The Warriors' run is dead but it was fun while it lasted
It was a pretty magical run for the Golden State Warriors over the last couple of weeks. A 10 game winning streak, the second longest in franchise history as well as 6 straight wins on a road trip. No team in the history of the NBA has swept a 7+ game road trip. The Warriors were one game away from franchise and NBA history. Alas the Warriors were thwarted by the streaking Brooklyn Nets, now winners of 4 straight, the final score 102-98.
I can’t remember a more exciting run since the “We Believe” team in 2007 upset the number one seeded Dallas Mavericks. The last article I wrote was right before the Warriors went on this amazing run and I was too afraid to write during it in fear I might jinx them (which was especially difficult after the Miami game) . In any case a lot of positive things happened on this road trip/winning streak that are important to talk about.
First and foremost, the league now realizes that this Warriors squad at full strength is a legitimate title contender. When Andre Iguodala was hurt and the Warriors were floundering around .500 many people thought that they would struggle to make the playoffs. Our very own Josh Biers was one of those people. That all changed during this winning streak. However, what fans believe isn’t as important as what the league believes. After a convincing victory against a fully loaded Miami Heat squad the Warriors garnered the respect they deserved. After that win David Lee coined the new twitter handle #fullsquad and players and coaches have started to recognize this team’s ability when at full strength. Both John Hollinger’s objective rankings and Mark Stein’s subjective rankings had the Warriors as the third best team in the NBA. Stein even had the Warriors as the number one squad in the West.
The Nets last night played harder than I have seen all season (granted I have only seen two other Nets games). Obviously the Nets didn’t want to see a team make NBA history against them but it was more than that. This Nets team considers itself an NBA contender and they wanted to prove themselves and legitimize the three game winning streak they were on. You can’t legitimize a win streak unless you beat a good team and that’s what it felt like when watching the Nets play.
Second, David Lee and Steph Curry played absolutely excellent for all 10 wins. Steph has been playing great all season but it is rare for me to give David Lee props. During the Miami Heat game the Warriors showed just how efficient and deadly they can be against the two time defending champs. During the first quarter the Heat played aggressive defense against Steph and focused all of their attention on him in pick and rolls. That left David Lee wide open and he made the Heat and every team they faced during the win streak pay for that decision. He was hitting mid-range jumpers and finishing with either hand at the basket. During the Miami game the Heat had to make an adjustment to stop Lee out of the pick and rolls. That allowed Steph to get one on one match-ups and open looks from three. You know Steph is going to make a team pay when you give him an open look. The two of them together created offense for each other but also the rest of the team, especially Klay Thompson. In my opinion they looked unstoppable relatively easily.
Third, Andre Iguodala may be one of the best perimeter players if not the best in the league. I questioned his on-ball defensive ability and I still think it is fair that I did. He is not a lock-down on-ball defender. What he is is an incredible off-ball defender denying his man the ball and getting him out of rhythm. LeBron James had 8 turnovers against the Warriors. For a few of them Iguo wasn’t even around, but Iguo made LeBron work the entire game to get the ball. He made LeBron catch the ball in places he didn’t want it, which caused LeBron to force plays that weren’t there. It is impossible to stop LeBron, but Iguo did an excellent job containing him. The last piece of Iguo’s defensive brilliance is his help defense and ability to get his hands in the passing lane. As soon as he guards a below average offensive player he is all over the floor. He provides weakside help and double teams at all of the right times. His knowledge of his opponents offensive ability is truly amazing and his focus to execute the game-plan is that of a championship caliber player. It’s why opponents struggle when he guards them and why the Warriors overall defense improves so drastically when he is in the line-up.
Finally, my only major concern coming now that the win streak is over is the bench. Mark Jackson is one of the few coaches in the league who plays five bench players at one time. When all five of those guys are on the floor they struggle to score. They are all pretty good defenders, but it is impossible to stop an NBA offense for long especially when a starter for the other team stays on the floor. In most games the bench either gave up a lead acquired by the starters or fell farther behind. In the case of the Brooklyn game last night they gave up a 10 point lead, which the starters could not regain because they were too tired. When Jermaine O’Neal comes back it will be a big help, but players like Speights and Toney Douglas are going to need to step up and provide some scoring.
With 44 games left in the season the Warriors have an excellent opportunity to take the three and possibly the two seed with the Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul injuries. As long as they stay healthy I am sure we will see a few more 5+ game win streaks from them, especially since they have a slew of home games coming up. I am really excited about the India Pacers vs. Warriors match-up in a week. That game should prove to be an excellent measuring stick game. I am sure the Pacers will be bringing their A game into the Oracle.Published 10 Jan 2014, 05:07 IST