You see, GSoM’s godfather Nate subtly informed us that a Jazz victory would mean the Stephen Curry-less champs avoiding the emotional melodrama that would be playing Russell Westbrook’s jilted Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. You know, supposedly the most dangerous sub 50-win team since the last year of the Baron Davis-era Warriors?
Now, seeing as though the Curry-less Warriors just beat OKC about a week ago in Oklahoma, I doubt the Golden Empire was ever in panic mode about a potential matchup. Even still, those Thunder are rugged and would have been an annoying opponent to strangle out so early in the postseason. Even more so with Curry, the best point guard alive, still 500 meters below the Earth’s surface in cryostasis, healing from his knee injury.
Additionally, we’ve given the Thunder enough heartbreak over the last few years without adding a Kevin Durant-led playoff victory to their Diary of Pain. Missing them in the first round was mutually beneficial, and dare I say, compassionate on the Warriors behalf.
But, enough talking about teams that have no chance making the finals. The regular season is over for the team holding the championship: let’s get to the four burning questions that have arisen.
How good are the Jazz, a potential playoff opponent?
Jazz will play Portland tomorrow for a chance to win the Northwest Divison and be the 3rd seed in the West. That sentence was not one anyone thought would ever be said. INCREDIBLE— David Locke (@Lockedonsports) April 11, 2018
Well, let’s see. They won the season series against the champs 3-1 this year (that damn “3-1”), despite the absence of All-Star Gordon Hayward, who fled the team after they were brutally swept by the Warriors last post-season. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Curry only played in half of the Jazz-Dubs contests this season (1-1 record).
The key behind the Jazz’s success? A formidable defense built around their 7’1, 245 pound behemoth, Rudy Gobert. The Ringer recently nailed an excellent summary of how effective this giant is defensively:
The center’s ungodly reach and lateral quickness allow him to occupy the space of two players—simply by being present with arms outstretched, he almost functions as a one-man zone from the free throw line extended. It changes how the Jazz defend pick-and-rolls. It changes the frequency with which opponents even attempt to enter the lane. And should they enter the lane, it distorts the calculus of a drive: Looking up to Gobert in front of you can plant seeds of doubt in an instant, which is all it takes for the perimeter defenders around the Frenchman to recover and converge.
Behind Gobert’s prison warden-like vigilance, the Jazz are ranked:
- 2nd in points allowed per game (100.1)
- 4th in steals
- 5th in turnovers forced per game
- 7th in opposing field goal percentage.
- 9th in blocks
He is a ferocious competitor and a likely successor to our dynamo Draymond Green as the next defensive player of the year. I witnessed his imposing presence in person last year on “We Believe” night, during Game 1 of the Jazz-Warriors playoff series.
I also witnessed this first hand:
Additionally, we can’t forget about the impact of the rookie Donovan Mitchell. Mitchell is a revelation at the point guard spot for Utah, averaging slightly over 20 points a game in his first year. Last night, he made four of his five attempts from downtown, surpassing Damian Lillard for most threes in a season by a first year player (186 triples). He’s also Dray’s pick for Rookie of the Year (I’m sure Ben Simmons didn’t like that).
Draymond Green says Donovan Mitchell is his pick for Rookie of the Year but you can’t do wrong with Ben Simmons, either. pic.twitter.com/toUSlrzQFC— Eric Woodyard (@E_Woodyard) April 10, 2018
The Jazz certainly have the defense and the star power to make the playoffs uncomfortable for anybody. Then again... they had that last year and got torture racked by the Golden Empire. We’ll examine this matchup again if these two teams meet again in the upcoming weeks; they could very well be a tougher out than last playoffs.
Or not. We know how these Warriors just have a peculiar habit of bombing opposing cities with brooms. Curry should be back in the second round. Oh, I can’t wait.
How bad was this Warriors regular season?
Well, when you lose 24 games in two years, as the Warriors did from 2015-2016 (73-9) and 2016-2017 (67-15), it’s tough on Dub Nation’s new, privileged psyche to lose all those games in ONE YEAR. Yet here we stand at 58-24, the #2 seed in the West and #3 overall behind the Houston Rockets and the Toronto Raptors.
You can ask: How did the Warriors give away the best record in the league (which they’ve had every year under coach Steve Kerr until now)? How could they forfeit home court advantage throughout the playoffs and the satisfaction of kicking ass every night? What’s up with their energy level?
Or, you can look at a team on the precipice of going to their historically preposterous fourth straight Finals, and wonder this: how the hell did the Warriors get the third best record in the league after two championships in three years has damn near killed their motivation to dominate in the relatively inconsequential plod of the 82 game regular season?
I’m reminded of a prescient article back in November from a Bay Area sports journalist I grew up on, Carl Steward, that would foreshadow this long season:
Alas, the Warriors have had too many tilts – for them, anyway — with too many turnovers, too many defensive lapses, too many silly fouls, and just generally, too many mental hiccups.
As much as critics demand that those trends change, they might not for awhile, and it’ll be tough to get too haughty and harsh about it. We’re all fighting complacency and looking reasons to be motivated by this Warriors regular season — players, coaches, fans, even the media. They’ve done it all, you’ve seen it all, we’ve written it all. Crafting a stimulating encore has become a very daunting chore.
So what’s the goal, and where’s the motivation? Are we supposed to be pulling our hair out that the Warriors are only on pace for 58 wins at this point? No. Only two things matter: 1) Getting to the playoffs with the core of stars – Durant, Green, Curry and Thompson, plus Andre Iguodala – healthy and adequately rested, and 2) keeping the remainder of the bench as happy and focused as possible with such a large, versatile cast of contributors.
Curry’s MCL injury and his Round 2 return are the only hiccup in Steward’s checklist. The grizzled writer was absolutely correct in his early summation of the Warriors nonchalance toward the regular season. Hell, Coach Kerr let the players coach themselves in a game against the Phoenix Suns, the franchise Kerr once was the general manager for. His response to criticism for letting his team go coach-less: “I don’t care”.
Dieter Kurtenbach of the Mercury News commented on the indifference in January:
Some might tell you that the Warriors will regret not caring — that this will come back to bite them later on in the season or in the postseason — and while no one can predict the future, I feel comfortable in saying that’s simply not true. The Warriors don’t care because they don’t have to care — they know, deep down, that they can turn it on for a few minutes and win. And what evidence is there to the contrary?
The playoffs will be the evidence that ultimately allows us to render judgment on the “I Don’t Care” regular season the Dubs submitted. Still, it’s been relatively difficult for Dub Nation to swallow 24 losses in one year. I get it though, believe me. It’s the equivalent of switching from “Cap’n Crunch” to the bagged cereal version, “Admiral Yum Yum”. Sure, it’s cereal, but it’s not quite the level of quality you’re used to. #firstworldproblems
But hey, what do I know? I’m just a guy with a high-speed internet connection and an inordinate amount of time on his hands. Please allow me to defer to Klay Thompson, champion, All-Star, and the Olympian Sniper, for his take on 58 wins.
“We need to put things into perspective. When I was a rookie, we only won 23 games. And now some people say winning 58 is kind of a down year. That’s incredible.” -Thompson, on Golden State finishing 58-24 in the regular season.
Can the Warriors get bounced in the first round?
Yes, they “can”. That outcome is certainly in the realm of possibilities. They are vulnerable without Curry, as everyone on TV is doing their damndest to remind us.
Yet...I mean, as a veritable basketball historian, I think about how we judge the NBA greats. A guy like Tracy McGrady, for example, was maligned for many years for not being good enough to lead a team out of the first round of the playoffs. “T-Mac” had teams that ran the gamut from “how did they make the playoffs?” to “Yao Ming might be the best center in the game, y’all!”, and still couldn’t make it out.
Do you think Durant is on that T-Mac level of having excellent stats but not being capable of willing a team through the first round? THIS team?
The former NBA MVP Durant, flanked by two current All-Stars, one of which is the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, can’t get out of the first round without Curry? If that’s the case, then I have a two-fold response.
1.) The Warriors don’t deserve to be in the playoffs if they can’t win a first round matchup with three likely Hall-of-Famers in their prime, a deep bench, home-court advantage and a former Coach of the Year. No other team in the league has three current All-Stars!
2.) Curry must be the most important player in the league if his absence from a team that is more stacked than Lego Land changes their fortunes from “probable champion” to “defeated in first round”. I never thought that Curry would finally get his full respect in his absence, yet here we stand.
Also, what an indictment on Durant, that so many think we are vulnerable with him as the top dog in Curry’s stead. We can fairly assume that KD is well aware of the whispers against him as a leader, and will look to dominate the first round, irregardless of who we play.
Can the Warriors flip the switch?
The most relevant postgame quote from Draymond Green, summing up the pessimistic and optimistic view of struggling Warriors entering playoffs: "There should always be a question in your mind if that switch is going to flip...Nonetheless, if anyone's capable of it, we are." pic.twitter.com/FOT6MPVnN1— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 11, 2018
Doubt the champs if you dare...