OAKLAND — It caused concern when the Golden State Warriors were blown out by the Utah Jazz by 30 points on Jan. 30. That wasn’t normal for the team in the Steve Kerr Era and it did little in the games following to dispel that concern.
But when the Warriors have won in the stretch since that game, they’ve done it decisively against overmatched teams. That was the case Saturday, when Golden State beat up on the San Antonio Spurs, 122-105.
Normally, that’s a remarkable outcome against Gregg Popovich’s team. But this iteration didn’t have Kawhi Leonard (who hasn’t played much since Zaza Pachulia slid under his foot, causing him to roll his ankle, in the Western Conference finals), Tony Parker, Dejounte Murray and Rudy Gay.
And it wasn’t the playoff-rotation that buried the Spurs. The Warriors starters fell behind early despite facing an overmatched opposition. Defensive rotations were slow. Passes were lazy. Zaza Pachulia had no answers for LaMarcus Aldridge’s midrange attack.
If it wasn’t for the bench righting the ship in the second quarter, it could’ve been another home blowout a la the Oklahoma City debacle earlier in the week.
“I thought that was the story of the game: our bench play,” Kerr said. “The way those guys straightened everything out for us. We gave up 37 points in the first quarter, the defense wasn’t there and we were getting carved up.”
The game fell into a typical rhythm for this season’s team. The Warriors didn’t care much early, composed themselves before halftime and then throttled their opponents in the third. Naturally, Klay Thompson and David West were the heroes. They usually are when the second-quarter unit is expected to salvage a subpar start.
“I think there is probably something to the idea that we are easing into games just like we are easing our way into the season,” Kerr said before the OKC game on Tuesday. “It’s a microcosm of the big picture. That’s how I look at it.”
Extending the metaphor, the team should be entering its third quarter after the All Star break. Until then, they’ll be content winning games by flipping the switch when they need to be on.
It’s going to take a jolt to return the Warriors back to their dominant selves. On Saturday, Thompson electrified his teammates with a dunk over Spurs big man Davis Bertans.
JaVale McGee did his part, too. The reserve big man played his part to near-perfection. He turned his few minutes into palpable energy inside the arena. And he might have saved his spot on the roster in the process.
The Warriors are rumored to be pursuing players who were bought out after the rash of movement at the trade deadline (e.g. Joe Johnson), and the assumption was that McGee would be the veteran to lose his spot. But with McGee showing some usefulness with Jordan Bell limited to injury, it could end up being Omri Casspi who loses his spot should any deal come to fruition.
The battle for who will survive buyout season is really the only small-picture worrying Golden State fans should be participating in at this point.
Because it’s clear the team is keeping the big picture at the forefront this season. So the discussion about the Warriors shouldn’t include hand wringing about whether they’ll figure it out. It should instead focus on whether they took care of business while keeping their long-term goals alive.
By keeping everyone healthy (Stephen Curry hobbled around — favoring his ankle — for a moment, but insisted it was nothing after the game) and the minutes of their stars and older veterans limited, the Warriors won twice on Saturday against the team with the third-best record in the Western Conference.
That’ll have to do for now.
Contact Examiner Sports Editor Jacob C. Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @jacobc_palmer.