Jackson: The most difficult game is the close out game
The Warriors would be heavy underdogs against the Spurs, but can go as far as Stephen Curry's ankle takes them. (USA TODAY IMAGES)
DENVER -- This is the hard part, the finishing. The last game before the next one begins. Hard for the players, because the fourth win is the one with the most jagged pieces, and hard for everyone else because the urge to conclusion-jump is so great.
Where, then, do you go with the Warriors at this point? The continued deification of Stephen Curry and his opposable ankle? The Many Faces Of Andrew Bogut? Six degrees of Monta Ellis? The distribution of credit for the assembled roster? Mark Jackson’s contract extension and Michael Malone’s next job? The redemption of Joe Lacob?
Oops. That one’s already been done. Of course. The owner always gets to eat first.
Do you resist the temptation to bury the Denver Nuggets, who other than Ty Lawson have largely been throwing the dirt on themselves? Do you tell cautionary tales of the 3-1 teams who have cheated fate? Or do you do the unthinkable and look ahead to the Warriors’ real bête noire, the San Antonio Spurs?
That last one is particularly grisly, as well as premature, for the kicking-sand-in-the-bully’s-face reasons and for the greater example of what happens to the precocious when they discover hubris? The Warriors aren’t at that “Bring on the Spurs!” stage yet, and if they think they are, a steady diet of a healthy Duncan-Parker-Ginobili-Leonard will cure them of that.
So rather than make the leap that takes one closer to the cliff’s edge, it is good to remember that Curry’s ankle remains the 15,000-pound elephant in the room. On a team built along egalitarian principles, he is still the first among equals. Mark Jackson can rage all he wants ex post facto about the All-Star Team, but he knew the politics as well as the time line. There were more guards in the West than any other commodity, and Curry was a victim of the fan voting for Dwight Howard (feh) than anything else.
But Curry’s magic is dependent upon his ability to use both legs, and it is clear that the left one is balking. Their continued march to whatever constitutes the promised land for them depends on that ankle being at least serviceable, if not cheerful, and even if the Nuggets are too far gone, and in too deep, the Spurs are not, and will not be.
Still, the First Law Of Euphoria is to ride it as long as you can, and the Second Law is to know when it’s time to get off, and we have not finished abiding by the First Law yet. This is the happiest time the Warriors have had as a team since they were consistently persistent in the early ‘90s, and it seems wrong to point out what awaits either too early or with too much doom in one’s tone.
This team, unlike the We Believe team, is not from the Island of Misfit Toys. There is a coherence to it, a depth and logic to it, that makes this more than a one-off. If they were going to face any team other than San Antonio, you’d have to think they wouldn’t be a prohibitive underdog.
But they do well as prohibitive underdogs. They have all year. And against San Antonio, the word “prohibitive” doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The Spurs are a hard out, a very very hard out. They’ve been written off as too old before, but with Russell Westbrook punching a hole in the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Spurs as currently assembled and aligned are the best team in the West. And they will not allow the Warriors the legion of open looks they are getting now.
But it isn’t time for that yet. The Warriors are shooting an absurd 53 percent in this series, a stupefying 44 percent from behind the arc, and a patently ridiculous 59 percent adjusted. Curry is magic on demand, Bogut is Edvard Munch’s The Scream, Jarrett Jack is an entire tool belt, and on and on and on. This is a better and more enduring version of the We Believe team (which had Baron Davis and Stephen Jackson but shot only a normal 45 percent and 35 percent from the arc). Even if Denver rallies to make a series of it, even if San Antonio is no more forgiving of the Warriors than it was of the Lakers, this is the time to lay on the hotel bed and make snow angels out of cash. Everything is right with the Warriors.
Except of course for the talocrural region of Stephen Curry’s left foot. See? There’s always something.