When this season began, the Golden State Warriors were a team some looked at and saw potential NBA champions if everything came together. There have been ups & downs this season, but another home loss, this time to the Cleveland Cavaliers, probably shut the book on anyone having illussions that this Stephen Curry led group has any chance of doing better than last year.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a conference semifinal. The West is loaded with the San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and even the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets are better. The Portland Trail Blazers keep sliding, but I’m not sure the Warriors are a better team.
Certainly not the version of them, playing without Klay Thompson who was at the Bahamas for his grandfather’s funeral, that lost at home 103-94 to the Cavs. The Warriors somehow missed out on winning this game despite opening a 16-point lead very early on. Stephen Curry played well, finally, scoring 27 points to end a six-game streak of less than 20 points. It didn’t really help with the second unit doing an awful job, especially when Steve Blake was on the floor. He scored only 2 points, struggled to create for himself or others in his 18 minutes, with the Warriors getting outscored by 28 points in that time.
This was a demonstration of how important Spencer Hawes can be for the Cavs or anyone else, managing to stretch the floor with the Warriors using big lineups, hardly using their backup backcourt for whatever reason, and possibly suffering for it. The Cavs were able to stretch the floor quite well and especially expose the defensive problems this team tries to hide with David Lee, who kept being the weak link, but the Warriors can’t do without him as their power forward or one of their big man, because Andrew Bogut and Jermaine O’Neal are too static and useless offensively on most nights.
Hawes scored 22 points to go with 13 rebounds while Dion Waiters scored 18 points off the bench. He and Kyrie Irving might not be the best of friends or even like each other, but that doesn’t show on the court. Irving overcame his natural tendencies to try and win this game on his own, finishing with 16 points, 4 assists while shooting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Luol Deng was excellent with 16 points and Jarrett Jack, playing last season for the Warriors, was excellent with 9 points and navigating the game in a way the Warriors simply couldn’t, especially when Curry wasn’t on the floor and it looked like everything was falling apart for the Warriors.
Thanks to their head coach, there’s a swagger to these Warriors you wouldn’t expect from a team that has seen so little postseason success over a very long time. But there’s talent here, and on paper a team that has the ability to score both inside and outside, not to mention defend, which is the real secret to their relative success. However, performing on a consistent level is also a must when it comes to going deep into the playoffs, and it’s something the Warriors don’t have, despite their ambitious additions of players like Andre Iguodala. Having a subpar bench, especially in the point guarde position, is a big part for why this season won’t end in any significant improvement compared to last year.