Warriors happy to be back in NBA Finals, but not ready to celebrate yet

Warriors happy to be back in NBA Finals, but not ready to celebrate yet

SAN ANTONIO — There wasn’t much of a celebration. No crackling streams of cacophonous noise from the locker room, no dancing, no singing that could be heard through the walls of the visiting team’s locker room at AT&T Center.

There were but two visible signs of achievement. They were presented with a trophy for winning the Western Conference Finals, and they wore black caps signifying their presence in the upcoming 2017 NBA Finals.

Aside from that, the Warriors, invincible over the past five weeks, were as outwardly sober as a pair of penny loafers.

“Don't get me wrong: we appreciate this opportunity,” Stephen Curry said after sweeping the Spurs with a 129-115 victory in Game 4 Monday night. “Playing in this league, you can't take anything for granted. Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it.

“We might not be jumping up and down and screaming at the top of our lungs and doing all that nonsense, but we need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in The Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

That’s what three consecutive trips to The Finals, following three fabulous regular seasons have done to the franchise that, not so long ago, the NBA barely recognized. From perennial lottery picks, and generally failing once there, to the pinnacle of the game with regularity.

The Warriors have advanced from hoping to make the playoffs to earning three straight trips to The Finals for the first time in franchise history to a mental state where anything less than a championship is bitter disappointment.

And they have been so magnificent through the first three quarters of these playoffs. The Warriors are the first team to open the postseason with three consecutive four-game sweeps and the first to post a 12-0 record at any point of the postseason.

“(Being) 12-0 is great,” Curry said, “but it doesn't mean anything going into the next series, and we have to understand that.”

The next series, The Finals, represents a major part of the equation for the Warriors. Getting back is one thing, getting back to face Cleveland would be quite another. Getting back to face Cleveland, and winning, would be nirvana.

“It's good that we're here now,” Kevin Durant said. “Obviously, we want to take that to the next series and try to be great and see what happens. But like Steph said, 12-0 really doesn't matter going into the next series. We know it's going to be a battle.”

The Warriors will take two days, Tuesday and Wednesday, away from the game to savor the most impressive start to a postseason the league has ever seen. The Finals don’t start until June 1.

That’s nine days away, so they have enough time for two haircuts, four picnics and dozen massages. A belated champagne celebration, if they desire.

But the feeling is they don’t. That they want to save such a lavish ceremony for the victory that leads to the parade and the rings. Postseason sweeps are a wondrous thing, but utterly insignificant if they don’t lead to the top.

“Like I said before, it's about winning the championship, and we're four games away from that,” Draymond Green said. “Now, if that's 4-0, great? If it's 4-3, great. It doesn't matter how you get those four wins as long as you get them, and that's our goal.”

On this night, the goal was to vanquish the Spurs, to send them home without a single victory. Done. The Warriors scored 498 points during the series, tying the 1978 76ers for the most points a team has scored in a four-game series. Curry reset his record for most 3-pointers in a four-game series with 21.

“Well, obviously it's something you're going to appreciate,” Green said of the accomplishments thus far. “You try not to take it for granted because it just doesn't happen every year where you're headed to the NBA Finals. So you appreciate it.

“But you can definitely sense a little different type of feeling where it's great and everybody's excited about it. But you just see a difference and it's still kind of a business-as-usual, we're-not-finished type of attitude, which is great.”

The Warriors are on top of the basketball world, if only for the moment. And it’s the for the moment part that they seem to fully grasp. And, for them, this is not the moment for celebration.


With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship


With Rockets healthy and dominant, this will no doubt be Warriors' hardest championship

This has been a trying season for the Golden State Warriors – I mean, trying being a relative term here – but especially for those Warriors who were here in 2014-15 and watching the Houston Rockets have that very season.
Fortunately for them, they are channeling most of their energies in escaping the injury list, but the fact remains the same. Houston is playing better, may well BE better, and is showing no signs of slowing to enjoy the view in the rear-view mirror.
This isn’t just the way they beat Portland in Portland Tuesday night, but they way they have gone 30-3 – which is 29 more versions of the way they beat Portland Tuesday. They are not a direct comp with that Warriors team except at the macro level, which is that they are the ones whose players know how they fit with each other, and they are the ones who have one more effective player than everyone else.
And they’re the ones fielding the full team when everyone else is dented and belching blue smoke.
The Warriors won their two championships for many reasons, but one that bears repeating is the fact they finished fourth from the bottom in man-games lost to injury – in other words, they were healthy when all those around them are not.
Now they look like tired and creaky and spare-part-y, and as much as people have tried to hitch their wagons to the secret stopgap of the week – this week’s winner, Quinn Cook – they are getting karma’d the hard way this year. The player who has played the most games is Nick Young, who was hailed as an excellent 10th man when he was signed, and their top four players (Harrison Barnes being the pre-Kevin Durant) have gone from missing 10 games in 2015 to 21 to 33 to 46.
This may seem normal given that this has been a worse year for injuries in the NBA than last year, but timing matters too. James Harden’s last missed game was March 11 (before that January 15), Chris Paul’s was December 28, and Clint Capela has missed one game since December 29. Houston’s run began on January 8.
Coincidence? No. The reason Houston is better? Also no. There are plenty of other metrics that show that pretty clearly, including those pesky standings. The best team has the best record, as it did in the last three seasons (exempting, of course, that troublesome June in 2016), so live with it. 
Can this change? Yes. It’s March 21, and lots of things can happen to any team, most of them bad. But the difference is this – Houston needs as few of those things to happen as possible, and the Warriors need several of them. That hasn’t been true before. One-seeds have won eight of the last 10 titles for a reason, and the Warriors have been inspirational frontrunners.
But now they have to punch uphill, and they can’t even start punching until their injury list shortens to a manageable – oh, let’s say five; don’t want to peak too soon.
And then let’s see how long it takes for them to get up to speed, both physically and as a unit. It is not inconceivable that they could run out of time before they run out of problems.
The point is, Houston is showing just how hard this is going to be for the Warriors, and if Golden State does win anyway, it will be their best championship because it will be the hardest. Not their most fun, mind you, but legacies are built on degree of difficulty.
Anyway, they no longer have a choice. They’re coming off the pace, or they’re not arriving at all.

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

Four things we learned while Steph Curry dealt with fourth ankle injury

UPDATE (2:40pm PT on Tuessday): Steph Curry has been cleared for full team practices with the goal of playing this week, the Warriors announced.


The Warriors’ usual late-spring sprint toward the postseason, already slowed to a limp, deteriorated into a forlorn crawl Monday night in San Antonio as they were losing for the fourth time in six games.

Draymond Green, the only “healthy” member of the team’s All-Star quartet, left the game in the second quarter with a pelvic contusion and did not return.

Though Green said after this 89-75 loss to the Spurs that he doesn’t consider this a serious injury, it’s abundantly clear reinforcements can’t arrive soon enough.

Stephen Curry, a profoundly superior reinforcement, may return as soon as Friday.

Curry’s tender right ankle is scheduled to be reevaluated Tuesday, after which the Warriors will establish a timeline for his return. He could, according to team and league sources, be back in the lineup Friday night when the Atlanta Hawks visit Oracle Arena.

That would provide a massive injection of talent for the Warriors, who lost of three games during a four-day stretch in which they were forced to rely heavily on reserves and role players.

“We’re already shorthanded and then we lose another All-Star, the glue to our team, Draymond, at halftime,” said Quinn Cook, who in scoring 73 points over the past three games did an admirable job of trying of producing Curry-like numbers.

As good as Cook was on Monday, scoring 20 points, it’s a bit much to ask Cook to lead the Warriors past a San Antonio team fighting to extend its 20-year streak of consecutive playoff appearances.

The Warriors are built around their four All-Stars -- Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, Curry and Green. They usually can withstand the loss of one, and they can often are OK missing two. But when it’s three, and possibly four, the defending champs are a home without a foundation.

As the Warriors were losing four of six games, and two of the last three, we have learned four things:

1) Cook is an NBA keeper.

The point guard from Duke, who turns 25 on Friday, has proved not only that he belongs in the league but also that he can survive in the rotation of a championship contender. He’s considerably more effective than Pat McCaw. Even if everybody were healthy, it would be hard, maybe foolish, to deny Cook minutes.

2) Kevon Looney continues to smooth the rough edges of his game.

The Warriors opened the season uncertain what they could expect from a forward that has undergone surgery on both hips. Month after month, though, he has done most everything they could have asked. He operates well in their switching defense, is effective in traffic and now he’s blocking shots and raining jumpers. At this rate, the Warriors would be delighted to have him back next season.

3) David West and Jordan Bell are in search of rhythm.

West was reliably excellent, at both ends, prior to missing five games with a cyst on his right arm. Since returning last Friday, there have been visible signs of rust. He’ll be OK in time, but at 37 likely needs another game or two to rediscover his touch.

Bell missed 14 games with a left ankle sprain, returned briefly, sustained a sprain of his right ankle and missed three more games. In the three games since his return, he has yet to look comfortable. It’s not just rust; it’s also the team around him. He’s at his best when supporting the stars. It may take him a while before he shines again.

4) Postseason minutes may be scarce for Nick Young

The Warriors hired Young to score while not embarrassing himself on defense and he has had good moments on both ends. But his inconsistency -- partly attributed to unspectacular conditioning -- grates on coaches and sometimes teammates. As much as he wants to enjoy the postseason, he’s playing his way toward an insignificant role unless injuries dictate otherwise.