There were signs of growth all over the court in the Golden State Warriors' 130-120 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday night.
As usual, we have to begin with the Splash Brothers who combined to drop 52 points on the Wolves in the final regular season game at Roaracle. Klay Thompson's increased willingness to attack the basket with culminated with a thunderous dunk in transition over Kevin Martin and Corey Brewer, who either didn't believe Thompson was capable of such things or really wanted to appear in someone's personal highlight reel tonight. Steph Curry, still on a mission to prove to people that he is no Stefan, has now strung together three 30 points in three consecutive games for the first time in his career and has had 24 or more in each of the last five; further rendering ludicrous the notion that he's not a point guard, he his 15 assists give him double figures for the third time in that period.
Those two got support from the young guys as well. 2012 second round pick Draymond Green continues to do whatever the team needs of him, playing in all 81 games for a team that has seen every starter miss a game this season and looking like a veteran who has no problem stepping in and stepping up. And, hey, shout out to Harrison Barnes for playing within himself on a night when he didn't score to finish with five assists and seven rebounds.
And Mareese Speights got really fired up after that one offensive rebound in the first quarter too, which was just...I don't know...good to see people having fun playing basketball.
We expected to see plenty of growth this season and some of us probably even expected to see growth beyond 50 games. But at some point in the fourth quarter after it became evident that this team was going to complete their comeback from down 19 points at home to win their 50th game this thing seemed to turn into a celebration of more than the little individual signs of growth or one team reaching a milestone in a vacuum.
Without making the Warriors' 50th win entirely about coach Mark Jackson's performance, getting that milestone this year after the team had 46 last season - a little more than double what they had in 2011-12 - is a concrete sign that this franchise might finally be moving beyond Swamp of Basketball Sadness that it was mired in for so long. It was, no doubt, a team effort - from the players to coaching staff to front office and ownership - but the way they celebrated on the court in the immediate aftermath of the game, rallying around their coach, gives you that warm fuzzy feeling that they're building something special and aren't near done just yet.
These win milestones are kind of arbitrary, of course, but if that scene is "dysfunction", then what exactly was the last 20 years when the Golden State Warriors didn't reach 50 wins once?
We know dysfunction. That's when centers who can't catch are calling their coach Mousetrap or awesome 26-year-old rookies are running down the court saying "Unstoppable Baby" in a loss or the franchise drafts 7-footers whose cooking game may or may not be better than their floor game. This is something different.
And yet, in a way this game was a microcosm of why it can be so hard to appreciate all that progress day-to-day: the team was down 19 points at home to a lottery team (which doesn't mean much in the Western Conference, but still).
Jackson touched upon that in his post-game presser, noting that giving up 42 points in the first quarter had less to do with Andrew Bogut and Andre Iguodala being out than the simple fact of guys not playing together and note playing hard. It's tempting to turn that into a belabored discussion of Bogut and Iguodala's value, but given the way this season has gone it's stunningly easy to accept that explanation - this team repeatedly goes through stretches where they fail to play up to their potential, which seemingly has nothing to do with who's there and who isn't. The flip side is that those stretches only serve to highlight the fact that this team just hasn't yet come close to living up to its potential, whether it be due to injury or letting the fun of success turn into complacency.
After giving up 42 points in the first half with Minnesota's Kevin Love looking unstoppable, the Warriors went on a 23-4 run in the second quarter in which they absolutely smothered the Wolves. After finding themselves down by six in the third quarter, they went on a 12-2 run that gave them a lead they'd never relinquish and probably shouldn't have had to fight for so hard.
And of course, Draymond Green was in the game for both of those periods.
Let this sink in for a moment: Draymond Green - a second round pick who was supposedly too small, too slow, and just not good enough to be drafted ahead of players who had "upside" - was a +27 in the Warriors 50th win. Draymond Green - who some people thought simply wouldn't make it in the NBA because he lacked shooting range - hit a career-high 4-for-5 from the three point line. Draymond Green, who has constantly been doubted his entire basketball career, had 20 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals, and 2 blocks in the game that got the Warriors back to 50 wins for the first time in 20 years.
Green is exactly the type of player who, for the most part, just wasn't here during the lean years - while swinging for the fences to get the next big thing, it's players like Green who are overlooked. Good teams have players like Green to fill in the blanks and get things headed in the right direction when they start to go awry. That's what he gave last night - just making the right plays, hitting the big baskets, and just not allowing this team to lose.
During those periods when they had to fight to establish control of the game, the Warriors were as fun and as dominant as we'd want them to be. During those other periods, all you can do is shake you head and weight for the Good Warriors to come back.
On the one hand, these things have happened so often this season that being down big in the first half at home to a team they should be at least close to is just part of the routine that frames the narrative of the season and, well, um, keeps things interesting. let's say. On the other hand, the growth we're still waiting for is when these major lulls stop happening.
Was even getting the 50th frustrating at times, to the point where turning the TV off and waiting for the playoffs seemed tempting? Yes. But in the grand scheme of things, we have to take these moments to realize that something good is happening here, growth is incremental, and this isn't the same obviously dysfunctional franchise of the past.