase down victories instead of numbers, numbers come. The impact that he had on that basketball game was incredible. Setting screens, rebounding, defending, blocked shots, steals. It says a lot about who he is the way he impacts games and his future’s awfully bright. And to those executives, I say thank you.”
Then there was Curry, who picked up where he left off in Portland with 23 first half points. He shot wasn’t as consistent in the second half (he was probably exhausted), but he finished with 32 points and 15 assists.
“I sat in my office and I’m thinking, ‘Okay, I know they’re going to ask about Steph. What can I saw that I haven’t said yet?’ I might as well admit I’m on empty,” said Jackson. “The guy is First Team All-NBA. Look at what he’s done the entire year. Look at his consistency. Look at him staying healthy. Look at him carry us. Look at another 30-10 night, or 32 and 15. He’s a superstar.”
True superstars carry their teams in the postseason, even without key contributors. Last year Curry did exactly that without Lee, until his and Bogut’s ankles couldn’t handle anymore pain. Curry can’t beat the Clippers alone, but it’s due to his greatness that another Warriors upset at least seems possible, if not exactly plausible.
— Jackson said that he’d talk to his team, but several players probably won’t play against Denver on Wednesday. That probably means we’ll see a starting lineup without Curry, Lee, Klay Thompson, Iguodala and Jermaine O’Neal.
— Thompson didn’t shoot well (7-for-20, 2-for-12 on threes), but he had a nice transition dunk in this game. That led me to stupidly ask Twitter if that was Klay’s best dunk of the year, totally forgetting this one over Kyle Singler.
— Green averaged 10 minutes per game in March and April of his rookie season. His playing time almost doubled during the playoffs after Lee’s injury, but now he’s a totally new player. Part of that is because during the offseason he sculpted an entirely new body, and I asked him about how that’s helped him when playing heavy minutes.
“Just because you’re in shape doesn’t mean you don’t get tired. You just recover a lot faster,” Green said. “But it’s helping me out a ton. I’m a lot lighter on my knees, so I’m not having knee problems. Wind is a lot better. You don’t make those mental mistakes because you’re not fatigued.”
I asked him if how tired he was at that exact point, about 45 minutes after the game.
“I’m fine. I’m ready to go.”
Without Bogut and with Harrison Barnes regressing in his sophomore season, Green might get a few more 38-minute games in the next week or two.
— I mentioned Jackson’s “First Team All-NBA” comments after the last couple games to Curry, just to get his take on what the award would mean.
“I haven’t thought about it much, honestly. That’s almost a bigger deal than the All-Star Game. Full season’s work and your team’s winning. To be recognized as one of the best at your position, that’s a huge accomplishment and a huge honor. There’s a lot of great talent in the league and to be in that group is definitely humbling. Definitely keeps me motivated to keep pushing. We’ll see what happens.”