The Warriors may have won 58 games, good for the No. 5 spot in franchise history, but the regular season was a bit incomplete. Golden State’s four All-Stars played just 41 games together, and the team limped to the finish line, going 4-6 without Stephen Curry and 7-10 in their final 17 games.
So what happens when they meet the San Antonio Spurs on Saturday in Round 1 of the NBA Playoffs?
Expect the Gregg Popovich and company to muck the game up, limit the Warriors’ fast-break opportunities and exploit any weakness they find on film.
These two met in the Western Conference Finals last year, but this series will be immensely different without Curry and Kawhi Leonard. Here’s what it’ll take for the Warriors to flip the switch and turn into the juggernauts we expected at the season’s start.
THE WARRIORS’ X-FACTOR
After toggling between veteran David West and newcomer Quinn Cook, I’m leaning toward Cook as the X-factor for the defending champs.
Cook will be starting in place of Curry, who will miss the first round with an MCL Grade 2 sprain in his left knee, according to head coach Steve Kerr. With Andre Iguodala battling left knee soreness, and the coaching staff wanting to limit Shaun Livingston to about 20 minutes a game, Cook will need to deliver under the bright lights.
That shouldn’t be a problem for the two-time G-League All-Star who averaged 25.3 points and shot 52.4 percent from the field, 43.7 percent from deep and 95 percent from the free-throw line.
The Spurs will run Cook through a number of pick-and-rolls and force him to make open shots as they swarm Kevin Durant and suffocate Klay Thompson.
In his past four games, Cook has shown the will and composure to get the job done, averaging 17.1 points, 4.9 assists and 4.2 rebounds. He scored 20 in the Warriors’ March 19 loss to San Antonio, and anything close to a repeat performance should be enough.
But if Cook struggles, the Warriors could be in for a grueling series.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
You never know what Popovich will cook up. (As a wine connoisseur, the mastermind is probably thrilled to be in the Bay Area.) He’ll send numerous defenders at Durant — that we know — but the pivotal matchup is Thompson vs. Danny Green.
There’s no doubt the battle between Draymond Green and LaMarcus Aldridge will be the headliner, a tango everyone wants to see. But Thompson and Danny Green, two of the quieter players on their respective rosters, is most intriguing.
Thompson struggled with his shot in the 2017 postseason. He averaged a paltry 15 points per game while shooting 39.7 percent from the field and 38.7 percent from the 3-point line.
Green is a crafty defender. He moves his feet well, fights through screens and can be physical off the ball. Without Curry, Thompson will have to win this matchup and help Durant with the scoring load.
It won’t be easy because Green is more than capable of making life difficult for Thompson. Keep an eye on these two sharpshooters.
TAKE CARE OF THE BALL
I’ll keep this one short and to the point: The key for the Warriors is turnovers, turnovers, turnovers.
Without Curry, the margin of error is so slim that ball security cannot be an issue for a team that’s already out of sync. Take care of the basketball, especially against the Spurs.
Golden State in five. The Spurs have been an atrocious road team, winning just 14 games away from the Alamo. Despite their uninspiring play over the last month of the season, the Warriors will be able to hold serve at home while stealing one in South Texas.
Bonta Hill of 95.7 The Game can be heard from noon to 3 p.m. on the Greg Papa Show. Born and bred in San Francisco, he is a sports junkie who loves to sit in the lab (home), eats breakfast food for dinner and has a newfound love for tequila. Follow at your own risk on Twitter @BontaHill.