Monday, February 1, 2016

The Warriors Remake A Beloved Childhood Movie.

About four minutes into the first quarter of last night's biggest game, I looked at Ags and said: "I think Golden State's gonna lose this one."  Given the season so far, I was aware of how impetuous and incredibly stupid that sounded, but just hear me out.  The Warriors were on the second night of a road back-to-back, fresh off a game that should never have required a Harrison Barnes buzzer beater to win it.  On Saturday night they had Philadelphia, running joke of the NBA for the past few seasons, smoked by 24 points midway through the 3rd quarter.  The starters were sitting down, waiting as they've done so often this season to watch the bench mop up a fourth quarter composed entirely of garbage time.  Then the Sixers started doing stuff. 

And while they were doing that stuff, Golden State couldn't buy a bucket, couldn't play much defense either, and coughed up a genuinely perplexing array of turnovers.  Philly went on the kind of scoring spree no one is supposed to have against the Dubs, first winnowing the deficit back under twenty, then down to ten.  At some point during this insane run of David sling-shotting pebbles at Goliath and connecting on most of them, Steve Kerr realized they couldn't just ride it out.  Back on the floor went the starters, having to uncoil their muscles and psyches from the relaxation of watching a blowout from the bench and extend themselves again.  (Draymond Green admitted in a post-game interview that he felt responsible for chasing a triple double at the expense of the team.  This was a commendably honest attempt to shoulder the onus for the Warriors' second-half problems, but let's be real: the whole team had a messy hand in that skid.)  

Somehow Philly managed to tie the game up at 105-105 with 22 seconds to play.  Then, for the first time in a completely listless quarter-and-a-half of basketball, Golden State remembered who they are and what they do for one crucial, final posession.  Steph Curry dribbled to the right side of the arc and whipped a pass to inside to Draymond Green just below the free throw line while Harrison Barnes stood in the right corner.  Sixers forward Jerami Grant left Barnes to help on Green, I mean ... just collapsed to the inside and left a dude shooting nearly 40% from deep this season very, very wide open.  Green immediately pinged it to Barnes before Philly could even start to recover.  He canned the trey and walked off for a 108-105 victory.  It was a beautiful play; precisely the sort of whirring, pick-your-poison ball movement that makes the Warriors so dangerous.  It absolutely should not have been necessary, except the Warriors looked and played like tired, fallible humans for once, so it was. 

Anyway, that's why I stupidly thought last night would be a loss for Golden State.  They'd been forced to lurch out of their accustomed easy confidence and push themselves to a win against a vastly inferior team they thought they'd already beaten.  They had looked despondent for most of Saturday's second half, and they were now traveling directly into the maw of Madison Square Garden, no days off, no recovery.  The Garden atmosphere was, predictably, that of a denser and infinitely louder Wagnerian opera for the biggest game of the season. (Barring a playoff appearance that is still very much a possibility.) 

The first quarter looked like my intuition might be worth something.  The Warriors once again couldn't hit shots, played poor defense, and turned the ball over too much.  Steph had a sub-pedestrian game overall, going 5-17 from the field for just 13 points with 4 dimes and 4 boards.  Fortunately for Golden State, Draymond tossed up a 20-10-10, Klay Thompson poured in 34 points, and Shaun Livingston kicked in 11 off the bench.  Conversely for the Kincks, Aaron Afflalo, Langston Galloway, and Derrick Williams pretty much shot their own team out of the game, combining for an abysmal 9-37 from the floor. 

The Warriors were up six at the half, opened the 3rd quarter with a blitzkrieg, and ended up winning 116-95.  Even with that cruddy opening frame and Curry playing fairly atrocious basketball by his standards, they made sort, brutal work of the Knicks once they shook that tired doofishness out of their collective game.

Look, I figured they were due is all.  Golden State won't lose very many games this season, but last night seemed like it had a decent chance to be one of those anomalies.  I swear, at the time, it really did.  I doubted them, but I've learned my lesson.  Right now, I am Buttercup having just tumbled down that hill in the Princess Bride, and the Warriors are Wesley.  This without the True Love overtones, of course.  My heart already belongs to another.  (Go Hawks.)  But still, I know how she felt.  "I will never doubt again." 

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