Confetti shower No. 4 pic.twitter.com/3l2JsXcDeE
— Bay Area Sports Guy (@BASportsGuy) May 1, 2016
The Warriors’ 118-106 victory over Portland in Game 1 was clinical, and sent a few messages. Not necessarily to the Blazers, who probably knew they were in for a difficult series after they barely put away the decimated Clippers at home two nights earlier. The messages Golden State sent are more overarching, and have repercussions for the teams they’ll face after this series concludes.
First, a note about Stephen Curry, the man who (rightfully) earns more attention than anyone else, not just on this team, but in the entire NBA. Nothing changed on the Curry front today, but with his injuries in the first round, the nervous instinct was to judge the Warriors as somewhat of a broken team. Instead of an elite force, they would start to look like any other decent squad, because Curry wouldn’t be pulling defenders toward him like a large planet with several moons.
That idea was pushed further by a one-point loss in Houston that looks more like a fluke with each passing game. Now J.B. Bickerstaff’s remark after Game 5, that the Warriors are one of the two best teams in the league even without Curry, seems like a more accurate depiction.
Klay Thompson is an offensive force in his own right, and that’s not all
He’s long been considered the Robin to Curry’s Batman, but Thompson is playing his best basketball without Curry around to shoulder the offensive load.
Thompson scored 18 points in the first quarter on his way to a 37-point afternoon. He made seven threes for the third straight game, a postseason record. And the man who finished second in the Coach of the Year balloting, Terry Stotts, had no answers during the game. Or, afterward when he did his best impression of an overmatched former 49ers head coach (Mike Singletary or Jim Tomsula, pick your poison).
“We’ll watch the film and see if we can make any changes,” Stotts said.
If Stotts doesn’t rescue C.J. McCollum and stick him on Harrison Barnes in Game 2, we should question if he can analyze film and/or whether whoever was in charge of scouting the Warriors should remain employed by the team.
We had some hints that Thompson might break out in these playoffs, even though no one was predicting Curry’s injuries. He had that stretch in March where he scored at least 37 in four out of 10 games, including consecutive 40-point games. But since Curry hurt his knee, Thompson has scored 76 points over 78 minutes.
But that’s far from the entire story with Thompson.
“Not many guys in the league who could chase Damian Lillard around for 37 minutes and score 37 points, too,” Steve Kerr said.
Was that a subtle dig at James Harden, who had no problem accumulating buckets against the Warriors but lost his man almost as often as he scored? It was probably just a statement of fact, more than anything else. Thompson is a lot of things: low-maintenance, a great shooter, and the best two-way shooting guard in the game. But with Curry out, he’s become something we haven’t quite seen from him over the last few years. He’s a playoff star who can carry a team offensively while handling his defensive responsibilities.
“The crazy thing is he can get better and he’s going to get better in these types of games,” said Andre Iguodala.
Um, that sounds kind of unfair, especially with Curry looking at a possible return in Game 3.
Draymond Green is a superstar player, with or without Curry
Kerr has often said after games that the stats don’t tell the full story of Green’s impact, but today they did a pretty good job. Green had his second career playoff triple double: 23 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists. He blocked three shots, one against Damian Lillard that was followed by a bit of a staredown (literally down, since Lillard was lying on the floor). He even went 9-for-9 from the line.
“Draymond is huge for us. His play-making ability, his defensive ability, he’s probably the best all-around player in the league at this point,” said Andrew Bogut.
Green didn’t want to boast, but he didn’t necessarily disagree either.
“I’m comfortable with (Bogut’s assessment),” he said, as he laughed with the reporters.
“I’ve never been one that’s not too comfortable with much, but no, I think there’s a lot of great all-around players in the game. You’ll never hear me call myself that, but (if) they are going to call me that, I’ll take it. I’m not going to shy away from it.”
Green doesn’t shy away from much. He probably took too much blame after his seven-turnover performance in the Game 3 loss in Houston, and since then he has averaged 18.7 ppg, 10 rpg and 8.3 apg, with just six turnovers combined in three games. Curry’s contract is known as the best bargain in the NBA, but Green’s five-year, $82 million extension looks like a pretty incredible deal for the Warriors. And now there can be no doubt — Green isn’t just another player without Curry. He’s one of the league’s best players no matter who’s on the court with him.
Here’s his full postgame press conference. I don’t usually post entire sessions, but I had a good seat and Green’s are always entertaining and informative.
There’s Warriors defense, and there’s Warriors Playoffs Defense
Golden State was the best defensive team in the 2014-15 regular season, and that wasn’t the case in 2015-16. They were still defensively stout, but at times they paced themselves. No longer.
And the narrative that the Warriors are a guard-centric jump-shooting team is tired.
“We’re a long defensive unit and we try to make it as difficult as possible for those guys to not just take tough shots, but make tough passes over the top of us,” said Andre Iguodala, who along with Thompson, Shaun Livingston and the frontcourt held Lillard and C.J. McCollum to 30% shooting.
“Bogut and Draymond are really good inside and really good at working together defensively and communicating with their rotation. It’s very hard to find two bigs who work together like that.”
Yeah, Bogut and Green communicated … and sucked the life out of poor Mason Plumlee, who finished with one point and looked scared to take it inside after Bogut rejected a dunk attempt and Green simply ripped the ball out of Plumlee’s hands a little while later. That was one of the messages the Warriors sent — we’re the bigger team and the rim is ours, to be specific — although Bogut was hesitant to declare victory on that end after just one game.
“I don’t think it’s a signal. I think it’s just our team defense was sensational in the first half, and my job … is when guys cut behind or roll, is to make the finish tough inside, and I blocked some shots that way.”
The Warriors also dominated on the glass, collecting 55 rebounds to Portland’s 40. But the overall team defense was what stood out. Every time Lillard thought he had an opening, there was another Warrior around the corner to get a hand in his face and impede his progress.
“(Lillard is) one of the best scorers in the league. He can score at all three levels,” Thompson said.
“It’s not just me. Our bigs did a phenomenal job today on the ball screen. It feels like he runs off about a hundred ball screens a game. So you got to trust your big guys back there, and they made it tough for him at the rim, at the three-point line. And that’s what we’ve got to do all series.”
To summarize, the Warriors have three of the ten best players in the world and they can play defense as well as any team … including the Spurs. That, along with their depth, is how they’ve outscored the Rockets and Blazers by a combined 72 points over the last 10 quarters.
We all knew the Warriors were great, but a lot of the analysis came close to “Well, they’ve got the best player on the planet, and he makes everyone that much better.” I’m not sure anyone knew they could play at this level, cruising to double-digit victories in the playoffs, without Curry. The Rockets aren’t a very good example of a playoff team, and the Blazers aren’t title contenders either, but what we’re seeing is still quite impressive — and better than most expected.
— Lillard has to be exhausted.
- He played a game-high 41:44.
- He scored 30 points but very few came easily.
- The Warriors looked to punish him on the defensive end any way they could (frequently with Shaun Livingston post-ups).
- He sounded terrible after the game: “I’ve been battling a little bit of a chest cold for the last couple days,” he said.
— Festus Ezeli, a restricted free agent after the season, didn’t play.
“As far as Festus, it was a matchup thing,” said Kerr. “We felt like Andy (Varejao) made some sense. Thought Andy played great. As it is, we played 11 people significant minutes. It’s pretty tough to play 12. So Festus’s time will come. Just like you look at last year’s playoffs, there were games he didn’t get in and he was one of the key guys in the Finals in Game 6 to close it out for us. He knows that he’s got to stay ready and he’ll get his shot.”
— That is pretty amazing, what Kerr mentioned. They were without their best player, in the playoffs when rotations are traditionally shorter, and 11 guys played at least seven minutes.
— Varejao had an entertaining seven minutes, getting a few shots up, blocking two, and getting into it with Gerald Henderson. Henderson was so annoyed by Varejao, who pulled some sort of leg-whip maneuver that led to a double-technical, that he kept jawing with Varejao when the Brazilian was on the bench. That exchange led to both players getting tossed.
— Thompson on extending his 3-point range in practice by taking more shots from the halfcourt logo:
“I’ve seen Steph do it a lot (laughter). Just trying to be like him.
“But those are shots that I don’t really want to take that much during the game, but if you make five or six in a row and you feel your guy is off you, I don’t mind hoisting up one a game. If it goes in, I’ll live with it. But these guys see me take plenty of bad shots, so I can’t be taking any more.
“So I’ll take maybe one or those a game, but why not practice it? If the defense can sag off me — I think I made one of them tonight. So just got to keep working on them.”
— After the Blazers beat the Clippers in Game 6, I predicted the Warriors would win this series in five games even if Curry missed the entire thing. While Curry said during today’s game that he felt “pretty good” about his chances to play Game 3, I don’t see that happening. There’s no reason to play Curry until the Warriors lose a game in this series. If they happen to drop Game 3 up north, then you think about playing him. If they win Game 3 without him, let his knee continue to heal so he’s as close to 100% as possible for the Western Conference Finals. Because if today’s game was any indication, that’s where the Warriors are headed.