Playoffs 2017: West Finals -- Warriors (1) vs. Spurs (2)
At 21-0, Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers remain on historic collision course
While focused on one more win, Warriors are well aware of Cavs' similar, dominant start
SAN ANTONIO — He sat behind the Spurs bench Saturday wearing a sharp suit and a frown, a clashing of styles and moods. Kawhi Leonard is watching these conference finals like plenty of other spectators, feeling deflated over what could’ve been.
Same can be said about Isaiah Thomas, who earlier in the day was declared done for the playoffs by the Celtics, now heavy favorites to falter in Cleveland on Sunday and join the Spurs in an 3-0 series hole.
Maybe it’s not a coincidence that the two unbeaten teams in the playoffs are also the two healthiest. The Warriors and Cavs have managed to dodge any and all serious injuries over the last seven weeks and that’s suddenly the best news for an NBA postseason that’s lacking in suspense and drama.
Really, now: How annoying would it be if, on their way to clinching the conference crown, one or more of the stars on either the Cavs or Warriors comes up lame and deprives the league of a championship series that many have waited seven months to see?
Twenty-four hours after the Cavs wiped out the Celtics by 44, the Warriors followed up with a decisive win by a dozen points over the more stubborn yet weakened Spurs. Golden State then became the third team in NBA history to start the playoffs 11-0.
Leonard didn’t play and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Spurs coach Gregg Popovich held Leonard out Monday as well. Pop is more interested in the long-term health of his stars, and therefore, why risk re-injury in a series that smells done?
His team was plucky in Game 3 without Leonard anyway, which is no surprise, until Kevin Durant (33 points, 10 rebounds) took control in the middle quarters and that was that. Even worse for the Spurs, reserve forward David Lee landed funny and limped off the floor, never to return, his status for the remainder of the series now questionable as well.
And so the inevitable Finals collision course, fueled by excellence and aided by misfortune remains in effect. The Cavs and Warriors are leaving no doubt in their respective conferences and making no apologies for it.
“So you’re saying it’s not been fun watching as a fan?” said Durant.
When two teams are a combined 21-0 and have never been pushed heavily and currently competing against opponents who are shortchanged by injuries to their best players, then yes, perhaps fun is in short supply.
“If I was on a team that’s up 40 points, you’ve got to give them credit for being up 40 points,” Durant said about the Cavs’ win Friday in Boston. “They went out there and dominated. So that’s what you want to do every time you step on the court. So there are years you have great playoff series, four or five Game 7s, then you have years where you see these playoffs. As players, you want to go out there and win as much as possible and play as great as you can. Whatever happens with the score happens. So we leave that to the fans who are upset.”
He then added some advice that won’t go over well at Sunday brunch with the networks and the league office:
“If you don’t like it, don’t watch it.”
“I’m obviously going to be watching the game tomorrow. I’m a fan of basketball, (to) understand what’s going on in that series. But it doesn’t matter until we get the fourth win in this series.”
Warriors guard Stephen Curry on the Cavaliers-Celtics series
Popovich said that, after consulting with the Spurs’ medical staff and Leonard, who suffers from a sprained ankle, the decision to keep Leonard benched was made collectively. That allowed the Warriors to exploit the situation and creep one win closer to the West title. Other than a flashback from 39-year-old Manu Ginobili, who delivered 21 points, the Spurs offered no one who put a scare into the Warriors.
The Spurs and their weakened state leave the Warriors mainly concentrating on their few lingering in-house issues:
Can Klay Thompson regain his touch? He scored 17 points Saturday, yet the mammoth offensive output from Thompson, missing for much of the playoffs, remains elusive.
“What’s most important is we’re 11-0 and trying to make it 16-0,” he said. “I always feel I’m close. It’s going to be very difficult, but we are on the way and we’ve just got to stay patient and not worry about statistics. I almost averaged 25 a game in the postseason last year and look what it did for us. We lost.”
Can center JaVale McGee become an X-factor should the Warriors indeed meet the Cavs in the Finals? The strategy was to get McGee going quickly in Game 3, and it worked; McGee scored on lobs and managed 16 points (but only one rebound) in limited minutes once again (12).
Is Andre Iguodala refreshed after his knee setback? There were no minutes restrictions on Iguodala in his first game back from tweaking his knee and his 18 minutes in Game 3 came and went without incident. This was important, since Iguodala could see plenty of LeBron James in a few weeks.
What about Steve Kerr? He joined the team on the trip to San Antonio, a good sign for his progress from his back complications, and while he’s hesitant to discuss his condition or his odds of returning to the bench, his mood and spirits seemed good. Meanwhile, Mike Brown is still pulling a Luke Walton as the replacement coach and the Warriors haven’t missed a beat.
Otherwise, all signs are vital and vibrant with the Warriors, for the most part. It wouldn’t be realistic to think the Warriors haven’t taken notice of the events in the other conference and the bulldozing being done by The Other Team. That’s only natural to suggest the Warriors and Cavaliers are taking notes on each other, because they see what we all see.
“We know what the situation is,” said Steph Curry, “but a good team focuses on what’s in front of them. I’m obviously going to be watching the game tomorrow. I’m a fan of basketball, (to) understand what’s going on in that series. But it doesn’t matter until we get the fourth win in this series. Cliche answer, but it’s the truth.”
The painful truth is the Celtics and Spurs were at a talent disadvantage against the Cavs and Warriors even when healthy, and their chances in the conference finals took a nosedive when their best players went down and out. The Warriors took another step toward a clean sweep on Saturday and might be in position to finish the job without seeing Leonard for Game 4.
If winning the series in four games is the ultimate goal for the Warriors, then doing so while staying healthy runs a close second. To quote Curry: Cliche answer, but it’s the truth. Especially in this postseason.
Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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