One of the most overused cliches in sports, and in real life as well, is the “wake-up call.” Everything is a wake-up call these days.
As much as I hate to say it, however, I have to admit that there’s just no other way to describe the way the Golden State Warriors have played since they were Dominated (with a capital D, you notice), by the Detroit Pistons on January 16, 113-95.
They were never really in that game, and they were out-rebounded, out hustled, out-shot and probably out-showered after the game. The loss game at the end of about a month-long run of indifferent performances by the team, most of which still wound up in the W column. There were injuries to Stephen Curry, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and Klay Thompson, and the stress of playing everyone’s “A” game every night was clearly showing.
After that Pistons game, the team had a day off in Cleveland to prepare for a game against the surging Cavaliers, winners of five out of six on a recent road trip. The Warriors, who boast the world’s biggest (or at least most famous) Carolina Panthers fan in Curry, had a watch party at their hotel as the Panthers beat Seattle in the playoffs.
After a humbling night in Detroit and then a happy night of football-themed celebration in Cleveland, how would this team react?
On Monday night, they smoked the Cavaliers, outscoring Cleveland by 13 points in each of the first two quarters and by 11 in the third.
The notion of a wake-up call was real.
This was supposed to be the game in which Cleveland made its point about how the Warriors got lucky in the Finals last year, with the Cavs missing two starters. Instead, it was the Warriors sending a message about 2016, and what it might take for Cleveland to win four games against this bunch. That game isn’t the only reason the Cavs jettisoned their coach, but it was part of the conversation, I’m sure.
Two nights later, the Warriors moved on to Chicago, where a remarkably similar thing took place. Nobody is saying that the Bulls are as good as the Cavaliers, but you could make that argument based on the fact that the teams were blown out to the same degree. (That the Bulls crushed the Cavs this past Saturday adds to the weight of what the Warriors did in Chicago a few nights before.) It was 16 points at the end of the first, 19 at the half, and 24 after three quarters.
Actually the Bulls never trailed by 40, which the Cavs did, so maybe they ARE better. This was the Warriors’ ninth straight game in a different city, and while it wasn’t as big a message as the Cleveland game, it affirmed that even after a big win, and on the last game of a road trip, the Warriors were extremely dangerous.
Golden State came home to play Indiana on Friday night. This was a bit of a trap game. The first game at home after a long trip often feels like just another road game, plus the Warriors had San Antonio coming up on Monday night. The Warriors steamed out to a 14-point first-quarter lead, and while they weren’t as sharp, they were never seriously challenged and wound up winning by 12.
Now, before we talk about what the Golden State Warriors accomplished Monday in their demolition of the San Antonio Spurs, let’s talk about what didn’t happen.
They didn’t win the 2016 NBA title.
They didn’t beat the Spurs with all of their players, as Tim Duncan sat out the game to rest a sore knee.
They didn’t cure any diseases.
Other than that, they got a lot done.
As this season has developed, there have been several lingering questions. They have all fallen by the wayside, except one. The Warriors will tell you they don’t care about that one, which is: “Can they win 73 games?” I’m sure to an extent that’s true, but if they’re 72-9 with a three-game lead in the West, I don’t think they’re resting Steph Curry and Draymond Green in game No. 82.
The big thud you heard at about midnight Eastern time Monday night was the next-to-last lingering question. “Can the Spurs, acknowledged masters of the round leather ball with the lines all over it, stop this ridiculous Warriors thing that’s happening?”
It fell to the ground in the middle of the third quarter when the Warriors’ lead hit 30. Here’s a little perspective on that. The Spurs had lost only six games prior to last night, by a total of 33 points. Their 30-point loss to the Warriors dropped their season scoring margin a full point.
Want some more numbers? Steph Curry has scored 136 points in the last four games. That’s an average of 34 points per game, which is pretty good, but only a little higher than his season average. He has, however, played only 127 minutes in those games, so he’s scoring at a rate of 1.07 points per minute. That’s a similar ratio, by the way, to the way he started this season. In the Warriors’ first six games, Curry scored 213 points in 195 minutes, so this is not all that unusual for him.
In all, Curry has now sat out 13 fourth quarters, including recent wins over Cleveland, Chicago and San Antonio. He’s still averaging 30 points per game.
After the Cleveland game, Harrison Barnes said in an interview that it felt like the team got a little bored with winning, and that they got less and less sharp as time went on. Instead of making three passes in a possession they made one or two. Instead of cutting hard to the basket after a screen, they would just drift.
The Detroit Pistons seem to have put an end to all of that. Little did they know that they were awakening a sleeping giant who has now resumed stomping all over the NBA. The Spurs were the Association’s last hope to restore order, and if they’re going to do it, it’s going to have to be when these teams meet again March 19 in San Antonio.
Maybe the Warriors will be receiving the message that night, rather than sending it.