Throughout much of the 2021/22 season, the Golden State Warriors have spoken about "peaking at the right time" like it was a mantra, like it was a Zen state that could be achieved through disciplined practice — but also, through patience and time. Would fans know what peaking at the right time looked like if we were to finally see it? Would it take the form of dominance against another team?
The Warriors' decisive 112-87 win over the Dallas Mavericks last night in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals might just represent them nearing the top, at least, of a much-sought-after and timely pinnacle. There is still a long way to go to three-more wins (seven, if you have your eyes on the prize), and we can certainly expect to see the Mavericks play much better than they did last night. But we can also expect to see the Warriors continue to strive for peak, perfected performance, and for that coveted transcendence to excellence.
It was a slow, evenly matched start to Game 1, with neither team shooting the ball well. The Splash Brothers hoisted a bunch of threes that rattled out. First quarter, 28-18 Warriors. The TNT announcing crew called Looney the "MVP of the first quarter" for his impact on the game; Looney had five rebounds on the night, and scored 10 points — way above his average.
"It was a little ugly the first quarter," Curry said in the post-game, on-court interview. But Warriors fans are used to slow starts before the Dubs charge up the hill. Stephen Curry would go on to have a game-high 12 rebounds and 21 points. (That's a double-double.) After a chilly start, Klay Thompson got hot in the second half, tallying 15 points and 5 rebounds on the night.
But it was Andrew Wiggins who subtly, almost imperceptibly stole the spotlight. His shot was working from the get go — Wiggins scored 19 points on the night, one of his best performances of the playoffs. It was his meeting Luka Doncic in the mid-court, however, to set the defense, and set a tone for the game.
"Just make him work — that's it," Wiggins said when asked what his strategy was on Dallas's superstar. "Just try not to let him get comfortable. Every shot, everything he does, just make it tough."
Doncic scored 20 points on Wednesday, second only to Stephen Curry in the game. But he felt like a non-factor on the night, or that he was carrying too much of the load for Dallas. Spencer Dinwiddie had another excellent night off the bench with 17 points, but the Mavericks had their worst shooting performance of this year's playoffs, firing 36% from the field and just under 23% from three.
I don't like to make predictions, but there should be little doubt that Dallas is due for a monster scoring night in the very near future.
The Warriors averaged a 10-ish point lead for much of the second quarter, though the Mavericks briefly cut it to three before the Dubs surged and ended the first half 54-45.
It was pretty much all Golden State in the second half.
In the third quarter, Steph Curry ran deep into the corner and was nearly trapped by two Mavericks. Curry chucked a no-look, behind-the-head pass which bounced its way, unintentionally, to Draymond Green. Steph sprinted out of the corner (the Mav's Dorian Finney-Smith kind of fell asleep on the coverage), got the ball back from Draymond, and fired the three.
"You had to throw kind of a tough pass, maybe a wild pass out to Draymond," a reporter recalled at the postgame interview. ("It's what I do — throw wild passes," Steph joked.) "That play could have gone a lot of directions, but it obviously ends in a big three," the reporter continued. "How would you describe the read you and Draymond have to make that happen?"
"It was a long-shot pass. I threw it, and I looked back, and I saw it was not going anywhere near Loone, who I was trying to throw it to," Curry said. "Sigh of relief on that one.
But, the way we play: once you get the first pass, they had two guys on me, and then we had more actions to follow — that's what we've been doing for years, and there's a chemistry to that. Good things usually happen. It's just patterns that we're used to."
And what of the Warriors scourge of turnovers?
The Warriors made a few lightening-fast outlet passes to breakaway players, and scored several times that way last night. In the Memphis series, the Grizzlies seemed to gobble up a lot of those passes, or the Warriors just couldn't connect on the full-court touchdown tries.
The Warriors still had 15 turnovers on the night to the Mavs' 13, though a lot of those came when both teams cleared their benches in the fourth quarter and play got a bit scrappy. We can't get too excited that this might be the so-called "peak."
But, as has been said before on this blog, there is no question that the Warriors are always going to play a run-and-gun style of basketball, and that style seemed to click last night, at least a little.
Well, most things were clicking. Not long after the aforementioned "wild pass" that ended in a Curry three, Steph was bringing the ball into the Dallas zone and chucked the ball to . . . absolutely no one. Dallas recovered the empty ball and scored easily. (The Dubs turned it over again on the next possession.)
It was as if Steph was trying to use the Force to find his teammates and place the ball where his mind wanted it to be. You could almost see him attempting to impose his will, to create something that wasn't there, but could have been there, and that probably will be there at some point.
TNT reporter Allie LaForce said to Curry after the game: "You said that you were still waiting for this team to peak at the right time, for the first time all season. This felt one step closer. What was promising to you about this win?"
Curry: "We did what we were supposed to do. We protected home court, win the first game. [There's] a lotta work left."
Top image by Harry How/Getty Images