Joseph Campbell breaks down a monomyth, or a hero's journey, into a road of trials, where the main character crosses through many thresholds to get to the final destination, to ultimately fulfill their purpose in that journey.
The Golden State Warriors aren't heroes, nor are they on a journey that is especially news-worthy on a national landscape. However, the rise from cellar-dweller to poised playoff contenders is a story worth telling.
They proved themselves the first time on a seven-game roadie against the Miami Heat, then again on back-to-back wins against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Los Angeles Clippers. And after a six-game losing streak, they rebounded to win three straight, including one against the San Antonio Spurs. But I won't get too hyperbolic. The Warriors still have unfixable issues that run rampant up and down the roster and through general structure of the team. They are a slightly above-average team that has little to no chance of beating the big boys when crunch time comes around. But I'd also be lying if I didn't say that being logical and unbiased sucks the happiness out of narratives.
It's hard not to term this as one of the more significant thresholds this team has finally busted through on their course towards the NBA tournament. They're not looking to be a Florida Gulf Coast or a George Mason, a one-year-and-done team that's more Cinderella than annual contender. If the Warriors want to contend in the Pacific Division for the future, they'll have to keep up with the Clippers and Lakers.
After losing 832 of their last 836 games against the Lakers—losing twice this season and six overall to them despite their mediocre play—they came out through the proverbial gates and proverbially beat the living crap out of Los Angeles for 42 minutes. Thresholds, monkeys off their backs, boxing analogies, and whatever else you want to throw out there in an attempt to explain the current surge, the Warriors are better than the Lakers. They sure as hell proved it in a 109-103 victory that didn't nearly suggest the level of brutality the Warriors inflicted on Kobe and friends last night.
As if there were any doubt.
Steph Curry has sprained his ankle four times in 72 games and somehow managed to only miss four total games. If we were to hold true to that projection, Curry would miss one more game in the last 10, meaning he'd play in 77 of 82 games. That's pretty darn good for a guy coming off ankle surgery in the offseason and seemingly on his way to one of those depressing—but really good—30 for 30 ESPN films on what could have been.
Instead, he came out pregame, worked through shooting drills well after shootaround, and when the beat writers and bloggers deemed him out for the game, Mark Jackson announced his star guard would indeed play. Curry missed his first couple shots and even a few free throws, but he made plays throughout the night against a sorry Laker perimeter defense.
In one sequence, Curry exposed the many flaws of the Lakers' defense. Because of the fact that none of their perimeter defenders can stay in front of opposing players, it leaves Dwight and Pau out to dry on rotations. Curry spins by Blake on a spin-fake and brings Dwight up to contest the floater, leaving Landry open for a dunk. Don't even think about weakside rotations with this team.
1. Rotation Watch: Carl Landry and Festus Ezeli combined to play 25 minutes and Jarrett Jack played his usual 34 minutes off the bench. As the season winds down, we can safely assume the playoff rotations will revolve around a seven-man rotation. No Draymond Green, no Richard Jefferson and definitely no Kent Bazemore. Without the aforementioned two touching the floor, the Warriors never had the customary offensive lapses we are accustomed to seeing between the first and second quarter. This is a nice wrinkle that's both good and bad.
Even if players like Thompson, Curry and Lee don't get injured, when does fatigue start to play a factor?
2. Andrew Bogut's defense is gorgeous and nothing like we've seen before. Even when Andris Biedrins wasn't the shell of the former self he is today, he didn't move and contest shots like Bogut. The beauty of his defense is the way he anticipates what is going to happen. Too often, rookies and even veterans react to what is happening in front of them, leaving them a split-second too late. While it may seem that he's guessing to compensate for his perhaps still-wonky ankle, he's more often right than not in his rotations as evidenced by his blocks and shots contested.
Dwight Howard, a player that so often has his way with an undersized Warriors frontcourt, struggled to make an impact offensively.
3. Keeping with the theme of the oft-criticized big man, Jim Barnett and Bob Fitzgerald ripped into Dwight in the middle of the fourth quarter for not making his hay on defense. They essentially said he wasn't doing enough to earn his money if he isn't able to turn a terrible, HORRENDOUS, defensive team into a top ten one all by his lonesome.
Defense doesn't work that way and injuries don't, either. Even if we were to overlook the fact that Dwight's been playing injured all season, they dismiss the true notion that Steve Blake, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol (out of position), and Kobe Bryant (especially off-ball) are all below-average defenders. If opposing players can run free reign into the paint, how can we expect Dwight to single-handedly stop drives and recover to block shots at once? Just a different viewpoint that the announcers failed to address in what seemed to be their personal vendetta against Dwight.
Side note: Jim Barnett does this for James Harden as well whenever the Warriors play the Houston Rockets. He loves to bring up the fact Harden didn't want to take less money to stay on the team. While it may be true, his attacks on Harden's financial actions seem a little much and petty.
Now would be a nice time to say that Jon Miller and the San Francisco Giants' announcers are back next Monday.
4. Klay Thompson outplayed Kobe Bryant on both sides of the floor in the first half and further cemented his status as the best one-on-one perimeter defender on the Warriors. Not a shutdown player but one that's improving at a solid rate this season. The shooting selection and playmaking still leave a little to be desired but his play on defense has been refreshing. A wing rotation of Klay, Barnes and Brandon Rush will be fun next season.
5. Okay, it's time to get to the struggles the Warriors had closing out the Lakers. Despite a dominating three quarters, the Warriors only won by six points. Why?
And I'll try to pick my words carefully here because he played well through this game and the Warriors probably would have lost without his play.
The problem lies more with strategy than anything else and last night, the Warriors played with the worse strategy and got away with it. Yes, the mid-range Jarrett Jack isolation jump shot. When he's on, like he was last night, the Warriors are tough to mount a comeback against, as evidenced by Jack's two back-breaking jumpers in the third quarter.
However, this also stalls the offense, an offense that hums to its highest tune when the ball is flipping between Bogut, Lee, Curry, and Klay. This clash of play between the first and second-string may not be the undoing of this team but merely something to keep an eye on going forward.
Jack drives the lane, flips a floater over the outstretched arms of Dwight and celebrates his shot. All good, yes? But watch again and we see Steph fly open on the wing but Jack's aggressive play doesn't let him see this, instead forcing him to shoot right off the screen. Granted, he made the shot, but a Curry open three is pretty valuable.