Golden State Warriors fans have not been incredibly happy with the performance of the team this year.
Relations admittedly got off to rocky start when the Dubs opened the season with a 26-point loss at the hands of Kevin Durant’s Brooklyn Nets, then followed it up three days later with a 39-point defeat on Christmas. They looked awful.
Steve Kerr was open all year that the Warriors would seek to balance the fine line of developing players — mainly James Wiseman — and winning games. It was not the most graceful of balancing acts, to put it lightly.
The Dubs alternated between frustrating losses and encouraging wins, never getting too high or too low. They looked like they were thinking of putting things together when they reached 19-15, only to promptly lose four straight and return to .500. Then they began to sink a little, and at 24-28 looked destined to finish the season with a losing record.
They were the picture of mediocrity.
And then things started to click, for a variety of reasons. Wiseman and Eric Paschall were injured, forcing Kerr to abandon development and focus solely on wins. In that process, Jordan Poole and Juan Toscano-Anderson emerged. Steph Curry went into beast mode, and his teammates bought into the system that helped allow him to do so. The schedule lightened up. The wins piled up and as they did, Draymond Green’s intensity and focus skyrocketed.
The Dubs ended the season with 15 wins in their last 20 games. Prior to those final 20 games, they were 22nd in net rating, per Cleaning The Glass, with the league’s No. 23 offense and No. 10 defense. In the final 20 games they were 2nd in net rating (behind only the Utah Jazz), with the No. 8 offense and No. 2 defense.
A run of 20 great games is not enough to fully wipe the poor taste out of the mouths of Warriors fans. But it’s enough to put them in position to do so.
Now they take on the defending champs. The Warriors may deserve to be in the play-in game, but the Los Angeles Lakers do not. They’re there solely because their two MVP-caliber players, LeBron James and Anthony Davis, combined to miss 68 games this season.
If the Warriors win tonight, in a road playoff game against a team with legitimate title aspirations, the bad taste will be erased. The fans can smile about the season, even if it was a rocky and circuitous path to get to that place of joy.
Ever since Klay Thompson tore his Achilles, the 2020-21 season has been about one thing: become a good enough team that adding Thompson in 2021-22 makes you a title contender. For the vast majority of the season, they looked nothing like that.
Now there’s reason for optimism. Back to back wins against the Jazz and Phoenix Suns — the two best teams in the league, by record — in the final week of the season were the opening act. Finishing the year on a six-game winning streak was the middle act.
Beating the two-headed monster that is the Lakers, on their home court, while the “2020 NBA Champions” banner flies overhead, with a spot in the playoffs on the line?
That’s a compelling third act.
And whatever you felt about the Warriors and Kerr in February will be a very distant memory.