OAKLAND -- And so, with another crisis clearly in the rear-view mirror, the Golden State Warriors can now prepare for the last big test of the happiest regular season ever.
Namely, not worrying about the regular season any more.
After their joyful yet clinical 112-101 dispatch of the San Antonio Spurs Thursday night certified the Etats d’Ors would hold home court advantage throughout the playoffs, the Warriors prepared for a mini-trip to Memphis and San Antonio pledging to no longer be distracted by the overblown chase for the 73-win season.
Interested, yes. Distracted? Well, put it this way – if they lose their mentality on that number again, they deserve what they get.
But the medicinal benefits from brain-realigning performances like their loss to Minnesota Sunday were in evidence early and often Thursday night. A potentially apocalyptic event (well, not really, but it is silly season after all) was rendered slightly comedic when Gregg Popovich, the Living Skull Of Basketball, called an angry time out 59 seconds into the game to chew out guard Danny Green for getting lost on Klay Thompson.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors rout Spurs for No. 70, clinch No. 1 seed]
Warriors head coach Steve Kerr saw Green on the floor at the end of the time out, smiled and asked Green, “So if you do that again, do you think Pop might actually kill you?” They both laughed and then returned to the angst and clipboard-murdering agenda of the evening.
“Hey, Pop’s gone Serbian on me on more than a couple of occasions,” Kerr would say later. “I know it’s not pleasant.”
This was a level of relaxation to this game amidst all the gear-grinding and grimaces. The Warriors are better when agenda-free, and the loss to the Timberwolves had refocused them on what actually matters – having the best record of the year rather than of the epoch. And while they still could make one last run at the brass ring, the gold-and-diamond one is at least slightly clearer now.
“We got a little, for lack of a better term, pissed off on how we played last game,” Stephen Curry (27 and nine despite being restricted at the arc) said afterward, “and we wanted to come out and be able to have the opportunity to show that we’re a team.”
The Warriors controlled the periods of Thursday’s game that they did not actually dominate, and San Antonio struggled to find its rhythm and pace even before LaMarcus Aldridge’s dislocated finger reduced his effectiveness. Popovich said later that it popped in and out of place at least twice but would not cause him to miss any needed time.
But Aldridge was not nearly as effective as he was when the Spurs beat the Warriors in Texas a few weeks ago, and other than the peripatetic Kawhi Leonard, who will Leonard through the entire postseason no matter what is done to contain him, neither were any of the other Spurs. They cut Warrior leads but did not eliminate them and never led in the final 42 minutes and change.
Thus, the Warriors are now 70-9, and feeling better about their place in (and perhaps above) the universe. They can entertain 73 again, with the fresh realization that it would be a nice side dish to the meal rather than meal itself. Even those most sympathetic to their momentary chase, the ones who realize that breaking any Michael Jordan-related record carries more cache than most others, were reacquainted with the essential Golden State ethos – devotion to the “the process” that makes all other things possible.
Herein lies the dichotomy of the Warriors. They are indisputably one of the finest single teams in league history, but the urge to prove it with ownership of a number got in the way of the evidence from time to time (see Boston/see Minnesota). When they reduced the games to their singular essence – “this is what we do because what we do is this” – they were everything they promised. When they tried to convince people (including themselves) of what they all already knew, they could get in their own way, then carry the unnecessary weight of talking points.
Put another way, never having a losing streak of more than one game was probably a greater testament to their power and fortitude than 73 wins would ever be, because the playoffs are about taking a blow and striking two in return.
And now that a meaningful and endurable blow has been struck that has at least potential value for their championship aspirations, they can take moments out to ask Danny Green if he must sleep with one eye open, or to revel in the very real likelihood that Houston just moped its way off their travel itinerary by losing, at home, to Phoenix.
See? Basketball’s a hoot when you have the right frame of mind. If nothing else, nobody has to go Serbian.