In order to accurately follow the current iteration of the world champion Golden State Warriors, one must stay diligent in maintaining a big picture perspective. What’s your context for judging Warriors basketball? Were you comparing this past regular season to their 73 win experience and grew dismayed? Did you grow anxious after comparing their difficult 2018 championship run to their 2017, 16-1 postseason romp?
Did you stop believing?
After GSoM friend gabeszw confessed in an endearing Fan Post that they did, in fact give up hope before the playoffs started, I began reflecting on the disgruntled, fearful discussions here at GSoM during the “hard times” of this season.
And by hard times, I mean we only had the #2 seed in the West.
There was much murmuring and complaining. At the time, I spoke true words of faith and hope, yet certain detractors responded by taking time out of their days to besmirch my words of prophecy.
Now that the dust has settled, and the Warriors are back-to-back champs, I feel that reflecting on those preposterous hot takes from the non-believers may serve as an educational tool for the rest of us moving forward.
“There is no switch”
The first time I can remember head coach Steve Kerr talking about the “switch“ came last November, when the Warriors overcame a 22 point halftime deficit to win 124-116 on the road against the upstart Philadelphia 76ers. The Warriors had gone down early against a Sixers team that was playing like it was Game 7 in front of it’s boisterous home crowd.
The Warriors took the young team’s best punch early, and seemed to grin in surprised appreciation before ripping the head off of the Rocky Balboa statue and bludgeoning Philly with it. The champs viciously assaulted the Sixers 47-15 in one of their vaunted third quarter runs, breaking their wills in gold-blooded fashion. After this game, Coach Kerr made his “flip the switch” reference.
Steve Kerr asked about his team's tendency to rely on flipping the switch: "That switch is pretty powerful. I'm alright with the switch."— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 20, 2017
As the Warriors literally limped into the 2018 postseason, everyone was talking about whether or not they could flip that switch. I embarked on a personal investigation of the concept of the mysterious switch. Had other NBA dynasties wielded a switch of their own?
The answer was: absolutely.
For example, the last team to win back-to-back championships was LeBron James and Dwyane Wade’s Miami Heat, arguably known as the most hated team in NBA history. Here’s the brilliant Zach Lowe back in 2014 discussing that team in it’s final run, after both Father Time and a desperate league began to catch up:
This is, in other words, a “flip the switch” team...History says we should shrug off any regular-season struggles as a blip on the radar for a team waiting on May.
The Heat are mum about Wade’s knee issues, but the unpredictable nature of his availability is troubling. Wade even took to Twitter this week to assure fans that he’s trying everything to get, and stay, healthy.
Yes, the Heat have proved in elimination games that they can summon the requisite effort. But they’ve been on the precipice several times, and no team, no matter how confident in its switch-flipping, wants to take things all the way to the last minute. It’s a dangerous game.
The 2001 Lakers finished 15-1 in the playoffs (still a record), with Shaq and Kobe combining to average an astonishing 59.9 points in those 16 games.
But their three-peat bid began to look shaky after O’Neal showed up for the season out of shape and Bryant started battling behind the scenes with his teammates and coach Phil Jackson. It didn’t help when Sacramento won 61 games and clinched home-court advantage through the playoffs.
We knew that Lakers team had an on-off switch. Could they turn it on in time?
I paid special attention to the Lakers struggling the season after going 15-1 in the postseason, as the Warriors had just gone 16-1 in the playoffs. Now, I had a list of parallels to frame the Warriors “struggles” (I still can’t believe people so intently criticized a 58 win team chasing it’s third title in four years). While many were pointing to the Warriors’ injuries and 7-10 record down the stretch of the regular season as a “crisis”, my research told me differently.
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
These are four factors I gleaned between those old Heat and Lakers teams that make defending the title so difficult:
- Lack of excitement for the regular season leads to losing home court advantage
- Injuries/Age related decline
- Eroding chemistry with success, also known as “The Disease of More”
- The league studying the champ’s success and adapting
What I began to realize is winning multiple championships in succession is rare because it requires near perfect conditions. Thankfully, the Warriors are a near perfect team. They have the depth to overcome injuries, the kinetic advantage of the longevity of youth, the bond of brotherly love, and the veteran experience/coaching to adapt to any circumstance mentally.
The Warriors are better equipped to deal with the sandtraps of dynastic success more than any other team in modern history. I realized that many of the pundits who said the Warriors had hit their ceiling last regular season could not have imagined what we all know to be true now.
The Warriors ARE the ceiling for the league.
But what about the switch? For those early 2000’s Lakers, it was Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant putting their petty differences aside to dominate. For the mid 2010’s Heat, it was their small-ball lineups asphyxiating defenses while allowing them to space the floor on the other end.
For the Warriors’ 2018 title run, their switch turned out to be their inconsistent regular season defense suddenly jolting awake like a napping mother hearing a loud crashing noise from her toddler’s room and rushing to the rescue. The Warriors went from their 11th ranked regular season defense to the number one ranked defense of the entire playoffs.
Once the defense cranked up, the team’s already potent offense had more opportunities in transition, and their opponents were destroyed.
Switch = verified.
Wow, I really dug deep into that first myth. I’ll make these next ones short and sweet.
“The Warriors need homecourt advantage”
Let the record show that the Warriors beat the #1 seeded Houston Rockets in both Game 1 and Game 7, on their court, in the Western Conference Finals. In the first and second rounds, they stole a game on the road. In the Finals, they closed the championship round out by winning two games in “The Land”.
Much like James Harden on his double step back move, it is clear that the Warriors winning ways travel.
“The Warriors don’t have depth”
The champs suffered multiple missed games by two of their “Hamptons 5/Death Lineup” members, Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala, yet every series ended in five games or less, save for the Houston series going seven.
Didn’t you notice the opposing coaches having to shorten their rotations up, while the Dubs kept deploying “Strength In Numbers”? The Rockets were grinding six or seven man rotations into the dirt, a major part of the reason they fell apart toward the end of the conference finals. LeBron James was afraid to even take a break for a few minutes, lest the Cavs get blown out even more.
The Warriors had no problem throwing out Nick Young as either a starter or in spot minutes, with his presence providing necessary floor spacing even if his shot wasn’t landing. Quinn Cook averaged around 16 minutes per game in the first two rounds, as the Warriors needed guard minutes in Curry’s absence. While those guys didn’t necessarily light up the scoreboard, their competent minutes ensured the Warriors could give their All-Stars a breather.
Shaun Livingston had an effective field goal percentage of 53% throughout the playoffs. In the Finals, his field goal percentage was 86%!
Additionally, I LOVED how the Dubs’ stellar big man rotation competed on pick-and-roll switches, and kept the other team’s defense honest with scoring around the rim.
Kevon Looney and Jordan Bell were succesfully baptized into playoff basketball by battling James Harden and Chris Paul’s dribbling wizardy in the Rockets series.
Although the Warriors will certainly look for wing depth this offseason, those are problems for another title run. This year’s depth more than held it’s own during the postseason.
“Steph Curry won’t be healthy in time for the playoffs, plus he’s a defensive liability”
Curry had an injury riddled season, and as the Warriors sputtered to end the regular season, folks assumed we were in grave danger.
At the time, the Warriors prognosticated Curry to return sometime in the second round. Effectively, as long as he would be there before the Rockets clash, the Warriors were in good shape. They would just have to survive a first round matchup with one of the hungry West foes. They were fortunate to draw the Kawhi Leonard-less San Antonio Spurs, and cruised until Curry’s return. That doesn’t mean the Warriors would have lost to the other first round matchups; that just means it was the most preferable draw.
Unless you were Earl Watson, and thought the Spurs were gonna upset the Golden Empire.
ANYWAYS...“Unanimous” averaged 25 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists in the postseason after returning in round 2, coming off of a Grade 2 MCL sprain. Oh yeah, he also broke Ray Allen’s record for most threes in a Finals game.
Was that healthy enough for ya?
Now, for that that “bad defensive player” tag Curry carried. It seemed to fall off after he held his own in iso matchups against Harden, Paul, and LeBron James. Time and time again, we saw the other teams wasting precious seconds of shot-clock. trying to get isolated on Curry. Then, once they had the matchup they wanted, Curry buckled down and consistently made them work for everything. You know, LIKE ANY OTHER COMPETENT DEFENDER WOULD.
“This is the Rockets year because the Warriors aren’t hungry enough”
After Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors led 2-1, with one of those victories in Houston, and the other a 41 point blowout in Oakland. As Steve Kerr and Draymond Green said, the Warriors thought it would be over in five games, because Houston had “no answer for the Hamptons 5 lineup.” At the time, I wrote a humorous journal entry of my quixotic “Warriors in 4” prediction failing. But for the record, the Warriors themselves were thinking, “Dubs in 5”. That’s pretty arrogant, folks!
In a sad twist of fate, Andre Iguodala went down with a knee injury from Harden’s flopping that would force him to be sidelined until midway through the Finals.
The Rockets stole two fourth quarters from the Warriors to go up 3-2...and then Chris Paul’s hamstring finally blew out from the stress of playing professional basketball that late in the season. He’s not used to it, you know?
Houston, sans CP3, blew double digit leads in Games 6 and 7, and the Warriors won the series. Allow me to quote J.A. Sherman from the Thunder’s blog, “Welcome To Loud City” for summing up that development in a way many NBA fans predicted:
The thing is, I don’t even take any pride or satisfaction in watching Houston falter in the exact progression we predicted — a CP injury and then Harden evaporating before our eyes (you might even say Thunder fans knew it in 2012). The hardest thing to do in the NBA is to figure out how to 1) identify the weakness(es) that can kill you, and then 2) do something about it. The Warriors did it by acquiring Durant so that, when Curry gets banged up, they have a plan B. Houston almost figured it out with CP, but then learned that their plan B needs a plan B if they’re going to run it back next year.
In summation: the Warriors depth, resiliency, and star power > Houston’s hunger. The champs fed those hungry Rockets a salty “L” for Game 7.
Now, nothing gets the blog-o-sphere riled up like informing them, “Your hasty prediction of the Warriors downfall differs grossly from their successful reality”.
It’s just that, when I look at shirtless Jordan Bell running through the streets of Oakland, searching for Hennessy, or chuckle as a cigar chewing Nick Young saunters through a parade route wearing a robe...I just can’t give a damn about how the Warriors “COULDA/WOULDA/SHOULDA” lost.
As I learned in the aftermath of the tragic 2016 Finals, you either got the job done or you didn’t. No excuses are tolerated. That’s what they told us when we tried to explain we lost mainly because of the Draymond Green suspension, and the multiple injuries to our roster, right?
Even though they had games 6 and 7 WITH draymond . Game 7 on their home court. That's what the Warriors do... give lame ass excuses of why a team for the first time in history came back from a 3-1 deficit to win the 2016 Finals. #AyeshaGonnaSayItsFake#SoReal#Cavs2016 https://t.co/M24ORj1vyG— BG Dark 33 (@BuckeyesGirl33) May 25, 2018
In conclusion: I hope these golden musings serve as a comfort to those who were anxious. I pray that next season, you will remember the greatness of the team you root for, despite the noise emanating from the unbelievers.
I also want to extend a grateful hand toward those who kept the faith: thank you for staying the course and spreading belief in the face of relatively daunting odds.
And for those who think we’re too arrogant, too irrationally confident, and too gold-blooded?
Now... where the hell did I put that bottle of Hennessy?