SAN ANTONIO – Twenty-eight games, three playoff series and two and half months later, the Warriors walked out of AT&T Center as late-Monday started to drip into early-Tuesday so different than when they left town deep in the controversy they didn’t want but would not avoid.
It was coach Steve Kerr taking a running jump into the swirl, more specifically, and the rest of the organization being pulled along, but same difference. The Warriors were in San Antonio for the final portion of one of the hardest stretches of the regular season schedule.
So, Kerr rested Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Kevin Durant, who was already sidelined by a sprained left knee when the Warriors played the Spurs on March 11.
So, what Golden State was up just one and a half games on the Spurs for the best record in the Western Conference, a potentially valuable chip for home-court advantage in the playoffs.
So, what that it came complete with a national-television spotlight.
That was March 11.
This was May 22: The Warriors winning for the 27th time in the 28 outings since Restgate as the latest in the league-wide debate over teams giving healthy players nights off.
The Warriors had a 14-game win streak followed by a loss to the Jazz on April 12 in the next-to-last contest of the regular season followed by the active streak of 13 consecutive victories. That includes a 12-0 record in the playoffs, the best postseason start ever, the last two of which came in the same AT&T Center and resulted in a third Western Conference title in as many years.
The symbolism, or the irony, was difficult to miss as the Warriors readied for the charter flight back to Oakland to begin to prepare in earnest for the Finals that would begin June 1 against the Cavaliers or Celtics.
Golden State had earned a lot more rest by sweeping the Trail Blazers in the first round, the Jazz in the second and the Spurs in the third because of the 27-1 stretch that came immediately after three-fifths of the starting lineup – Curry, Green and Thompson – and key reserve Iguodala were held out.
“Coincidence,” backup guard Shaun Livingston said.
There is that explanation that makes as much sense as any reasoning behind the play through the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, without any indication the controversy shaped the Warriors. March 11 stood out because it was against the Spurs on national television, with the best record in the West still very much in doubt, but the same thing could have happened if Golden State played the same night against a different opponent in any city other than Oakland.
That it was outside Northern California, or maybe even the West Coast, was the point. The Saturday night in San Antonio was the eighth game in eight cities in 13 days, a stretch that had jumped out to Kerr months earlier as potential trouble on his players’ bodies. Not only that, the league sent the Warriors east for five games, home from Atlanta to Oracle Arena for one with a single day off, and then right back out, again with one idle day used on travel, for a back-to-back at Minneapolis and at San Antonio.
The Minnesota-Texas portion, after just having been east for five games, after just going Atlanta to Oakland to turn Oracle into a basketball drive-thru, was the tipping point for Kerr. He decided it was all too taxing for his players. That was followed, though, by 11 of 16 at home, with a couple stretches against lottery-bound teams.
The Warriors finishing the regular season 15-1 may simply have been a matter of the schedule turning in the Warriors’ favor, not the specific trickle down from the memorable night at AT&T Center that ended in a 107-85 victory for the Spurs.
“For sure,” Livingston said. “That was probably the biggest part. Getting the home games, being at home, guys getting rested. We had a couple games against sub-.500 teams that could get us back into kind of a comfort zone or realign our roles. It was the schedule.”
The return to San Antonio later the same month, on March 29, was part of the surge. Golden State, riding an eight-game winning streak, playing on the second night of a back-to-back after beating the Rockets, fell behind by 22 points in the first quarter before rallying for a 110-98 victory. All the healthy Warriors played.
“That was a big game for us,” Green said. “I can’t necessarily say, ‘Oh, that game is the reason we’re playing the way we’re playing today.’ I think (it was) just at a point in the season where you want to be playing your best basketball. The entire season you’re aiming to get toward that. You’re working to get to that level the entire season. So I think we’ve done that. I think we’re clicking at the right time. I also think we’re still getting better. I don’t think we’ve reached our ceiling yet.”
He said it 28 games, three playoff series and two and a half months later. Golden State returned to AT&T Center in the postseason and made the site of the controversy on March 11 the same arena where they would claim another West championship on May 22. It’s just that the Warriors were in a much different place.
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