The first round series between the Golden State Warriors and San Antonio Spurs went pretty much as I think most of us imagined when we were doing predictions.
The Spurs were overmatched, but fought hard; the Spurs could’ve been swept, but just outworked the Warriors for a game to make it 4-1.
Nevertheless, there were some fun individual wrinkles to this otherwise predictable series that we can track through our Warrior Wonder votes.
Patrick Murray described McGee as an “unexpected Warrior Wonder” in his Warrior Wonder post after Game 1 and that’s probably the best way to describe the experience of watching that game — McGee didn’t just contain LaMarcus Aldridge, but flat out outplayed him.
If there was any reason to believe in a sweep, it was probably McGee’s performance in Game 1 — if Aldridge couldn’t get himself started, it just seemed like the Spurs had little to no hope to compete in the series.
Of course, in the end, that Game 1 performance simply wasn’t sustainable and the Warriors’ long and winding journey towards consistency from the center position end up at ... Kevon Looney?
Kevon Looney led Warriors centers in minutes in round one.— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) April 25, 2018
Zaza Pachulia didn’t play a single the minute.
Who would have guessed back in November?
With Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans looming, it will certainly be interesting to see how this center rotation shakes out.
I don’t want to jump ahead in the narrative of this series too much, but Greg Thomas pretty much summed up Klay Thompson’s series in his analysis of a 31-point Game 2 performance:
When Thompson is on his game, it is a beautiful sight to see...Thompson could not have started the playoffs any better with the string of the last two playoff games. He is riding a hot hand and is doing it with a fairly efficient shot selection. Let’s hope Klay Thompson can keep it going the rest of the playoffs.
Well, he didn’t exactly keep it going for the whole series.
numberFire noted that Thompson was absolutely on fire in his first two games, writing that, “Through his first two playoff games, Klay is a combined 23-for-33 from the field (69.7 percent) and 10-for-14 (71.4 percent) from beyond the arc as the Spurs simply seem incapable of keeping up with the Warriors in this series.” Then after helping to lift the team to a 3-0 lead, he was a total non-factor in Game 4 when the Warriors had an opportunity to sweep the Spurs and secure a few extra days of rest.
Did the up and down series for Thompson really matter in the end? No, they won 4-1, which is pretty good. Have we come to expect this from Thompson to some extent? Yep. But it would be nice to get Steph Curry back to help withstand these poor shooting nights from Thompson? Hell yes.
This was a quintessential Draymond Green performance in that the casual fan might not consider his stat line very impressive, but a closer look at the game beyond the numbers showed his full impact, as Patrick Murray wrote after Game 3.
This was a game made for him, and he didn’t disappoint. Throughout the night he showed off his full versatility.
On one end, he was disrupting passing lanes, blocking shots, cutting off angles before they even appeared. On the other, he was throwing down dunks and making threes.
Patrick laid out a bunch of those little plays that showcase the type of effort that Green brings on a nightly basis to serve as the glue of this Warriors team. Anthony Slater of The Athletic described how Green’s efforts in Game 3 separated this version of the Warriors from what we had seen for most of March.
The spice of the playoff stage has invigorated Green’s dormant defense. His mind is racing, his hands are active, his flailing arms are clogging lanes. So when Parker pulled West and Green out, then floated that assist attempt over the top, it never got there.
Green’s right arm quickly went from directing West backward to steal hunting, sharply pawing the Parker pass, deflecting it into Shaun Livingston’s arms, which sparked a fastbreak the other way, ending in a Green pass back to Livingston for the dunk. Two points one way were suddenly two points the other way, a four-point swing that wasn’t happening in March and early April.
Unfortunately, that just didn’t protect the Warriors from an awful Game 4 performance.
This was my reaction to Game 4:
I mean, I wasn’t mad or anything...but...ain’t nobody got time for that nonsense and I’d rather forget that game happened — there’s just absolutely nothing to learn from a game like that (except that it would be nice to have Steph Curry back).
Nevertheless, we ended up debating Kevin Durant’s iso-heavy performance in the comments of that Warrior Wonder post and Sleepy Freud did a pretty good job of summarizing his value to the Warriors with Steph Curry out of the lineup:
KD’s playoff numbers through four games...
(in 36.3 mpg)
29 pts on .619 true shooting
High-volume, high-efficiency scoring? Check. Crashing the glass? Check. Regularly setting up his teammates? Check. (He could have even more dimes if Dray, Cook and co. could have converted some of the wide open looks he got for them). Turning it over at the same rate he did during the regular season, despite being the primary initiator much more than he’s used to? Check. Guarding 4-5 positions on D? Check.
Most importantly, of course: the Warriors with KD are winning like crazy in the playoffs. They’re now 19-2 against the highest-level competition the league has to offer, and most of the games haven’t been close. In their previous 14 playoff games before KD showed up, they were 7-7.
Yeah, the occasions where KD goes to work in iso without looking for his teammates are annoying and not pretty. But (a) those situations are not actually that common; and (b) they’re much more understandable with Steph on the shelf, leaving Klay as our only other reliable scoring option. It’s also never the case that he’s going “1 on 5.” Almost all his iso plays happen against a single defender. When he’s doubled or trapped he rarely tries to force things and is an extremely willing passer.
I mean, put yourself in the shoes of the other team — or even better, think back to when we used to have to go up against KD. When he rose up from the mid-range or from three, with his arms two feet above the defender, did you think “whew, thank goodness he didn’t move the ball unselfishly to Westbrook or Reggie Jackson or Ibaka” or did you cover your eyes and think “oh god, anyone but him — pleeeeasee miss!!!” I was almost always the latter. YMMV.
I will maintain that Durant is just so good that it simply makes sense for him to call his own number when the rest of the team can’t hit a thing ... and given that he dragged a zombie Warriors team to within two points of an outstanding defense in a desperation playoff game, I think it was actually something of the perfect moment to appreciate what he brings to the floor.
It’s fitting that Green claimed the Warrior Wonder for Game 5 because it seems appropriate to close out a review of this series with him.
But rather than go into the intricacies of his impact again, I’ll just address that comment from TNT commentator and former Warrior Chris Webber (Go Blue!).
Webber made a point to post the entirety of his point on Twittter, but Ben Golliver of SI still labeled the statement “nonsensical” for a valid reason: it’s counterfactual because it’s hard to imagine that any coach in the league would value scoring so highly that they see some other player more worthy of starting for their team. To underscore the point, Golliver went through every single team in the NBA to see which teams would possibly consider Green a non-starter.
Golliver cites New Orleans, the Detroit Pistons, and the Philadelphia Sixers as possible situations in which a coach may have half-reasonable justification to think about having the thought of benching Green thought up, but even then he’d just make them better. (As a side note: Golliver alludes to the fact that people might forget that Green could legitimately play the three for a number of teams...in fact, that might be a more interesting question: how many teams would turn down Green as their starting small forward?)
Ultimately, this is the conclusion Golliver comes to:
Positional versatility and two-way contributions are attributes that have made the Warriors champions, twice over, and some of the most highly-coveted and hardest-to-find skills. Even the worst offenses in the league wouldn’t deploy Green as a go-to scorer; they’d build their game plans around his ferocious defense and surround him with players that can make use of his basketball IQ and distribution skills.
Folks, we are spoiled rotten.
And while we wait for the next series to begin without the stress of worrying about the pressure of the next performance or the struggles of the most recent one, perhaps we should just take some time to appreciate the fact that we have guys like Durant, Green, and Thompson on one team.
As I’ve said before, if you can’t appreciate this, basketball just might not be the sport for you.
Still, it would be nice to have Steph Curry back.
Who was the Warrior Wonder for the first round series against the Spurs?
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