It becomes increasingly clear that the nation at large is wrong about the Golden State Warriors, just at the time that it is coming to grips with its infatuation with the Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors are the hot new flavor on the menu, and Stephen Curry the fabulous new topping. They’re the most left-handed compliment sports fans can pay a team – they’re fun to watch.
But now, with Game 3 of this Western Conference semifinal series upon both them and the San Antonio Spurs Friday night, the evidence is beginning to overwhelm everyone. The Warriors aren’t fun. They’re real. Very real. A serious contender not just to get out of this series but to escape the gravity of the conference playoffs themselves.
Yes, this is jumping to an extraordinary conclusion, and yes, it casts doubt on the Spurs’ ability to show their decade-long pedigree, and yes, it just seems daft on its face.
But consider what we have here – an injury-ravaged playoffs in which the healthy teams are few and damaged ones are many. The Warriors have benefited from one good matchup that nobody thought would be (Denver), and they are showing every indication of having the same advantage now.
More to the point, they are growing out of the plucky underdog cloak they have worn and are starting to act not like they belong, but that they belong on top. Curry . . . Klay Thompson . . . Harrison Barnes . . . Andrew Bogut . . . Jarrett Jack . . . when they are good, they are very good, and when they are not, it’s not because they are shrinking from the moment, or being crushed by the diamond-creating gravity of their seeding and history.
They take a punch and come back better. At least they have so far, most recently in Game 2 of the Spurs series. San Antonio overcame gravity to win Game 1, then shut down Curry’s shooting in Game 2, only to get the Thompson Gunner in their faces instead.
So now what do we have? A precocious and athletic team that is learning how to hold the stage at warp speed, which was the one thing we all knew was beyond them. A team of jump shooters who also defend and rebound and force the pace and make its opponents succumb to its will. A team growing deeper with every game even as David Lee, the only All-Star, is trying to find a moment of playing time. A team that is just now rising above the sum of its parts at the very moment that the nation’s basketball fans are just getting comfortable with the idea of Curry’s singular effervescence.
One scout, watching the games in San Antonio, came away almost breathlessly inspired by how much the Warriors actually bring to the table. And he, like all other scouts, had Sharpied in San Antonio to the conference final because that’s what the Spurs do.
And maybe they do it this time, too. A wise person does not assume facts not yet in evidence, and the end of the Spurs is not yet here based on two games.
Not only that, the Warriors are an ankle away from being done themselves. Curry has more bumps on him than a 35-year-old defenseman playing his 15th consecutive Stanley Cup playoffs. And he has been the most consistent Warrior of all – every other player has had ups and downs and sideways, and been slandered for deficiencies by the ever-helpful Twitterati.
But in a year in which the Lakers and Clippers don’t exist, the Thunder is down by half of its complement of great players, the Spurs are not quite healthy and well on the side of old when compared to the Oaktown Community Theatre. The Memphis Grizzlies, intriguingly, are the meanest kids on the block, the only Western team whose style, personnel and philosophy seem to clash with and overwhelm Golden State’s.
[RATTO: Game 2 proves Warriors can close]
In a year like all this, the Warriors are now every bit as viable as any of them. And maybe more so.
Oh, and if you’re a devout Warrior fan and you say you knew this was going to happen, you’re a liar. You wanted it to happen, and you hoped it might happen, and you’re entitled both to want and to hope. That is the enduring perk of being a fan – when your team finally emerges, you get to do the I-told-you-so to all your friends.
But you didn’t know. You didn’t. The Warriors themselves didn’t know, and they are smarter about who they are than you will ever be. You’re better off sitting back and marveling at this two-week hyper-education of your favorite team, because it really is more fun that way.
Fun for you, anyway. The Warriors are still fun in that “Hey, who knew?” kind of way, no question. But there is a growing possibility that they will not be at the “Hey, who knew?” stage for much longer. They are almost certainly two home games away from stripping the entire country from its sense of wonderment and making it say, “Uhh, these guys are seriously bad news.”
So I guess this is the moment where people can no longer say they weren’t told. The evidence is now pretty stark – they’re not just fun, any more. They’re a very hard out indeed, and they are not underdogs to anyone any more.
Except maybe Miami. I mean, let’s not lose our minds here.