The Warriors are on track for the NBA title—can anyone stop them?
People—including me!—have been writing all year about the Golden State Warriors, inventing new metaphors and puns and wordplays for the Splash Brothers, oozing about new coach on the block Steve Kerr, gushing and raving and slobbering over their inside-out capabilities, their defense and their depth. This is the team leading the Western Conference by 8½ games. This is the team with the best record in the NBA. This is the team with the best point differential in the league, and, ahem, one of the best point differentials in the history of the league. So who can stop them? Or can anyone stop them? Is Golden State the Kentucky of the NBA?
For argument’s sake, let’s say the playoffs started tomorrow. Let’s look at Golden State’s opponents one by one. I’m just pushing the higher seeds through the matchups except taking the Clippers over the obviously reeling Blazers. These are not my official predictions!
Oklahoma City—In the first round, the Warriors take on a hobbled, injured, probably moderately depressed—even though they’d never admit it—Thunder team. Kevin Durant has been ruled out for the year, thus robbing us of what would have been one of the sexiest playoff matchups ever. OKC’s defense has been atrocious as of late, giving up 130 points to the Spurs, which can probably be forgiven in some Popovich-worshipping way, and 117 to the other team from Los Angeles, the Lakers. In the end, Golden State will be too much for Russell Westbrook and his collection of sidekicks. The Thunder might steal a game, but the Warriors roll. Warriors in five.
Los Angeles Clippers—This is a funny team, because despite currently being in fifth-place in the Western Conference, despite dealing with a number of injuries throughout the year, the Clippers have the second-highest point differential in the Western Conference—and, actually, the second-highest in the NBA. They’ve got an interior defender. They’ve got shooting. They’ve got star power. And they might be frightening, except for the fact that the Warriors can match every facet of their game with superior talent, skill and discipline. Warriors in six.
Memphis Grizzlies—Oh what an entertaining matchup this would be, a clash of styles worth the ages. Defense and grit versus the Splash Brothers. The tricks of Mike Conley versus the antics of Stephen Curry. Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph against Andrew Bogut, David Lee, Draymond Green and Supporting Cast. I think this would be Golden State’s toughest test in the Western Conference, because despite recent losses, the Grizzlies seem to be figuring out how to score in addition to their usual impeccable defense. But…still. Warriors in six.
Cleveland Cavaliers—With apologies to the Atlanta Hawks and a brief but not terribly apologetic look to the Chicago Bulls, the Cleveland Cavaliers are going to win the Eastern Conference because, as Poncho points out, the NBA is a league about stars. Every game that passes, LeBron James and Co. figure it out more and more. David Blatt is learning his rotations. He’s learning who to substitute when. And despite the rumors about rifts and futures and people plodding off to the Lakers, Kevin Love says publicly that he’s OK with whatever role he’s in as long as the Cavaliers are winning. Whether or not he’s being totally honest is something we just don’t know, because unless we put him in a lie detector test that they use on cop shows, there’s no way of getting inside his head. Alas, we must believe him. If Love really is ready for any role, then the lineup options get scarier for Cleveland, and Blatt has options nobody else has.
A Warriors-Cavaliers finals. Another stupidly entertaining series. The best stars in the league. The return of the King. The chance for Cleveland to break its curse. But once again, I think the Warriors would overpower the Cavs with their depth, their shooting, with the dynamics of their offensive and defensive abilities.Warriors in seven.
The original question: Can anyone beat the Golden State Warriors in the playoffs, over a seven-game series? The final answer: no. (Although watch out for those Spurs.)