Four takeaways from Warriors' first-round sweep of Blazers

Four takeaways from Warriors' first-round sweep of Blazers

PORTLAND -- Four games, four quarters to each and the Warriors are on to the next round of the postseason.

Here are four things we learned about these Warriors in the wake of their four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

IT’S A TEAM THING: The Warriors lost All-Star forward Kevin Durant in Game 1, came back and won Game 2. They lost head coach Steve Kerr before Game 3, went out and fashioned one of the biggest comebacks in franchise postseason history. They are constructed in such a way that the collective is strong enough to overcome the loss of one man. They won this series in a walk despite being shorthanded for the last three games and without their head coach for the last two. This team and this staff are bigger than any individual.

JAVALE McGEE MATTERS: By last Sept. 16 the summer was all but gone and every coveted player NBA player had been accounted for. That’s when the Warriors signed McGee with the hope that he could provide some length and athleticism on the block, if only for a few minutes a night -- and, surely, some nights not at all. McGee was the last man to make the team, and here he was dominating a Trail Blazers team that, to be fair, lacked a healthy center. He was special in this series, and what he provides will be needed as the Warriors move forward.

DRAYMOND’S VALUE IS BEYOND MEASURE: There were so many examples during the regular season that illustrated Draymond Green’s significance to the Warriors. He topped them all in this series. He defended, at some point, every member of the Portland team. He rebounded. He made 3-pointers. He blocked 17 shots. The Blazers tried him early but quickly become discouraged at attacking whenever he was on the court. He disrupted their offense in more ways than they could have imagined. As a bonus, he avoided notable run-ins with officials.

SPLASHING NOT NEEDED: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were fabulous in the second half of Game 3 and Curry stood out in Game 4. But by the time the Splash Brothers found their offensive groove, the Warriors were up 2-0 in the series and rallying behind their defense en route to taking Game 3. The battle of the backcourts, logically deemed a critical factor in this series, was a virtual statistical standoff. Curry/Thompson combined for 192 points, while Damian Lillard 111 and CJ McCollum totaled 201. If it’s the numbers are that close, the Warriors will win every series, and probably sweep.


Warriors look like a different team, thanks in part to James Harden

Warriors look like a different team, thanks in part to James Harden

If seeking the source behind the awakening of the Warriors, one must start with James Harden staring them down in the glow of triumph.

They have not lost since being victimized by Harden’s incredible game-winning shot, in overtime, over premier defenders Draymond Green and Klay Thompson, on Jan. 3 at Oracle Arena.

After giving away a game they know they should have won, against a team they like to torture, the Warriors weren’t mad. They were seething. And they were resolute.

This would not happen again. And, yes, we know it’s “only” the regular season.

It would be 12 days before they could redeem themselves against a serious foe, and when that chance arrived Tuesday night in Denver, the Warriors pounced. They jumped on the Nuggets early and did not let up until they had a 142-111 victory that got the full attention of not only the upstart contenders, but also the entire NBA.

Hello, remember us?

“We’re way past making statements,” Stephen Curry told reporters at Pepsi Center. “We understand what type of team we are and what we’re capable of. There’s no doubt in our locker room that if we play the way we did tonight, we’re the best team in the league.”

[RELATED: Draymond says NBA didn't need reminder Dubs are champs]

There was a modicum of debate about that before tipoff. The Nuggets owned the best record in the Western Conference, and the best home record in the NBA. They had beaten the Warriors in October. They have defeated enough quality opponents to qualify as a legitimate postseason threat.

So the Warriors, on alert, attacked from the jump, lighting up the scoreboard with 51 first-quarter points, a franchise record and the highest scoring first quarter in the NBA’s shot-clock era.

[RELATED: Warriors set franchise records in first quarter vs. Nuggets]

“I don’t remember a better first quarter,” coach Steve Kerr said. “That was a fireworks show.”

It got no better for the Nuggets over the next three quarters.

“It was beautiful basketball,” Kerr said. “I liked the way our guys moved the ball, got our shot fakes, playing with purpose, playing with a simple style of execution but aggressive at the same time. Finding that balance is always what we’re looking for and that was as good as it gets.”

The overall numbers were plenty impressive: 60.0 percent shooting from the field, including 53.8 percent from beyond the arc; a franchise-record 10 3-pointers in that scalding first quarter; 38 assists against 10 turnovers; limiting the Nuggets to 39.6 percent shooting in the second and third quarters, essentially burying them.

What was striking, though, was the efficiency of the Warriors. After so many games in which they allowed opponents to come back -- the Rockets, who overcame a 20-point deficit on the Harden dagger, come to mind -- the Warriors were utterly ruthless once ahead.

“They have won multiple world championships for a reason and they sent a message tonight,” Denver coach Michael Malone said. “They came in and kicked our ass. We will learn from it.”

That was the point. Sure, the Warriors had beaten the Kings, Knicks, Bulls and Mavericks, in order, since losing to Harden and the Rockets. The Nuggets were different -- more of a challenge -- and the Warriors responded with that in mind.

Denver got no closer than 12 after the first quarter. The Warriors led by 19 at the half, by 29 after three quarters and hiked it as high as 38 in the fourth.

“Obviously, [we] understand what they’ve been doing all season, top two teams in the west going at it,” Curry said. “It was a good night for us. It’s what we expected to do. It’s not surprising. We have obviously been talking about putting together game-after-game in a row at a high level. It’s been a good stretch and we want to keep it going.”

The Warriors endured four consecutive losses and a winless road trip in November. They were blown off their own floor four times, by four different teams, and were humiliated on national TV on Christmas Day by a Lakers team that they wanted to destroy.

Though those losses cannot be erased, they didn't generate the kind of anger that surfaced when Harden delivered a nasty backhand to the face of the defending champs.

The edge of the Warriors has looked considerably sharper ever since, and that was enough for them to leave the Nuggets in a heap in their own house.

Klay Thompson texts Zaza Pachulia after tallying four dunks vs. Nuggets


Klay Thompson texts Zaza Pachulia after tallying four dunks vs. Nuggets

Detroit Pistons center Zaza Pachulia has been having fun at his former Warrior teammates' expense throughout the season.

On Tuesday night, Klay Thompson returned the favor.

After recording four dunks in the Warriors' win over the Nuggets, Thompson was asked if he's been keeping track of how many dunks both he and Pachulia have converted this season, a reference to their ongoing dunk competition dating back multiple seasons.

"I gotta be winning this year," Thompson responded.

When a reporter informed him the count is currently 11 to one in his favor, Thompson had a good chuckle.

"Ha! Good, I'm going to text him that. Right now, actually."

Text Pachulia he did, right then and there.

"You have one dunk. I have 11 this year. Pay me," Thompson recited his text aloud.

It was the latest clap back in a long line of humorous interactions between the two former teammates, and we'll undoubtedly hear Pachulia's retort before long.

[RELATED: Zaza Pachulia roasts Klay Thompson on Instagram, 'you still my guy']

Chances are he'll be more impressed with the four-dunk performance than Kevin Durant was, who mocked Thompson after the win, saying his dunks "don't look that good ... He's 6-7, he's gotta get higher than that."

Thompson, upon hearing Durant's critique, remained unbothered.

"It's about efficiency. Substance over style, you feel me?"

Guess that rules him out for the dunk contest this year. Darn.