And so ends another episode of Warriors Angst. With a fresh boatload of torture to remind the audience that there is more to come in the next exciting installment.
While there may be some local consternation over Dwyane Wade describing the Philadelphia 76ers as “the future of the NBA,” its present reminded itself and its various nations just how easy it is to retain its hold on the driver’s seat. By first smothering and then desperately repelling the San Antonio Spurs, 99-91, to finish this Western Conference quarterfinal series, the Golden States demonstrated that a devotion to defense solves all other issues, including offense, boredom, weariness, neuritis, neuralgia and excessive stress caused by trumped-up worry.
In other words, they did what needed to be done, albeit disjointedly, thus setting up a second-round match with the New Orleans Pelicans that will be more difficult, more intriguing, and with this level of defensive intent, perhaps more decisively.
That’s how the Warriors work, after all. When they engage defensively, their offense raises itself (at least, when they’re not shooting 18.5 percent from three), their energy regenerates, and people don’t wonder if they lack focus.
Plus, the Spurs shot miserably themselves, couldn’t run their offense coherently on either side of the arc, were desperately outmatched until their desperate fourth quarter charge that cut a 16-point lead to two before expiring breathlessly. In short, they finally ran out of ways to cheat the inevitable.
But this wasn’t about San Antonio, except maybe to San Antonio, Theirs was a lost season and a doomed series from the moment Kawhi Leonard left the lineup for good, and the death of Erin Popovich, Gregg’s wife, reduced the players and coaches to fumes. It was not, in the end, a terribly fair fight, though they get full credit and glory for refusing to bend the knee until the last possible moment.
But for Golden State, the exemplaries were less in the box score and more in the sweat equity. They opened the game with a conviction never evidenced in Game 4, and certainly not to this extent in Games 1, 2 or 3, never allowing San Antonio to create a rhythm until the Warriors’ offense found theirs – albeit a rhythm developed inside the arc (32-of-56, 57 percent) rather than outside it. In addition they committed only 10 turnovers, their fifth fewest all year, and Klay Thompson’s shooting (24 points on 22 shots), Draymond Green’s rebounding (five offensive, 14 defensive) and just enough help from everyone else made a game that was too close for comfort still exactly the way they will need over the next two weeks.
So it is now the Pelicans who obstruct their view, a bizarre choice in a bizarre year in which the Western Conference was so narrowly settled that it had more six-seeds than playoff berths.
The Warriors are still not completely convincing as the Season Of Being Less Warrior-y continues. But just as New Orleans rises into view, so does Stephen Curry, and the dreams of a team that isn’t ready to watch someone else be the future by ceding the present remain sufficiently buoyant.
In other words, the Warriors avoided an embarrassing defeat by remembering that there is strength in stinginess, and will have to show that very virtue again and again, even after Curry returns. We said four months ago this would be the hardest title to win, and they’ve already bled to get a quarter of the way there.