I'm not sure the first meeting between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs was ever really going to be the biggest game of the 2015-16 NBA regular season, even if it's an historic meeting between two historically good teams.
The Christmas Day meeting between the Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers was probably even more highly anticipated because of how the 2015 NBA Finals went down and the doubts swirling around the Bay Area's first NBA championship in four decades. And this past week we learned the even bigger significance of that holiday game and its aftermath.
How the Warriors helped get David Blatt fired
You may remember that the Cavs were really amped up about the opportunity to rematch the Warriors on Christmas Day. Then they lost and it was the Warriors who were not at full strength as Harrison Barnes wasn't able to play and Luke Walton was doing the coaching. And after all that time spent talking about how they could beat the Warriors at full strength, the Cavs lost.
And then some stuff hit a machine with rotating blades.
There have been a ton of stories reconstructing what happened at that time, but I don't think anyone did a better job than the Akron Beacon Journal's Jason Lloyd, a beat writer who gave an account of the mood of the Cavs locker room in the aftermath of the Christmas Day game with a particular focus on their blowout loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on the day after Christmas.
The entire 48 points he made about the Cavs, Blatt's firing, and the ethics of reporting on locker room turmoil is fascinating, but for our purposes we can focus on the Warriors aspect:
The message was clear: It was questionable whether or not Blatt ever had the players’ respect and full attention, but he was very quickly losing them now if it wasn’t already too late. The loss to the Warriors on Christmas Day was the beginning of his ending..."They’re going to fire him, aren’t they?" one observer who knows the Cavs well asked me. My head was spinning. This tension with Blatt was always lurking under the surface since his arrival last season. No one ever warmed to him, but they tolerated him when they were winning. I was having a hard time reconciling how one loss could turn everything so quickly...I also wasn’t sure yet if the players were completely done with Blatt or if this was all just an emotional overreaction to a bad loss at the Warriors. And you can’t get that wrong...so I convinced myself I would write everything I knew if the Cavs lost the following game to the Suns. They won, but barely and they didn’t play particularly well.
Surely, we'll hear more about what went down in Cleveland throughout the season and postseason, but Lloyd's piece is a great starting point for anyone looking to catch up.
Also, I just have to mention that I thoroughly enjoy this headline from Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today after the Warriors blew out the Cavs in Cleveland last Monday: "LeBron urges Cavaliers to stay calm after blowout loss to Warriors".
Who will coach the All-Star teams?
- One pseudo-interesting off-shoot of Blatt being fired in the same week that Warriors coach Steve Kerr returned to the sidelines is that there is now some uncertainty surrounding who exactly should coach the 2016 NBA All-Star teams: David Blatt or Tyronn Lue for the Eastern Conference; Kerr or Walton for the Western Conference.
- With Blatt being fired, Lue would be his replacement should the Cavs remain atop the Eastern Conference. But according to Chris Haynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Lue believes it should be Blatt getting the nod — there would seem to be no chance of that happening, but he's right to point out that Blatt deserves the honor on principle to the extent that it's an honor at all.
- On the other end of things, Rusty Simmons of the S.F. Chronicle (among others) reported that the NBA is considering whether to allow Walton to coach the Western Conference even though it doesn't even recognize his wins. Since Kerr is not allowed to coach the team twice in a row, if Walton is not the choice then it would be Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.
Steve Kerr's successful return
- Ethan Strauss of ESPN had a great story about Kerr's return, which further highlights the way in which the Warriors have assembled a team of seemingly selfless people who are willing to lend credit to others rather than take it for themselves.
- Paul Ladewski of the S.F. Examiner did a good job documenting the relationship between Kerr and his players.
Monday's marquee matchup
The hype over this game is justified pic.twitter.com/NktUkAc0OB— sam esfandiari (@samesfandiari) January 24, 2016
- Kerr's return couldn't have been more timely as the Warriors look to take on the Spurs tonight. This may not be the biggest game of the regular season for the Warriors, but it is something of a measuring stick for a defending champion that is trying to create some distance between themselves and one of sports' great dynasties, as Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group has described.
- Ben Leibowitz of SI did a good job compiling some data visualizations for the Spurs-Warriors matchup with some explanations for those who are not well-versed in NBA analytics.
Tim Duncan out for Spurs-Warriors
The streaking San Antonio Spurs will be without their legendary big man when the team comes to Oracle, this Monday. Coach Gregg Popovich has ruled Duncan out due to knee soreness.
- Jalen Rose and Jeff Van Gundy of ESPN believe neither the Warriors nor Spurs have weaknesses, according to an article from Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News. I guess someone will have to show some weaknesses tonight.
- Prior to the season, there were some concerns about the Spurs' depth. Those no longer exist. Neil Paine of FiveThirtyEight Sports did a great job describing how the Spurs' bench would be a contender if it broke off as its own team. But there's an important caveat there: "San Antonio devotes only 45 percent of its total minutes to reserves (just a shade over the league average of 44 percent). So if its bench were to secede and form a new squad, it would either need to increase its players' minutes per game or find other players to fill the remaining 55 percent of available playing time."
- I loved what Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams said about what it takes to win 72 games and what sets the Spurs apart from everyone else in Diamond Leung's article about the chase for the Chicago Bulls' record last week: "You have to be on. It means that you've played most possessions in a game seriously. That's what we're striving for. Probably the last few weeks, we've gotten away from that. San Antonio has internalized that this year. They have a phenomenal record (36-6). They're in the same boat as we are. Can they continue their winning, maybe they're a 70-win team this year. But it just takes a lot of focus."
There are obviously many other links about today's game and the Warriors' ongoing success generally. So feel free to drop additional links in the comments or make a FanShot or write up a FanPost with a longer commentary.