Even if you didn’t see this divine season coming, there’s never been any denying that the Golden State Warriors have a championship core. There were questions, to be sure: how much does Draymond Green really have left? Can Steph Curry repeat his MVP-caliber performance from a year ago? What will Klay Thompson look like after two and a half years on the sidelines?
But the core had championship DNA; has, to be much more accurate.
And when you remove that championship core, it shouldn’t be shocking when certain walls fall down with it.
I wasn’t thinking about that during the Warriors 101-96 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday. Instead, I was just frustrated. I watched in annoyance as they shot 21.2% on threes, committed 24 fouls, and registered a mere 22 assists. To be fair, I was frustrated for reasons far exceeding Golden State’s performance, so perhaps this isn’t an apt way to have felt watching the game. But it’s what I felt.
But I got to thinking about the championship core in the aftermath of the game, when I was writing my article grading the players.
I was somewhat shocked, while still marinating in my own frustration, at how many players I was giving a decent grade to ... a good grade, even! How could this team, that had just frustrated me so dearly and deeply for two and a half hours, have had so few bad performances?
The answer is obvious. I don’t need to tell you, even though I’ll be lame and tell you anyway: there was no Curry; there was no Green; there was no Thompson.
Gary Payton II, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, Otto Porter Jr., and Kevon Looney have all been integral parts of the Warriors success this year. Remove any of them, and the Dubs have fewer than 29 wins. In the case of some of those players, much fewer.
So I say this with no disrespect towards them: that starting lineup is one that is on par with — or, more realistically, outmatched by — a Zion Williamson-less Pelicans squad. Were those five to trot out in a jersey that you don’t root for, you’d think them an adversary on equal footing with New Orleans. You’d think nothing of it.
I’m not breaking any news here. I just find that, when a team is playing well, we expect them to keep playing well, even in the absence of the things that made them play well in the first place. Klay hasn’t been a part of the team playing well this year, but he has been a part of why it’s been so easy to accept the good play as real. And Dray and Steph ... well, they speak for themselves (although let’s be honest: Dray speaks for both of them).
The aforementioned players that did play — and the bench, which had a strong game — will be a massive part of the team’s 2022 story, and help them reach whatever heights they ascend to.
But Green will likely be back Sunday. Curry will likely be back Sunday. And most exciting of all, Thompson might be back Sunday.
The Dubs didn’t have their championship core on Thursday. They didn’t even have their playoff core. It’s OK to lose.
Brighter days are ahead.