OAKLAND – The Warriors entered the playoffs with a precise idea of their ceiling when Stephen Curry is healthy and productive. It’s 73-9 high, NBA-championship tall, nobody-in-this-league-can-touch-us broad.
Being without the reigning MVP, for however long it may be, sends the Warriors into a mystery zone. They have little idea how far they can go.
They can’t know until Harrison Barnes shows up.
Barnes was by far the Warriors’ least effective starter in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series against Houston. The fourth-year small forward’s seven points on 3-of-12 shooting negated the showing of Rockets forward Corey Brewer, who had 3 points and was 1-of-8.
“Harrison can play better,” coach Steve Kerr said after Game 1. “He knows that. He’s been playing really good basketball for the last several weeks. I imagine he’ll play a lot better (in Game 2).
“Sometimes, that first game of the playoffs is tough. You’ve got the nerves going. And once you get past that first one, it feels more natural. I would think we’ll get a better shooting game out of him, and Klay (Thompson) as well.”
Thompson responded in Game 2 with 34 points, a welcome offensive salve in the absence of Curry. Barnes scored six points, on 1-of-10 shooting.
If Barnes is going to shoot 18.2 percent, as he has through the first two games of the series, the Warriors ceiling will begin to fall – probably not against the Rockets but most certainly against the next opponent.
After a bit of searching and scratching without Curry, the Warriors came together in Game 2 because several others were stellar enough to fill the void.
Andre Iguodala delivered timely scoring, with 18 points, including four 3-pointers.
Shaun Livingston, Curry’s replacement in the starting lineup, was solid and efficient, flicking in 16 points while displaying perfectly veteran floor generalship.
Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut produced as they often do, in all the appropriate places, as the coaching staff would have hoped.
The bench squad didn’t bring the same ammo as it did in Game 1, but it was good enough to share in the victory.
They got by without Curry. He is their touchstone, the best player in the league on the best team in the league. No other player in the NBA possesses his combination of smarts, skill, creativity, hubris, and, of course, shooting ability.
“When Steph goes down, that’s obviously not easy to replace, so not one guy’s going to come out and do what Steph does for this team,” Green said after Game 2. “Even if a guy comes out and gets 30, he’s still not going to do what or bring what Steph brings to this team.”
Barnes was, like Curry, a seventh overall pick, arriving three years later. Barnes, 23, was the more heralded player coming out of college and most certainly coming out of high school. He’s a fabulous athlete, intermittently spectacular on the court, and there is no doubting his desire.
Postseason points aren’t awarded for desire. The Warriors are going to need Barnes, who concedes that the tale of “Playoff Barnes” – who finds another level in the postseason – is a myth. The Warriors, then, don’t need Playoff Barnes.
But for the Warriors to know how great they can be if Curry is sitting on the bench in slacks, they are going to need Barnes to deliver to his capability, to provide a larger fraction of that which he produced in Game 2.
This team’s ceiling without Curry is, as we said, unknown. Whatever it is, though, gets considerably higher if and when Barnes joins the party.