Heading into Game One of their first-round series against the Spurs yesterday, the Warriors had to push back on the narrative that they were far from prepared for the task at hand. Suffering from the absence of two-time Most Valuable Player awardee Steph Curry, they had lost 10 of their last 17 regular-season games and looked disjointed at best. And so listless were their performances that even head coach Steve Kerr, not normally predisposed to airing his concerns in public, saw fit to tell members of the media that his charges lacked “caring in general.”
Sensing blowback, Kerr would backtrack from his pronouncements soon after, but the point was made all the same. Complacency seemed to have set in, and though the Warriors possessed talent that, on paper, could offset the absence of any one player, Curry included, motivation was another matter altogether. After all, they had been there and done that; in winning two championships over the last three years, they managed to set myriad records, not least of which was posting an unprecedented 16-1 slate in the 2017 Playoffs.
If there’s anything yesterday’s victory showed, however, it’s that the Warriors are anything but tired. They weren’t tired of puncturing the hoop, as seen from their 113-point output on 54.3% shooting from the field. They weren’t tired of preventing the Spurs from doing the same, as evidenced by their opponents’ anemic 92 markers off a 40% clip. And they weren’t tired of parading their confidence, as highlighted by their “I told you so” statements in the aftermath.
The Warriors have earned the right to hold their heads high, of course. Their body of work in recent memory is unparalleled. On the other hand, they face no greater challenge to their place at the top than through the 2018 postseason, where the seemingly better-prepped and more-psyched Rockets await, and where just about everybody else has coopted their style of play. It’s why Curry’s continued sidelining came — and will continue to come — into play.
Then again, the Warriors are, if nothing else, stacked. As important as Curry is to their cause, they possess the tools to overcome their perceived deficiencies in his absence. Their purposeful performance yesterday, while against the decidedly overmatched Spurs, proved it. Not for nothing did they outrebound the competition by a whopping 21, and not for nothing did they make 32 of their 44 field goals off assists. They can claim the ball and move it, and when they do, they’re all but unbeatable.
So when Klay Thompson says “we know how it takes to win, when Draymond Green argues that “we’re primed for this,” and when Kevin Durant contends that “it’s not just one guy who has the ball all the time and making all the plays,” they’re not bragging. They’re believing. And unless and until they’re knocked off their perch, they’re telling the truth.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.