I watched the Golden State Warriors blow out the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday night, and by golly, was that a sight to behold.
You had Stephen Curry pouring in 28 points, six rebounds and seven assists while also hounding Chris Paul on defense (according to some advanced metrics before the game, Curry is tied with Memphis’ Tony Allen for the league lead in defensive rating). You had Draymond Green, who has been elevated to the starting power forward role following nagging injuries to presumptive starter David Lee, firing in a career-high 24 points, eight rebounds, five assists. Not to mention a drop-dead hilarious facial expression, as he stuck his tongue in Blake Griffin’s face while shadowing him down the court after nailing one of his career-best four three-point baskets. You had the 69-million-dollar man, Klay Thompson, finally showing his first signs of mortality after getting into foul trouble and still managing to finish with 19 points on 7-for-13 shooting, including 3-of-4 from three-point land.
Most impressively, you had a whole host of second-teamers proving that bench play is vital to a team’s success, as Festus Ezeli, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Leandro Barbosa more than held down the fort when they were in the game. For vast stretches of the game, it looked like the Warriors’ backups were better than even the starting five of the Clippers.
Now, I am fully aware that this is but the first full week of the young NBA season, and I am also fully aware that no team has truly gelled just yet. But holy smokes, what I saw out of the Warriors was a far cry from the nearly-painful basketball that many folks watched and grimaced at last year.
The Dubs last year were an exceptional defensive team, and that hasn’t changed one bit this season; according to John Hollinger’s trusty Defensive Efficiency statistic, the Warriors are top in the league by a large margin, and the eye test confirms this: They remain tactically disciplined, rarely gamble, prevent any sort of threatening penetration, close out on shooters and gobble up defensive boards with gusto.
What has changed are a number of niggling issues that doomed them to failure in the bloodbath that is the Western Conference playoffs. First off, the Warriors offense is clicking at a level that observers could only salivate at and dream about. Gone are the isolation plays, the stagnant ball movement, the dribble-for-23-seconds-then-hoist-up-a-terrible-shot offense (patent pending, Mark Jackson and Mike Brown). Gone are the patently ludicrous hockey substitutions that left the Warriors without a single ball handler on the floor for minutes at a time.
And gone is the frankly naive scheming that we had gotten used to seeing from the coaching staff. I paid especially close attention this game to rookie head coach Steve Kerr and his vaunted coaching staff, featuring the talents of Alvin Gentry, Ron Adams and Luke Walton. Kerr was animated, demonstrative and yet composed at the same time, taking each stoppage in play as a teachable moment to coach up his players, while Gentry and Adams were no less influential in bossing this game. Heck, Kerr even got his first technical foul as a head coach while arguing a call in the third quarter. The in-game adjustments, the frenzied tinkering with intriguing and rare lineup combinations, the quick hook for players in foul trouble or players losing focus at either end of the floor were all impressive. After watching the Warriors of old win despite their coaches, it was a refreshing feeling to see them win because of their coaches.
The season is young, and already there is turmoil in Cleveland, discontent in Los Angeles, injury fears in Chicago and Oklahoma City and another masterful tank job in Philadelphia. The Texas teams all appear strong, the Heat (and Chris Bosh in particular) appear rejuvenated following the anti-Decision 2014 and it looks like the season is already over for Indiana and about half the Eastern Conference (and yet, many of those teams will compete for playoff spots in about six months).
Amidst the morass, the Warriors have shot out of the gates with eyes on the biggest of prizes this season. Time will tell whether their hot start will lead to a glorious finish. In the meantime, buckle up folks: The NBA is back, and it’s going to be a fun road to the Finals.
Vignesh Venkataraman is hoping the Warriors can carry the momentum from the Giants, leading the Bay Area to national sports supremacy. Let him know what you think at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.