After the Golden State Warriors beat the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of this year’s playoffs, plenty of people were pondering a rivalry between the two most recent Western Conference champions and grappling for perspective.
It was a rivalry that really never was insofar as the two never actually clashed in the playoffs in their prime — rather than a formal passing of the torch, the Spurs just kind of dropped the torch and the Warriors were in the best position to pick it up. And in a league that has developed a taste for a formal passing of the torch after its rise to prominence in the 1980’s and 90’s, that sort of clumsy transition has left many wanting.
I thought this game was pretty good. great defense for 3 quarters. I do find it depressing that it seems we're never going to get the epic warriors/spurs battle we've been anticipating since 2014-15 https://t.co/xRQd6yPA17— shrillmonger (@theshrillest) April 17, 2018
Marcus Thompson II wrote a piece about the Spurs-Warriors rivalry for The Athletic, Jannelle Moore wrote one for us here at GSoM, and Daniel Hardee drafted an interesting analogy comparing the Warriors and Spurs recent history to Mike Tyson and Larry Holmes (pressure him and we’ll publish it). Even last year, Kelly Scaletta of FanRag Sports detailed how “they haven’t developed anything like a meaningful rivalry.” And given that last year’s meeting in the Western Conference Finals was short-circuited by Kawhi Leonard’s injury, these reflections always lead us right back to 2013, a time when the Spurs were nearing their last hurrah and the Warriors were beginning their ascent to power.
So in a way, the Warriors have very much become a beacon of hope for any struggling franchise with young players yet to reach their full potential — if they can do it by just making good draft picks, why can’t...say...the Minnesota Timberwolves?
With that in mind, shortly after the Wolves lost to the Houston Rockets in the 2018 NBA Playoffs, Canis Hoopus manager Eric Madison wrote, “I always imagined that, even for teams that went on to do greater things, the first year out of the wilderness, when things finally turn around from losing to winning, is perhaps the most enjoyable experience for longtime fans.
I think often of the 2012-13 Golden State Warriors, another team that won 47 games and made the playoffs for the first time in years. That team actually beat the third seeded Nuggets in the first round before falling to the Spurs in six games.”
He went on to examine the similarities and differences between the two, but also asked the Golden State of Mind staff to share any additional thoughts. Greg Thomas and I submitted our thoughts that you can read in Eric’s piece, but other members of our staff had thoughts that I’ll share with you all today along with his original question.
What is your recollection of the 2013 season?
Canis Hoopus: As a Warriors fan, what was the 2012-13 season like for you? That was your first year out of the wilderness--47 wins, etc. I always imagined that as something truly enjoyable, but I’d like to know how it felt for you, and the fan base more generally.
Greg: The 2012-2013 season was incredibly fun. Having only touched the playoffs once in over 10 years, it was refreshing to finally see things turn. So much was going on this season. We just had an influx of young talent with Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, and Festus Ezeli coming through the draft. Stephen Curry’s inflection point from talented shooter to NBA superstar just began. Jarrett Jack & Carl Landry were great contributors off the bench.
That first round series felt a bit like the We Believe season back in 2007 as we were the underdogs and sort of the darlings such that were just happy to be there. Curry really had his biggest coming out party on the national stage in that Denver first round series. It was flashes of what we saw in his early years but what the global NBA reach hadn’t yet seen.
I think for me personally, the idea of going from being a lottery team to getting into the playoffs and then actually having an unexpected run by taking a few games in the second round in San Antonio got me to wonder what this team could be capable of in years to come. So many teams get into the playoffs for the first time only to get swept or only notch a single win. So, that whole postseason was exhilarating even if it ended in a second round exit.
Nate: For me, nothing really approximates the cathartic nature of the We Believe run -- 2007 was almost like a sugar high in that there was no way to see it coming prior to the trade for Jackson and Harrington and before we knew it we were in the second round after being out of the playoffs for more than a decade.
The big difference was just sensing that We Believe was going to end and there’d be a distinct possibility that they wouldn’t repeat it; the Warriors confirmed that impulse by trading away Jason Richardson that same offseason and then letting Baron Davis walk a year later.
2013 felt like the beginning of something while having that same rush of the first round upset -- this wasn’t just the “ragtag group” with a chip on their shoulder, but young pieces to a core that you could really see as the foundation of something. I remember being in the arena for the second round in total disbelief that this young team that we had so much hope for in the future had already made it to the second round to play the Spurs. It might sound cheesy, but that felt like the beginning of a journey toward greatness whereas We Believe was just a release of years of frustration.
Duby Dub Dubs: You gotta remember where we were coming from to properly appreciate how intensely our franchise’s trajectory changed that year. Like Nate was saying above, there was a ephemeral sort of feeling to that We Believe team. That didn’t feel as sustainable - in no small part because our cheap old owner cashed out Jason Richardson for a draft pick and broke up the team right away.
If you’re asking about this particular season though, you’re asking about the emergence of Stephen Curry. Everyone knew pretty much right away that we had something special in Steph. In fact, if you’re asking about how the fan base reacted: we had some serious internal battles with old fans clinging to the notion that Monta Ellis was better. It seems comical now, but back then, Curry was still pretty unproven and the two players sort of became lightning rods for the “stats versus eyeball debate.”
Anyways, we finally had shipped Monta out for an injured Bogut, and because of various ankle issues, Curry only appeared in in 26 games in the previous season. We tanked. The Warriors hit three out of four picks in the offseason, and then days before the season started we signed Curry to a what would quickly become the best bargain contract in the NBA.
We had a ton of other young talent (see note on tanking above), Greg already talked about the incoming rookie class of Barnes, Green, and Ezeli - but this was also the first year we had Andrew Bogut. For the first time in my memory, we actually had a functional, deep, well-rounded squad.
Curry went nuts and broke the season record for made threes (which he continues to break annually), along with Klay Thompson of course, and the Splash Brothers were officially born.
It felt like the turning point in our franchise’s fortunes. It was amazing. Still is… and we are still all balanced on the fragile edge of Curry’s ankles, but it’s been one heck of a fun ride.
Apricot: I was pretty mad at the Warriors at the time. I was still annoyed that they traded J Rich right after We Believe, felt like within a few weeks. I was excited that somehow GSW drafted Curry, but pissed that he wasn’t given enough playing time and then about his injuries. I was excited that Cohan sold the team, but where was Larry Ellison and who was this Lacob joker guaranteeing the playoffs? Then when GSW crashed out again, it felt like the same old same old. The only forward hope was that they’d win the coin flip to keep the pick from another awful trade and that new arrival Bogut would recover from nasty injuries. At least it was clearly Steph’s team, post-Monta.
So with that backdrop, 2012-13 was kind of magical but every week I figured it would finally fall apart. It was only when Steph went bananas in the playoffs that I started to believe. Even beating George Karl, you figure it’s just Karl who always does this kind of thing. But they played so well against the Spurs, and if the games were only 45 minutes long, I think GSW wins the series. Or if Steph’s ankle didn’t get hurt. So it felt like the beginning of something. And when Andre came soon after, it felt like it was time to go wild with hope… someday, someday Steph Curry would BE AN ALL-STAR. And someday, GSW would GET BACK TO THE SECOND ROUND AND WIN and scare someone in the WCF!! And then probably management would trade everybody again.
Brady: Since people have done a great job summing up the season’s sentiments, I’m just going to tell a story: during the 2012-13 season, I moved to Los Angeles. It was the first time out of my bubble; to that point I’d spent my entire life living with my parents in a town of 500, or in college in a city of 30,000. For a small town homesick kid, that Warriors season was a strong dose of sentiment and familiarity, and I clung to the team like Linus with his blanket. When the playoffs began, my brain fought my heart, but my heart ultimately won. I convinced myself that the Warriors could really upset the Spurs.
When the inevitable came, my comfort blanket was thrown in the bonfire, and I was far more crushed than I should have been. Feeling lonely and bummed, I decided to go to a bar, by myself. I stepped outside and as soon as I did, it began to pour rain, in a way I didn’t know Los Angeles could. The bar was two blocks away, but by the time I was there, I was truly soaked; and of course, the rain stopped immediately. The bartender handed me a generous pour of whiskey and an enormous stack of paper napkins and said, “wow, it’s like it decided to rain just on you.” So, yeah.
What are your recollections of that 2013 season? Let us know in the comments and check out Canis Hoopus’ comparison between the 2018 Wolves and 2013 Warriors.