There were echoes of past Bay Area champions — the 1974-75 Warriors and the 49ers of 1981 — in the Warriors’ improbable win over the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
Very little was expected of the 1974-75 Warriors, who traded star center Nate Thurmond before the start of the season. But with Rick Barry having his best year, with solid contributions from rookies Keith (later Jamaal) Wilkes and Phil Smith, and with coach Al Attles expertly rotating his lineup, the Warriors won what remains their only NBA title since they moved from Philadelphia to San Francisco.
The postseason hopes for this Warriors team had essentially evaporated in February. Even coach Don Nelson publicly gave up on the playoffs as they fell well below .500. A 16-5 run at the end of the regular season put them into the playoffs, but beating the Mavericks, who posted the NBA’s best record, seemed highly unlikely. The Warriors had won only 12 games on the road all season. But they won convincingly at Dallas and now they’ve got home-court advantage.
Nothing was expected of the 49ers before the 1981 season, either. They were just two seasons removed from back-to-back 2-14 records. They had improved to 6-10 in 1980, with one of their defeats a resounding 59-14 blowout by the Dallas Cowboys. But Bill Walsh had brought in a system that baffled other teams, and the 49ers won their first Super Bowl the following season, including the memorable NFC Championship Game victory over the Cowboys.
Like Walsh, Nelson is a master strategist. He’s confounded teams by going to a small lineup that has good shooters at every position. The Warriors can be vulnerable defensively with that lineup, but they can put the pressure on the opposing defense, too, especially when they have their running game going.
Avery Johnson has played under Nelson and worked for him as an assistant coach, and Sunday he tried to outdo his mentor by going with a small lineup, without DeSagana Diop and Erick Dampier. But it’s axiomatic in sports that when you play the other guy’s game, you lose. The Warriors have played the small lineup for more than a month, so they’re very comfortable with it. The Mavericks are not.
Nelson has clearly gotten into Johnson’s head. Johnson can go back to his regular lineup, which won 67 games this season — but that lineup lost to the Warriors every time in the regular season, including the game on March 12 that ended the Mavericks’ 17-game winning streak.
The Dallas players seem shaken, too. Johnson conceded the last regular-season game between the two teams in Oakland by not playing his regulars.
Some observers think he did that so his players could shrug off still another loss to the Warriors and then make their stand on their home court.
But the Mavericks didn’t play with any real confidenceSunday.
Now, the pressure is all on the Mavs.
The playoffs are much different than the regular season because individual games mean so much more. An inferior team can get hot and beat a superior team.
Right now, the Warriors are playing with confidence and Baron Davis is leading the charge. Davis is the key to their fastbreak offense with his quick outlet passes and, sometimes, his steals that start the break going.
He’s the Rick Barry of this year’s team.
And the Warriors are looking more and more like the 1974-75 champions.