Analysis: To get No. 1 seed, Warriors must summon inner junkyard dog

Analysis: To get No. 1 seed, Warriors must summon inner junkyard dog

OAKLAND -- With 14 minutes of profoundly spectacular basketball, the Warriors on Tuesday climbed from the brink of humiliating defeat to the momentary relief that comes with barely slipping past a vastly inferior team

The optimist might say they preserved any hope of earning the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.

The pessimist might say they won a game on their home court, Oracle Arena, over a 76ers team that despite earnest effort ranks among the bottom-five in the NBA.

The realist, however, wonders if the Warriors are capable of making the multifaceted adjustments required to have a reasonable chance of finishing ahead of the San Antonio Spurs and, therefore, gaining the top overall seed.

There is legitimate concern within the Warriors organization, though less so in the locker room, about their ability to finish strong when their entire disposition has been altered by the absence of Kevin Durant.

“It’s on our staff to find the right combinations with the situation we’re in right now, with the changes,” coach Steve Kerr said Wednesday. “With KD out, we’ve got to find the right combinations.”

Sure, Durant’s absence -- he has missed two weeks and is expected to miss at least eight more games -- robs the Warriors of their top scorer, top rebounder and top shot blocker. What’s more damaging, though, is the loss of swagger that came with the Warriors knowing they were riding with the most dangerous frontcourt scorer in the league.

The Warriors took a massive machismo hit when Durant went down, and machismo is an exceedingly valuable element in the NBA. It puts the A in Alpha Dog. It’s the difference between knowing you will and believing you can.

Between recognizing what Kevin Durant can do, and realizing nobody else on the roster, or the planet, is an adequate replacement.

The Warriors have played eight games without Durant, going 3-5. The wins were over the Knicks, the Hawks and, on Tuesday night at Oracle Arena, the 76ers, who blew a 16-point lead when the Warriors outscored them 32-14 over the final 14 minutes.

That stretch was among the most impressive the Warriors have manufactured this season, and easily the best they’ve looked since Durant went down on Feb. 28.

What they have to do now is prove that those 14 minutes are not merely indicative of a team desperate to avoid ignominious loss but a sign that they are making the adjustments -- mental, physical and psychological -- needed to get to the 65 or so wins required nab the No. 1 seed.

Reverting to the formula used last season, when Durant was in Oklahoma City, is not an option. The roster is dramatically different. Harrison Barnes is gone, and so are Marreese Speights and Leandro Barbosa, reserves that brought energy and scoring. The Warriors last season had nine players shoot at least 35 percent beyond the arc, and six of them were better than 38 percent. This season, they have five players above 35 percent, three over 38.

Expecting Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson fill the scoring void created without Durant’s 25 points is irrational. The trio was combining for more than 70 points per game. No duo in the league is going to provide that.

“That just isn’t going to make itself up,” Draymond Green said late Tuesday night, referring to the lost scoring. “You’ve got to make some of that up on the defensive end. And we haven’t been doing that.”

Unless the defense tightens, and we’ve seen it happen, there is no chance to gaining the top seed. When the Warriors defend, the dictate the action at both ends. The offense comes easier. It won’t be easy without Durant, the team’s best rim protector, but it’s essential.

Getting offense from Green also is crucial. He doesn’t have to reach the 20-point mark, as he did Tuesday night, but he can consistently find his way into double figures, it will put additional stress on defenses.

“If Draymond gives us 15 a night,” said one team official, “I like our chances.”

Which brings us back to Curry and Thompson. Thompson tends to be a bunch scorer, unstoppable some nights, stopping himself on others. He’s going to score, though the game looks easier when he’s relaxed enough to avoid forcing his shot. If Thompson is able to round out his game, to mix in a few more assists and rebounds, that also would put defenders in a bind.

Curry? Well, we know his impact. When he is on, the team’s swagger is unmistakable. If he’s beating his chest, his teammates beat theirs. If Curry gets on a roll, Durant’s absence becomes much easier to mask.

Curry during that 14-minute stretch against Philly scored 12 points, including 3-of-5 from deep. The swagger surfaced even before the Warriors overtook the Sixers. There was a sense from fans and the team that the comeback was assured.

The Warriors summoned their inner junkyard dogs. They were ready to fight. We’re about to see, over these next four weeks, how much bite these dogs have. They’re at the point where they either fight or fall, scrap or sink.

“It’s got to be that way,” Green said late Tuesday night.

“It’s not going to be as pretty as it’s always been. Guys have to understand that and do whatever it takes to win games.”

 

Four takeaways from Warriors' first-round sweep of Blazers

Four takeaways from Warriors' first-round sweep of Blazers

PORTLAND -- Four games, four quarters to each and the Warriors are on to the next round of the postseason.

Here are four things we learned about these Warriors in the wake of their four-game sweep of the Trail Blazers in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.

IT’S A TEAM THING: The Warriors lost All-Star forward Kevin Durant in Game 1, came back and won Game 2. They lost head coach Steve Kerr before Game 3, went out and fashioned one of the biggest comebacks in franchise postseason history. They are constructed in such a way that the collective is strong enough to overcome the loss of one man. They won this series in a walk despite being shorthanded for the last three games and without their head coach for the last two. This team and this staff are bigger than any individual.

JAVALE McGEE MATTERS: By last Sept. 16 the summer was all but gone and every coveted player NBA player had been accounted for. That’s when the Warriors signed McGee with the hope that he could provide some length and athleticism on the block, if only for a few minutes a night -- and, surely, some nights not at all. McGee was the last man to make the team, and here he was dominating a Trail Blazers team that, to be fair, lacked a healthy center. He was special in this series, and what he provides will be needed as the Warriors move forward.

DRAYMOND’S VALUE IS BEYOND MEASURE: There were so many examples during the regular season that illustrated Draymond Green’s significance to the Warriors. He topped them all in this series. He defended, at some point, every member of the Portland team. He rebounded. He made 3-pointers. He blocked 17 shots. The Blazers tried him early but quickly become discouraged at attacking whenever he was on the court. He disrupted their offense in more ways than they could have imagined. As a bonus, he avoided notable run-ins with officials.

SPLASHING NOT NEEDED: Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson were fabulous in the second half of Game 3 and Curry stood out in Game 4. But by the time the Splash Brothers found their offensive groove, the Warriors were up 2-0 in the series and rallying behind their defense en route to taking Game 3. The battle of the backcourts, logically deemed a critical factor in this series, was a virtual statistical standoff. Curry/Thompson combined for 192 points, while Damian Lillard 111 and CJ McCollum totaled 201. If it’s the numbers are that close, the Warriors will win every series, and probably sweep.

 

Instant Replay: Warriors torch Blazers, complete first-round sweep

Instant Replay: Warriors torch Blazers, complete first-round sweep

BOX SCORE

PORTLAND -- Never allowing the Trail Blazers to find an offensive rhythm, the Warriors rolled to a 128-103 Game 4 triumph Monday night, completing a sweep of the first-round Western Conference playoff series.

The Warriors advance to the conference semifinals and will face the winner of the Jazz-Clippers series currently tied at two games apiece.

All five Warriors starters scored in double figures, with Stephen Curry scoring 37 points to lead the way. Draymond Green totaled 21, Klay Thompson 18 and Zaza Pachulia 11. David West scored 12 points off the bench.

Kevin Durant -- making his first appearance since Game 1 -- started and added 10 points, three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal in 20 minutes of action.

The Warriors rode white-hot shooting from deep, making 17-of-29 (58.6 percent).

The Warriors silenced the Moda Center crowd early, outshooting Portland 62.5 percent to 29.6 percent in the first quarter before going on to finish with a 53.5-percent to 38.8-percent advantage for the game.

Damian Lillard scored 34 points to lead the Trail Blazers, who were ousted from the playoffs by the Warriors for the second consecutive year.

STANDOUT PERFORMER:
Curry, who struggled with his shot for the majority of the series, continued the hot streak he began in the fourth quarter of Game 1.

Curry’s line: 37 points (12-of-20 shooting from the field, including 7-of-11 from beyond the arc, 6-of-7 from the line), eight assists, seven rebounds and two steals. He played 30 minutes and finished plus-29 for the game.

Curry moved into a tie with Robert Horry for ninth place on the all-time list of 3-pointers in the postseason with 261.

TURNING POINT:
The Warriors took control immediately, going up 14-0 with 8:40 left in the first quarter and pushing it to 35-9 with 4:11 left in the quarter. They led by as much as 28 in the first half.

Portland got no closer than 18 in the second quarter, and no closer than 23 after intermission.

INJURY UPDATE:
Warriors: F Kevin Durant (L calf strain) was listed as questionable and upgraded to available prior to tipoff. F Matt Barnes (R foot/ankle bone bruise) and G Shaun Livingston (R index finger sprain, hand contusion) were listed as questionable and downgraded to out prior to tipoff. F Kevon Looney (L hip strain) was listed as out.

Blazers: G Allen Crabbe (L foot soreness) and G CJ McCollum (R ankle sprain) are listed as probable. C Jusuf Nurkic (L leg fracture) C Ed Davis (L shoulder surgery), C Festus Ezeli (L knee surgery) and C Jusuf Nurkic (R leg fracture) are listed as out.

WHAT’S NEXT:
The Warriors now await the winner of the Clippers-Jazz first-round series. Game 1 date TBD, either April 30 or May 2.