The youthful, talented Golden State Warriors are locked in a prolonged second round playoff against the crafty, veteran San Antonio Spurs. Youth is synonymous with spry athleticism and enthusiasm, yet also learning, potential, and on-the-job training. Age is synonymous with crafty know-how and fire-forged experience, yet also fatigue. As game 5 of this apparently grueling series heads back to San Antonio's home court advantage, something is taking hold. Some say the Warriors are spry and the Spurs are fatigued. That this affect of age is why the series is locked 2-2, and why the Warriors might gain further advantage the longer the series runs. With only a day off between games, having played 3 overtime periods already, there could be merit to what some are saying about youthful legs vs aging craftiness. I do agree that an affect of age will be the deciding factor, but I say no, it is not fatigue. This series is not about if the Spurs can hold on to win before their legs give out, the question is, can the Spurs win before they teach us everything they know!
Spurs are a step slow and only getting slower as the series wages on, but I don't think that is what's happening here. Following a game 4 where the Warriors, incredibly, "out-Spurred" the Spurs, here's what I see happening: the Spurs are teaching the Warriors how to be Champions. And the longer this series goes, the more the Warriors glean from the battle-tested Spurs.
The Warriors were not expected to match the Spurs blow-for-blow because playoff basketball isn't for the inexperienced. Weaknesses get exposed, flaws become magnified, strengths become minimized; in short, the difference between winning or losing in the playoffs is a 1% game, and that 1% is ever so elusive. How does a team gain that final 1%? Well The Spurs have a tried and true formula to gain that 1%. That is, they execute - relentlessly.
What's the Difference?
The Spurs are consistent. They don't turn the ball over, their cuts are precise and well-timed. Their passes are precise and well-timed. They rarely mismanage the shot clock, their substitutions, their timeouts, their fouls, or the(ir) refs. Their fouls are never stupid or ill-timed. Their inbounds plays are flawless. Coming out of a timeout they always get a good shot. In fact, they always get a good shot, period. They don't react emotionally. They never get flustered. They never come out too high or too low. They will not back down. They just keeping coming, and coming, like a face-less machine. Consistency. Execution. Craft.
Would any of that have described the regular season Warriors? These are things the Warriors are not. Well, were not. They might be the perfect adversary for this point in Warriors' development.
Signs of Change
We got "Spurred" in game 1. Sure, it was somewhat miraculous, but the ingredients were 2-fold. First, the Spurs remained unfazed and relentless in the face of tremendous adversity. And then, the Warriors were a youthful, energetic, confidence-shooting team with problems turning the ball over and executing down the stretch. Sound familiar to the regular season? Now, fast-forward to game 4. Dead in the water, with 3 of our stars limping on one leg combined (Lee, Curry, and Bogut). After being discombobulated in game 3, the normally raucous crowd came in tentative, almost ready to give one last courtesy applause of appreciation for a great season. Across the board, the energy failed us early in the game as we missed 11 consecutive attempts; meanwhile the machine-like Spurs inconspicuously took advantage to put us in an 11 point hole. The crowd went silent as fast as our shooting hands. Our big dumb big's let the Spurs dictate to the refs, who gladly assigned our big dumb big's to the bench in deep foul trouble. Things were bleak. What do we do..? No bigs, everybody is limping, nobody is hitting, the crowd is silent.. what do we do?
We did what the Spurs taught us to; we executed, relentlessly. We stopped fouling, we played defense, we rotated, we got open looks, we started earning calls instead of giving them away, we stopped turning the ball over! We pushed the game, once down by 8 in the 4th quarter, into over time. By that time the Spurs were left without answers. With the meaty Spurs heaped upon our backs like a big stinky ape, crushing us under their weight, we remained composed, reached back, dragged the ape over our shoulder, pinned it to the ground and pounded it into submission. We steamrolled in OT. Lesson learned.
Right next to this I am going to point out our crowd, our players, and our maturing championship demeanor. When the Spurs whooped us on our home court game 3, they exited our court silently. In almost single file, heads bowed, in lock-step. It's because they know. Most of us felt a bit silly dropping confetti from the rafters to celebrate mid-series playoff wins. We also felt a pang of over-exuberance as Curry fist-pumped and hot-lapped around the arena during a particular 3rd quarter. Not because any of it is out of place or undeserved, but because the innocent rarely triumph. Cheering like that occurs early along the journey, is one way I'd put it. We know there is so much more a team must achieve between the fist-pumps during a 3rd quarter shooting spree in the first round and the fist-pumps that come with a Trophy firmly in the palm. But game 4? That 3rd quarter by Curry was far more heroic, and maybe exactly why he wasn't hot-lapping anymore. Any yeah, the crowd was loud, maybe as loud as ever, but even they sounded more battle-tested. Lesson learned.
Through the Crucible of Age
We have a lot of youth, fortunately this means a lot of learning opportunities. Almost every accomplishment from here on in is practically a "first time ever" deal. We can look at our own lesson learner's to see who is learning what. Is Curry learning to play like a superstar when he's being defended as one? Is the whole team learning to find options 4, 5 and 6, when 1, 2, and 3 are minimized? Can we inbound the ball? Can we get a good shot? Can we manage the clock? Do we honor possessions? Do we value fouls on both ends? Do we learn from the referee's whistle? Do we focus our boundless energy instead of spraying it all over the walls? These are all good questions. But I believe age is the question. Or, more importantly, learning.
This is how age truly matters right now. Take a look at our teacher and realize we are being taught by the best in the business. The Spurs are teaching us everything we didn't know before this series. So, no, I don't ask if their legs will fail them before they can win four games, I ask, will we learn enough championship lessons before we manage to lose four games?
If we do lose, from where this team stood before the series started, we could not have asked for a better opponent to prepare us for the future with our young squad.
If we do win, it might be the tutelage of the Spurs machine-like efficiency that puts us over the top. Lesson learned? We'll see.
Note: It's a great time to be a Warriors fan. I spend a lot of time on here with you guys and I want to say everybody's voice is really appreciated. I partly wrote this just to share my voice with you guys, but also because the fanpost section is really destitute. I learn a lot from everybody here so I know there are some of you who could put together some really sharp pieces, right? So let's see it! Here's to celebrating our community and to everything each of us brings to the table!