Make no mistake Dub Nation: Warriors fortunes rest with the ‘Big Three’

Golden State will go as far as Curry, Thompson and Green will take them

By Mark Kreidler

Special to the Examiner

The Warriors playoff roster is still introducing itself to itself. Every night seems to bring a new wrinkle. Early in the Denver series, Jordan Poole was a revelation. In the decisive Game 5, one of the key factors down the stretch was the inspired play of Gary Payton II, who had logged exactly seven minutes in the game prior.

And it’s a cool mind-game to play, right? It’s fun to guess who’s next, or where the unexpected energy might come from. In fact, you could almost be lulled into thinking that this part — the part about an unheralded, sudden starburst — is the part that determines the Warriors’ future.

Listen: Do not be so lulled.

You know the truth. It’s still about the big three.

The Warriors are going to go exactly as far as Steph Curry takes them. They’re going to advance or fall in the Western Conference semis depending upon Klay Thompson’s performance. They’ll either hold their own or wilt defensively based on Draymond Green’s stoutness and his ability to stay out of foul trouble while guarding opposing bigs.

That’s it! That’s the whole deal. It’s nothing against Payton or Poole or anyone else. But let’s not get it twisted.

Warriors fans have probably become inured to the routinely elite performances they receive from their big three. They shouldn’t — I mean, no one should — but it’s understandable. Fans have been watching the Steph-Klay-Draymond high-wire act for so many years that after a while, the players feel like part of the furniture.

This is true, by the way, even given the more recent developments. Thompson was gone for more than 900 days because of back-to-back horrible injuries. But now that he’s here again, it all looks perfectly normal, as if he never left. Green missed significant time with a calf injury that turned out to be related to a disc problem. Curry didn’t play the final dozen games of the regular season with a foot thing.

Against the Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson looks as though he didn’t miss a day to two debilitating injuries. (Christopher Victorio / Special to The Examiner).

Against the Denver Nuggets, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson looks as though he didn’t miss a day to two debilitating injuries. (Christopher Victorio / Special to The Examiner).

They’ve only been all together, that is, for a very short while. No joke. And yet they’re already being taken for granted again, as if it is simply fated that they’ll resume being great because, you know, they are who they are.

There is no doubt Payton was huge for the Warriors in Game 5. Not only did he deliver his usual tough defense and passing ability, but he knocked down critical shots in a fourth-quarter comeback that finally put down Nicola Jokic’s Nuggets and ended the series.

His performance was one of a couple of eye-opening moments, and those moments may earn Payton some additional value in Steve Kerr’s rotations for the coming playoff round. In the same way, Poole’s transcendent work in Curry’s stead toward the end of the regular season has practically anointed him as Future Scorer. Poole can light it up.

It makes you wonder about whether anyone else is ready to step forward. The timing is right; with Andre Iguodala’s availability for the conference semis still in doubt, there’s room for another Golden State player — Otto Porter Jr.? Kevon Looney? — to find a way to matter more now than he did just a couple of weeks ago. No one is going to match Iguodala’s experience and playoff savvy, but if we’ve learned anything from the front end of the NBA post-season, it’s that teams often have no choice but to search for new contributors.

Payton was just that for the Warriors, especially down the stretch of Game 5. You know who else was great in the fourth quarter of that game? Curry. Payton delivered 10 huge points in that frame, and it was fun to watch. Curry? He scored 11. But we just assume when it comes to Steph — he’s supposed to do that.

As he ramped up his minutes over the course of the series in his return from injury, Curry went like this: 34 points in 23 minutes; 27 points in 31 minutes; 33 points in 37 minutes; 30 points in 38 minutes. He wasn’t perfect. He even missed some free throws. But try winning that series any other way.

Thompson wasn’t great in Game 5, but he’d already done such A-grade work in the first four games that it didn’t wind up mattering too much. Green was, and remains, the lynchpin of the Warriors. Without his defensive presence and his straight-up basketball smarts at both ends of the floor, that Denver series goes on and on.

Instead, the Warriors are done in five games, and we get to dream on a little bit about who will be the next guy on their roster to jump up and surprise us with a great performance. That’s amazing. It’s fun. But the secret sauce here isn’t a secret of all: This team has three players whose great performances almost never surprise anyone. That is one rare gift, even if we have a hard time remembering it.

Mark Kreidler is a freelance contributor to The Examiner. Read more of his columns at www.markkreidler.substack.com.

Savoring the Warriors’ remarkable run: Five lessons learned

Every postseason tells a different story. This one might be a fairy tale

Warriors routed on a tragic Tuesday in Texas

Mass shooting looms over Game 4, Golden State will try to clinch Thursday at home

Kerr explodes at pregame press conference, incensed by latest mass shooting

‘We are being held hostage by 50 Senators in Washington!’