Sometimes it’s easy to look back on a season and pinpoint or figure out exactly when something went wrong … or what went right. The problem is, when you’re actually going through that period, in real time, during the season, you may not actually realize it.
Last year, the Warriors lost to the Cavaliers in seven games, and their enduring an autopsy that goes on to this day. You can look back and find some causes for the defeat, or so it goes.Clearly Draymond Green’s one-game suspension altered the series, but that’s not what we’re getting at.
We all knew when that happened, trouble was brewing for the Warriors. Not just because they’d be without Green for a critical Game 5, but because we knew something else was happening: The players who remained were getting worn out
When the Warriors won 24 games last year to start the season, it got the year off to a resounding start. They kept up a record-setting pace as the season went on at some point the idea of winning 73 games — or one more game than the 1996-97 Bulls (72-10) — came into the equation. Whether they talked about it or not or whether it entered their minds only once in a while, that notion likely affected the way they played.
By the time April rolled around, getting to 73 wins was the dominant theme — and it became a daily topic. Even coach Steve Kerr acknowledged that a tough and emotional regular season may have taken something out of the Warriors down the line. So, the notion is certainly not farfetched.
What if we’re in a critical period right now? But we just don’t know it. What if right now we’re at a point in the season where things get determined down the line? It’s possible.
One reason I say that: Depth. The Cavaliers appear to be getting stronger, deeper. The Warriors don’t. They’re more depleted. Yes, maybe Kevin Durant will be back in the NBA Finals, and maybe he’s even at 100 percent. But what is also possible is that because the Cavs got Deron Williams and Andrew Bogut and Kyle Korver they may be able to give a lot of breathers and a lot of rest to LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.
That rest or easing into the playoffs for the next month-plus could prove to be very beneficial if and when the Cavaliers get to the Finals. Particularly if it’s compounded by an easy run through the Eastern Conference.
The Warriors are now without Durant, which means somebody or somebodies have to eat up those 34 minutes a night. But you certainly don’t want it to be any one of the Big 3 — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson or Green. Although don’t look now, and maybe it’s a coincidence, but Green played 39 minutes, Thompson 37 minutes and Curry 36 minutes in Sunday’s win at New York. Worth keeping an eye on their minutes tonight at Atlanta.
If there are minutes to be had and players such as Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston and David West have to take up more heavy lifting, who knows how that might manifest itself in mid-June — if the Warriors get that far? Iguodala played 30 minutes Sunday. That’s a lot for him. How many will he play tonight? Gotta believe Kerr will keep him relatively low.
Also adding to all this is the Spurs. They’re hovering right now for home-court advantage. How much do you want to hold off the Spurs? Might you have to put extra effort into doing that? Will you have to play guys more than you want to? Or do you go with younger players, who may not be able to bring that No. 1 spot home? A No. 2 seed makes a run to the Finals even more difficult.
Who knows what’s going to happen? Maybe somehow Durant’s injury is a galvanizing time for the Warriors. Maybe they’ll find a way to feed off this and parlay it into a big-time stretch drive that culminates in another Oakland parade. Nobody knows. But it’s possible that what’s happening right now affects what happens in June.