Harrison Barnes does a nice impersonation of a superstar. He’s got the body language down, he’s got the confidence and he’s got most of the talent.
And because of that it has sometimes looked like the Golden State Warriors could beat the San Antonio Spurs without either of their two best players – Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson – playing particularly well.
They won Game 4 that way, and on Tuesday they withstood some dazzling first-quarter shooting from San Antonio — before losing 109-91 in San Antonio to fall behind 3-2 in the series — because Barnes was extending his coming-out party and Jarrett Jack showed a knack for hitting a jumper right when things looked like they were getting bad.
Barnes has been the real revelation of these playoffs, which puts him right back where he was in high school. He’s from Ames, Iowa, and when he was in high school he was one of those kids who did everything right. Played basketball right, studied right, talked to adults right, said all the right things, wore the right ties. One of those kids. He was a nerd and a jock. He must have been so annoying for everybody else, out there just trying to get good at one thing. When he announced he was going to North Carolina, he did it by putting on a suit and Skyping Roy Williams.
He was the dream recruit, except that he got to UNC and … well, he was OK.
Oh, his numbers were good. He averaged 16.4 points and 5.5 rebounds in two seasons, but he was just an OK shooter. People were already starting to wonder about him when he threw up a crappy NCAA tournament, which seemed to erase whatever remained of the idea Barnes could be a go-to guy in the NBA.
So the Warriors took him No. 7 overall and he averaged 9.2 points and 4.4 rebounds for a playoff team. And even if you’re not what people thought you’d be when you were 17, that’s not bad. That’s a nice career.
But then you remember: He’s 20.
That Skype session with Williams was just three years go. He has the body of a six-year vet who loves the gym, but he has not yet hit his physical prime yet. He carries himself like a salt-and-pepper-haired business man, but he couldn’t legally have a two-martini lunch even if he wanted to.
He’s growing, and so are the Warriors, but it’s just not all put together yet. When it’s Curry and Thompson leading the Warriors, it looks nice, it looks natural, it looks like a real identity. When it’s Barnes, it looks desperate and forced. Cobbled together.
The Warriors look more talented than the Spurs, and they have looked like the better team for most of the series, but you can’t beat the Spurs by cobbling. Not twice in a row. That’s their game. They’re the cobblers. They’ve been that way for at least two seasons.
Which is a way of saying the Warriors need to grow up fast. It’s all there. You can see it. But what happened Tuesday was, Curry and Thompson were a combined 6 for 22 from the field, and that was it. Barnes had 25 points on 18 shots. He looked like a star. But the game was over halfway through the fourth quarter.
He scored 25, in part because the Spurs didn’t seem to think they needed to stop him from scoring 25.
It’s an impersonation. It’s a good one, but it’s still just a guy putting on the superstar mask because it was lying around unused.
Golden State needs Curry to be its superstar, assuming that’s not just an impersonation too.