Spurs vs. Warriors: Series review, maybe some closure and expectations

Perhaps Curry will be on the other side of the handshake next year. - Stephen Dunn

The season is over, but the work has just begun. Or some crap like that. The Golden State Warriors lost in six games to the San Antonio Spurs. But that's hardly cause for moping; with the future seemingly bright, I discuss the the series, some closing thoughts and expectations for next season.

I think it's fair to say that, by the end of the series, not many fans, writers or Rousseau-esque pessimists were overly depressed or even sad that the Golden State Warriors had fallen in six games to the San Antonio Spurs. The overwhelming majority of Warriors fans swelled with pride as Stephen Curry limped off the court late in the game, his ankle no doubt throbbing with each twist and pull.

Jarrett Jack and Mark Jackson fittingly led the team to come back out to acknowledge the crowd, as they were the heart and soul of the team through the long regular season and thrills of the playoffs. But the rest of the scene was hard to watch. Andrew Bogut sat sullenly at the end of the bench, unable to play through his latest ankle ailment, one that's hindered him at the most inopportune time. Harrison Barnes had to leave the game with a headache after falling to the ground late in the second quarter—though he passed all concussion tests, it was disappointing to see the Warriors' medical staff sign off on someone who had obvious head symptoms. I'm not a doctor, I'm not a doctor, I'm not a doctor, but that was maddening to see. Klay Thompson competed valiantly but was unable to get an open release from distance after the Game 2 explosion. Lastly, we saw David Lee fighting through an injury that will most likely require surgery to give the team some type of interior presence.

So there were the best players on the team, at the end of a successful season, all struggling to either stay upright or find an open shot, and everyone still beamed with the pride a parent wears when their child scores their first bucket—on the fiftieth attempt but who's counting?—in recreation league.

And even though the lenses of general perception termed this 94-game stretch a success, it left us wanting more, now, and an urge for closure.

Onto the series notes:

1. Gregg Popovich outcoached Mark Jackson. After a big series from Jackson against the Denver Nuggets where he made all the right moves possible—you can argue whether it was out of necessity or not but George Karl was thoroughly flustered all series—Popovich essentially grinded down the Warriors' gameplan game by game. With a little help from Curry's gimpy ankles, Popovich was able to contain him after Game 1, sending Danny Green and an assortment of double teams his way, making Bogut the main beneficiary, and there were no dunks on JaVale McGee this time. After Thompson's explosion in Game 2, Pop put Kawhi Leonard on him and he went dark for the ensuing four game.

It was a testament to the Warriors' toughness and the Spurs' old age, at times, that the Dubs were able to win one out of the next four games. Draymond Green oddly lost minutes to Carl Landry as the series went along, despite Landry's inability to defend and open up any space on the interior. The Warriors played solid defense throughout, despite giving some open looks, but it was the offense that felled them.

2. Looking back on the series preview, the keys came down to the Warriors shooting threes and defending them, and mostly, it came true. In the Game 2 win, the Warriors made 11 threes to the Spurs' 5. In the Game 4 win, they made the same amount of threes but shot it nine fewer times. In the four wins, the Spurs outshot the Warriors, tying in Game 3, and really got better shots throughout the entire series. With Curry, Thompson, Barnes and Jack (all capable three-point shooters), the Warriors probably needed less midrange action and more penetration and kick. However, this was more a function of health over process.

3. Injuries played a big role. "If healthy", remains a maxim that still haunts the Warriors, despite Curry playing 78 out of 82 games, Bogut looking relatively healthy in the first series and Lee playing heavy minutes the entire regular season. I won't be the first one to say this but another wing player who can defend and shoot threes would have helped immensely this series, paging Brandon Rush's knee.

4. But like I said, enough pessimism around here. The Warriors looked awesome during the postseason when they went to playing Barnes at the power forward spot and Draymond Green at the 3. If Bogut is healthy, or moving relatively quickly, the defense is there to supplement the offense, and there's no doubt that is the future. ESPN even did a feature on the analytics department, led by Pete Myers, advising Mark Jackson to let Curry shoot even more threes. That doesn't necessarily mean the Warriors must trade Lee, though probably not possible due to his salary and management's affection for him, nor that this is sustainable, especially if Bogut can't stay on the floor, but it does mean that he won't play near the 36.8 minutes he averaged. It's too soon to say if Mark Jackson will notice this, as we found out the Knicks' coach Mike Woodson had no idea his "small" lineups were infinitely more effective on both sides of the floor, but he's shown an ability to adapt and adjust.

What will be certain is the progression of Curry, Thompson and much more significantly, Barnes. He started the season timid, unwilling to shoot the ball or assert himself as the best slasher on the team, but grew out of that as the needs started to shed the passive label some may have thrown on him. His footwork improved immensely, especially in the post, and with improvement in the handle department and plays geared towards him (according to Synergy, Barnes was the ball-handler on pick-and-rolls in only 6.6 percent of his plays), he'll probably become the Warriors' most explosive to-the-rim player, if he isn't already.

Star-divide

And through all the angst, worries and the need for instant gratification of a run that hasn't gone this far since 1977, or in other words, when I was negative 14 years old, there sits an exact opposite of the giant elephant in the room. Though it isn't certain, nothing is in professional sports, the Warriors have as bright of a future as any team in the NBA. That's not an exaggeration along the lines of "Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis is the best scoring backcourt in the NBA" but as feasible a thought as "Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the greatest long-range shooting backcourt of all time". The past often precedes reflection and we can confidently say that the core of this team in the present and future, constitute a contender along the lines of the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Los Angeles Clippers.

There will be tough offseason decisions, and we will grade the breadth of these moves at a later date, but they don't significantly impact the rotation of a team that should play an easy 10-deep despite owning zero draft picks. Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins combine for $20 million in expiring contracts, Jarrett Jack is an unrestricted free agent, Landry has a player option for $4 million and Rush and Bogut are in the last years on their deals. That's a lot of money in play but it won't have a Jason Richardson-for-Brandan Wright impact in the slightest. Expectations grew exponentially as the growth of the team rose to the occasion in every game, changing the definition of progress in a fanbase that's numb to an offseason of false optimism and wayward decisions. Instead, they are replaced by the realistically elevated expectations and pragmatic management abilities of Bob Meyers and Jerry West.

Perhaps this is a bailout for those reading this, looking for some type of closure in the face of a season leaving us wanting for more. But more isn't a postseason appearance any longer; it's the success judged by the result, and not so much the process. I don't think there's any way to put any closing notes to this season because, in a way, this journey is just beginning, and unlike last year and the 20 before it, we have no idea how this is going to end.
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