The NBA Playoffs tip off early today, as the Warriors will take on the Spurs in a match up of NBA blue-bloods with squads depleted by injury
Despite being the defending champions, and having possibly the most talented NBA roster ever assembled, the Warriors had kind of a lackluster regular season. Yes, they won 58 games and secured the 2nd seed in the Western Conference, but a combination of injuries and a general lack of focus resulted in a regular season that more closely resembled a tired team hobbling towards the playoffs, than the fun-loving, highly-dominant Warriors regular season that have been custom the past three years.
It’s now playoff time, though, and the Warriors will no longer have easy nights to lose focus on against a team like the Suns. Here’s how the Warriors can win, and lose, their first round match-up with the San Antonio Spurs, a key player to watch, and my prediction for the series.
How the Warriors will win
The term “flip the switch” is thrown around a lot when referring to basketball teams these days. It was popularized when talking about the Cavaliers team last year, after they meandered through the regular season, and experts and fans alike wondered if they could turn it on, or “flip the switch,” come playoff time. They kind of did, as they breezed through a weak Eastern Conference before getting plastered by the Warriors in the finals. This year, however, it’s the Warriors that face the switch-flipping questions.
Like the Cavs of last year, the Warriors regular season was, in a word, uninspiring. Chalk it up to injuries, or just being tired from playing into late June the past three years, but the Warriors were just bleh from November to April. So, it’s only natural that people start to wonder if the Warriors can flip the switch for the playoffs. Draymond Green was asked about it, and he gave an answer that made it seem like the switch was more of a dimmer that gradually goes up or down, but he also said that if there was a switch, if one team could flip it, it would be the Warriors.
Draymond should know about being able to flip the switch, because it is his hands that would do the flipping. Draymond holds the keys for the Warriors in this series, and the team will go as far as he does. It is well known that Draymond is essentially the quarterback of the Warriors defense, and that the defense goes as he goes. His performance this year, however, hasn’t been up to his usual standard (his standard is literally defensive player of the year, though, so it’s a tough one to live up to), and as a result, the Warriors’ team defense has struggled. If Draymond can lock in on the defensive side, the Warriors should not have much trouble slowing down the Spurs. Simply put, the Spurs don’t have a lot of offensive firepower. Sure, they have LaMarcus Aldridge, but if he’s your go-to option in a playoff series, you’re going to be in trouble. If Draymond can play how he’s shown that he can in the past on defense, the Warriors should have nothing to worry about.
How can Draymond play up to his standards? It all comes down to focus and effort. Draymond, and the rest of the Warriors team, can be historically great defensively when they want to be. In the regular season, it was pretty clear that they didn’t want to be. Defense is tiring, and it’s a long season, I get it. There’s no better time to get locked in than the playoffs, however, and the Warriors will have to put their full focus and attention towards these upcoming games against the Spurs if they want to win.
Yes, the Warriors have more talent, and are the higher seed, but the Spurs are too well coached and too experienced to ever be taken lightly.
Player to Watch
Klay Thompson. Missing his fellow Splash Brother Stephen Curry, Klay has, much like the rest of the team, been kind of just “eh” coming down the stretch this season. He’s shown flashes, like his first-quarter outburst a few days ago, but he hasn’t really been great recently. The Warriors offense will need Klay to be Klay in order to survive without Steph in the postseason. Kevin Durant will always be Kevin Durant, and he can be counted on to score 25 or more night in and night out. But it will be Klay that decides how successful this team will be on offense. KD can’t do it alone, and Klay is really the only other reliable shooter left on this team, with Iguodala in a season-long slump, Nick Young and Draymond Green’s inability to find consistency, and, obviously, Steph being out for the entire Spurs season. If Klay can get it going, the Warriors should cruise past the Spurs.
Honorable mention/Wild Card: Quinn Cook. As I’m sure we all expected at the beginning of the season, Quinn Cook is the Warriors starting point guard against the Spurs in a playoff series. Cook has surpassed all expectations this seasons, and has shown to be a gifted scorer and shooter. The question, however, is if he can do it in the playoffs. If Cook can play how he did in the last 1.5-2 months of the regular season in the playoffs, everything will be coming up Warriors. Of course, the Warriors don’t need Quinn Cook in order to save their title hopes, but anything helps in the playoffs, especially from your starting point guard.
I’m going to take the Warriors in 5. GSW has struggled a bunch recently, and has given plenty of reason for concern (personally, I’m not worried about them, I think they have enough left in the tank). But, if there is actual reason to be worried about this team’s title hopes, it will be against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors should have more than enough to get by a Spurs team that’s missing their best player in Kawhi Leonard.