I did not know if I would write this sentence in 2023 until yesterday at about 1 p.m.: The Golden State Warriors are going to the playoffs. I wouldn't have even felt comfortable saying that the Warriors would probably make the playoffs, even though I thought they probably would.
In a season where so little seemed in their control (especially when they weren't playing at the Chase Center) the Warriors eked out just enough wins — including eight of their last ten games and four of their last five games on the road — controlling their destiny as the season ground to a close. The Dubs avoided the playoff tournament, earned a week off and a first-round berth against the massively talented Sacramento Kings. Perhaps more importantly, Golden State ended the season winning games they absolutely needed to and should have to once again arrive at the playoffs.
"After a really long and in many ways tumultuous season, we got where we needed to get," said head coach Steve Kerr after yesterday's blowout in Portland against the Trail Blazers. "We've got a chance, and that's all we were hoping for."
In a game that they had to have in Portland on Sunday, the Warriors came out swinging, and (to mix metaphors) never let their foot off the gas. The Dubs set a new NBA record for first-quarter points with 55 yesterday, and Klay Thompson set the tone, hitting five threes and scoring 17 points.* Steph Curry and Jordan Poole were also railing triples, scoring 26 and 21 points respectively long before the game went into garbage time, with the Warriors leading by as much as 40 or 50. (Final score, 157-101.) Golden State was like a lion playing with its prey.
(*Thompson led the NBA in triples with 301, a career high. Klay is now one of only three players, along with Steph Curry and James Harden, to hit 300 or more threes in a single season.)
It was the kind of thorough, corner-turning victory that we've kind of been waiting for all season, where everything was clicking and the Warriors were feeling themselves and playing their game. Let me pump the brakes: Portland, who had a disappointing year at 33-49, was without Damian Lillard and other starters yesterday, just as the Kings were without a handful of stars when the Dubs won another must-win game in Sacramento on Friday. With the exception of the Philadelphia 76ers at the end of March (a game which the Warriors won), the pointy end of the schedule was kind to Golden State, who finished the year 44-38.
But still, they won when they had to.
Will this strong finish lead to some playoff momentum? Are we witnessing a mini repeat of last season, the second half of which was an injury- and heartbreaking-loss riddled grind for the Warriors? "This team is going to be remembered for what happens in the next few weeks, not what happened in the last six months," a reporter said to Stephen Curry at yesterday's postgame press conference.
"Yeah, that's because of what we've accomplished, and there's an expectation that, you know, we're built to win in the postseason. And we've done it. That's the reputation that we love to have. It's not easy getting through an 82-game schedule. Year after year, no matter what seed you are, just getting there — especially as the defending champs — we've gotten everybody's best punch, every night.
"Now it's time to just lay it on the line in another playoff series."
The Sacramento Kings and Golden State Warriors will now face each other in the playoffs for the first time in NBA history.
The Kings are in the postseason for the first time in 17 years with a nascent, prolific squad that led the league in points scored; the Warriors had the second-best offense. The Warriors bested the Kings 3-1 on the season after the teams faced each other three times in the first 13 games. With home-court advantage in Round 1, and anecdotally one of the loudest venues in the NBA, the young Kings are scary good. They begin a much-anticipate playoff season against the defending champions who are looking to see just how high their dynasty can soar.
The Kings' De'Aaron Fox has been called the most clutch player in the NBA this year. Kevin Huerter and Keegan Murray are fantastic three-point shooters. Domantas Sabonis is a beast on the glass, sitting somewhere just behind Kevon Looney in offensive rebounds this season.
It should be a very good series.
Will some of the lingering weirdness from the Warriors' strange season carry over into the playoffs? Or is the postseason really a reset where everything begins anew — or is even part of a proven program? "We hopefully can rely on last year's success as, like, a template for how we need to play," said Steph Curry yesterday. "It's just a matter of can we do it, and can we do it consistently.
"I know we can."
Baring their struggles this year, there is obviously precedent for the Warriors to make a deep playoff run — once in the postseason, the Dubs have made the Finals every year since 2014-15. But nothing has been on script this year.
"Does this year feel more emotional than it has in the past?" a reporter asked Steph Curry yesterday about the 2022-23 regular season. Steph thought about it for long moments.
"Umm, we'll talk about that at the end of the year."
Game 1 of Round 1 featuring the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings starts on Saturday, April 15 at 5:30 p.m. at Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
Top Photo: Steph Chambers/Getty Images