Through five games in the young season, the Warriors have danced, waltzed, skipped and Showtime'd their way to a 4-1 record. Even in their loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, it was a offensive waterfall only outmatched by Hurricane Paul. But facing the team that ousted them in last year's Semifinals, the Warriors looked like they regressed 100 years of offensive basketball. Even without Stephen Curry, we all expected this to happen against the Memphis Grizzlies, not today's version of the San Antonio Spurs that's more reliant on ball movement and shooting than their lockdown defense. When the game slowed to an ugly, flop-filled, brick-fest, the Warriors hung tough before an Andre Iguodala miss on a tough leaner at the buzzer. Look, neither team "deserved" to win it, if you're attempting to make a "we would have won with Curry playing!" argument. The Spurs made one fewer mistake and won. They do that a lot. It's a very Spurs-y thing to do.
Nothing in this game made sense. Toney Douglas made five threes, Tony Parker missed six free throws, and the Spurs shot 26 percent from distance as a team. And the Warriors, a team that's re-made their image as a solid rebounding squad, gave up six massive ones in the final quarter. But look, we can count this as a moral victory. The "We only lost by two without Curry" faction of the fans will surely point to that as a reason to help them mask some other troubles permeating through this team. And yet, it's been five games and small sample size excuses will remain the answers to many questions until it's too late. Which is fine too, until it isn't.
The bench was horrible on offense again; and exceptional on defense again. We can sample size this through 600 games and get the same result. Jermaine O'Neal isn't getting younger, Draymond Green isn't a one-on-one scorer and Toney Douglas might not make five threes in a game for the rest of the season. But that defense? As nasty as watching Joe Staley pulling on a right-side block, snarling right at you.
Bogut was passive on offense when crunch time hit. He passed out of the paint several times and missed an eight foot shot because he leaned into a floater, push-shot thing reserved for guards. But guess what? Tim Duncan shot 3-11 and the Warriors out rebounded the Spurs by eight. Crunch time doesn't happen if Bogut isn't on the court. Is his offensive timing still a little off? Yes. The touch isn't there yet and may never come back. It doesn't look like he's going to finish hard at the rim unless he's in front of a crazed Oracle crowd.
But again, Bogut's going to make it tough for large bigs that excel in the key. This is essential to the Warriors' success in the Western Conference. Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, Duncan, Pau Gasol, Dwight Howard, and Blake Griffin all live in the paint and they're all in the Western Conference. For a guy that's been less than 80 percent for the past forever, I'm going to keep enjoying this aesthetically pleasing never-before-seen interior defense. If you start down this perfectionist fan-fueled agenda, we might as well start fretting over Curry's thin frame, Iguodala's three-point consistency and David Lee's defense.
1. Klay Thompson has struggled in nearly every game against the Spurs -- except the game he literally caught fire and ascended to heaven. It's tough being chased by lanky wings like Danny Green and Kawhi Leonard off the line on offense and having to guard one of the league's best point guard on defense. Thompson's a very good player but he isn't LeBron James. Expecting him to excel on both sides of the ball against the best players at their positions is a bit much to ask.
2. Harrison Barnes struggled despite holding a physical advantage against every defender. He spent too much time pounding the rock and thinking, rather than reacting and anticipating. He's done it before so it's nothing to worry about. The spacing got all kooky without Curry and there were some quick faux double-then-recover defense that caused a bit of confusion. Again, he's still a bit rusty so the Warriors are hoping for postseason Barnes to show up sooner than later. Aggressive Barnes fluctuates in between and even during a game.
3. Toney Douglas did his best Curry impersonation today, down to the heat check treys and extra passes. The thing he didn't do? Play defense like Curry. Instead, he hounded Parker and whoever he was on, making them work. Parker made several shots but maybe (?) all the dribbling and physicality caused the six missed freebies. Douglas has looked better than what we expected in the preseason. Another reason why preseason doesn't mean anything for players that's played and succeeded in the league before.
4. Extra passes are contagious. The NBA has a scoring champ, judged by the number of points scored per game regardless of shots taken, team efficiency and player context. And people use that arbitrary number as an end-all be-all in arguments of offensive effectiveness. So when a player is open, even if a player is rushing for a contest, they're going to shoot the ball. That's the first instinct for a majority of players. But that's not the case on this team. Curry, Lee, Bogut, Iguodala, even Barnes are ready to make the extra pass from a somewhat contested jumper into a wide-open set shot, usually from the corner. The best example of this working on a team-wide level? Watch the team that the Warriors played today.
5. Draymond Green's help defense is so much better than any other part of his game. Not only does are his rotations and awareness top-notch, he attacks the basketball rather than simply lunging for it. He destroyed a Tiago Splitter (Splitter couldn't see him so he couldn't flop for a foul) layup on the blind side when his man was spacing at the three-point line. Though I don't know what goes on in Green's mind, it makes sense that he guessed Splitter wouldn't see him help downwards if Splitter was facing the basket. It was a gamble based on instinct, and one that worked out perfectly.