Who, exactly, are the 2022-23 Golden State Warriors? They defy expectations in ways both good and bad, but at the end of the day — and in a Game 7 in the playoffs — they win when it counts.
Round 1 of the playoffs perfectly mimicked the entire regular season. The Warriors were down, they were up again, and when they had the chance to control their fate and win decisively, they played horribly. Like, so horribly. And then, and only then, did they pull it off. They're still alive, they're advancing, and despite the lows of the season, they still have the promise of a championship team.
There's really only one team in the league who can beat the Warriors: Themselves.
Game 5, in Sacramento, was everything a Warriors' fan riding the home-highs and road-lows of the season could have asked for: a solid, well-played game on an opponent's floor. (125-116, Golden State.) After falling 0-2 to the Kings in Round 1, winning Game 5 marked three-straight wins by the Dubs and the chance to close out the series at Chase Center. Repeating my analysis in a way that's making my stories feel like NBA "Groundhog Day," it seemed the Warriors had turned a corner. They had hit that playoff gear.
I realize now that it's more accurate to say they could have turned a corner, but chose, instead to smash into a wall.
Game 6 was so bad. (118-99, Sacramento.) As someone who watched about 70 Dubs' games this year, I'm calling it the worst game of '22-'23. There were several painful moments in transition where the Kings snatched every ill-advised Warriors' pass. The Dubs were self-destructing. "It was one of the worst performances, one of the most lethargic performances I've ever seen from the Golden State Warriors in all my years," said Stephen A. Smith of Game 6. "They didn't collapse in the fourth quarter or anything like that, they came out there like they were literally disinterested in playing."
So once more into the breach, dear friends. How about a Game 7 to keep things interesting and on theme with the season? How about a one-game series in the maw of a young team with an thirsty fan base clanging cow bells and itching to shoot their beam into the sky?
Game 7 was by no means the Warriors' best game, though it was certainly among the best-ever games for Wardell Stephen Curry and Kevon Looney.
The Warriors were 19-30 from the free-throw line (the Kings were 16-27); the intensity of the crowd seemed to jar the ball right out of the rim. Steph missed two free throws in a row in the second quarter, and the crowd exploded so that you would have thought that the Kings just hit the series-winning buzzer beater. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins had low-percentage shooting nights, and Jordan Pool was just one point above his series' low.
Stephen Curry, however, set a new Game-7 record with 50 points and 8 rebounds. Kevon Looney continues to set records with another 20-plus-rebound game. (He had 21 on Sunday.) The Kings's shooting went pretty cold in the second half yesterday, but still, the Warriors won, on on the back of Steph.
It seems obvious that they have more in the tank. They can go as far as they want to go.
The Golden State Warriors will enjoy home-court advantage against the Los Angeles Lakers in Round 2 starting tomorrow night at Chase Center. It's going to be a pretty cool Western Conference semifinals, with NorCal taking on SoCal, the return of LeBron, and the battle of the lower seeds. (The Warriors and Lakers last faced each other in the playoffs in 1991.) The Lakers looked magnificent against the Memphis Grizzlies. (To be fair, the Grizzlies also looked silly more often than not.) L.A. is a rebooted, multi-weapon team since the February 9 trade deadline. They weathered a Lebron injury and won enough games to squeak into the Play In Tournament. Lebron James was cunningly clutch against Memphis.
The Lakers are for real. Are the Warriors for real, too?
"No one is beating this team. They’re winning it all again. Even if the Warriors try to throw a bunch of games the rest of the way, those games will still bank off the glass and go in," wrote Drew Magary. It's true, the Warriors can win whenever they want. They are their own worst enemy.
Having bad games and off-shooting nights is one thing, but when the Dubs look like they're "disinterested," as they did in Game 6, then it gets a little scary. I'm sure the Warriors are very interested in winning, I'm sure they want to go all the way again, but there's no denying that something weird has hung over them all season.
But enough of that! I promise, no more talk of turning corners, no more comparisons to the regular season, no more talk of weirdness. (I hope.) To be honest, I found myself getting irritated at the losses this series. (I shut Game 6 off early in the fourth quarter.) It kind of stopped being fun. (Losing isn't fun, but totally necessary to contrast big wins.) I was kind of rooting for the upstart Kings, and kind of hoping this Warriors' season would just be over already.
But it's Round 2, and once again, anything seems possible.
Top Image: Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images