The Warriors just aced their most important week of the season
Let’s get the caveats out of the way at the beginning because they are not contextually insignificant:
• The Cavaliers were at the end of a six-game road trip and packed it in fairly early in the third quarter when the outcome of the contest seemed inevitable.
• The Thunder were without center Steven Adams, their second-best player and one who has given the Warriors serious problems.
• The Rockets… well the Rockets are not going to shoot 20 percent from beyond the 3-point line often.
With all of that out and in the open, there’s only one more thing to say:
The Golden State Warriors just aced their most important week of the season.
And that, of course, is bad news for the rest of the NBA.
This wasn’t even their best basketball.
Golden State has won six straight games since they choked away a 24-point fourth-quarter lead against the Grizzlies on Jan. 7, with the final three games going against three teams from the small group that stands a chance of beating the Warriors this season.
The whole world knows that the Cavs can beat Golden State — they entered their Martin Luther King Jr. Day contest on a four-game winning streak against Steve Kerr’s team, including an incredible and emphatic win over the Warriors on Christmas.
The Thunder have one of the few things that has presented Golden State problems in recent years (outside of the Grizzlies) — an uber-athletic and explosive point guard. You don’t get much more athletic and explosive than Russell Westbrook.
And the Rockets can play the Warriors’ game and beat them at it, as evidenced on Dec. 1, when James Harden and the Houston beat Golden State 132-127.
If there was a crack in the hull of the Warriors’ ship, you’d think one of those three teams would have found it this week, right?
Well, the Warriors won each of those contests by an average of 19 points.
And how they did it should be the most concerning aspect for the rest of the league.
Kevin Durant is making it look too easy. He took 51 shots over the Warriors’ past three games and made 34.
That’s not 34 percent — that’s 34 made field goals. He averaged 31 points per game on 66 percent shooting this week.
That’s preposterous, but it looked completely sustainable. (It’s not… right? Yeah, it couldn’t be… but maybe? KD is an enigma.)
Here’s the kicker: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson weren’t even shooting all that well alongside him. Curry went 24-of-57 (42 percent) over the past week with a respectable but less-than-Stephian clip of 12-of-29 from beyond the arc, and Thompson was 20-of-48 (41 percent) and 10-of-26 (38 percent) from beyond the arc.
And yet, blowouts.
What happens if all three find a groove at the same time? (Besides a black hole forming underneath the hoop, of course.)
Durant’s ruthlessly efficient week was critical, but the Warriors were able to smoke their competition because of strong defense. It takes two to tango, but the Warriors held James Harden to fewer points than Clint Capela on Friday, Russell Westbrook to 34 percent shooting Wednesday, and LeBron James to 33 percent shooting and a minus-32 on-court point differential on Monday.
We all know the Warriors’ offensive ceiling is perhaps unprecedented, but it’s their defense that ultimately will determine if they’re going to win their second title in three years.
Because of that offensive explosiveness, the Warriors haven’t turned the defense on much in the first half of the season — you’ll see it for stretches, sure, but it’s rare to get consistent bouts of defensive energy. Why try hard on the defensive side of the ball when you can just outscore teams?
But this week the Warriors showed a bit more defense than usual against better competition than usual.
Perhaps this is as good as the Warriors’ defense gets. Perhaps they’re just making sure they still have it and have several more gears they can access at better times. Perhaps the caveats listed above make all of this relatively moot.
But either way, this past week — caveats included — showed that Golden State is every bit the juggernaut we thought it could be this past summer.
What are the Warriors going to do in the second half of the season?