2017 NBA Finals: Warriors vs. Cavaliers
Playing loose (and embracing simple plays) will keep Golden State Warriors on track
Golden State shouldn't let its gaffes in 2016 series color how it approaches The 2017 Finals.
What do you do when your team’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness?
Do you feed it the way the Golden State Warriors have in these three spectacular, history-altering seasons? Or do you slow down the tape, study the error of your ways, however slight, and correct them before they cost you … again?
Loose isn’t a bad word for the Warriors, it’s a mantra.
It’s been a rallying cry during the Warriors’ rise for Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson and friends. It was the subliminal message plastered all over the flag they carried into their free-agent recruitment of Kevin Durant last summer.
The freedom they play with, the high-risk, high-reward fun they have playing the game in a way no one else can, led them to a championship two years ago. Last year that same freedom might have contributed to them squandering that 3-1 lead in The Finals over Cleveland.
The Warriors get to ponder such things on the eve of their Finals trilogy with the Cavaliers because they indulged their passions to the tune of a 12-0 march through the Western Conference playoffs.
If that’s what freedom brings, it can’t be all bad. And the Warriors don’t have to apologize to anyone for doing things their way and playing to their strengths.
That said, the discipline that escaped the Warriors in that epic collapse/comeback (depending on your perspective) last year has to be rattling around in the back of their minds. Durant, too. (Don’t forget, his Oklahoma City Thunder had the Warriors down 3-1 in the 2016 Western Conference finals and couldn’t hold on.)
You don’t get over something like that in a season, or really ever.
The rest of us won’t let the Warriors forget the miscues that cost them in The Finals last summer. Green’s dust up with LeBron James late in Game 4 resulted in a suspension that forced him to watch a potential game-clinching Game 5 at Oracle Arena from a luxury suite next door at the Oakland Coliseum.
And with the ultimate pressure on in Game 7, the Warriors’ penchant for playing loose with the basketball caught up with Curry. He tossed a behind-the-back out of bounds with the Warriors ahead by a point and five minutes away from securing back-to-back titles.
Curry addressed that specific play, one that highlights the double-edged nature of the Warriors’ way, earlier this week with ESPN.com’s Chris Haynes.
“Yeah, I still think about that [turnover],” Curry said. “[But] in thinking about that game, it’s funny because I know the concept of making the right play, making a simple play, understanding that there are deciding moments in games and the difference between winning a championship or not could be one of those plays. [With that said,] I came out in preseason this year and threw a behind-the-back pass because I have confidence that I can do it and it won’t change that.”
It’s easy to overlook careless turnovers, momentary mental lapses and the occasional unnecessary emotional outburst when you are in total control of a game or series.
But will there be moments of total control against a Cavaliers team that has shown it won’t flinch in the face of the storm the Warriors can create when they are playing at their free-flowing best?
The Cavaliers will rely on their own history in Game 7, and the work of LeBron and Kyrie Irving in particular, when combating what the Warriors (with a superstar of Durant’s caliber essentially replacing Harrison Barnes in a scheme that hasn’t changed much, if at all) will bring to the floor when the series tips off Thursday night at Oracle Arena (9 ET, ABC).
As crazy as it must sound, especially with the way the Warriors have managed this postseason, a bit of caution might work in favor of the three-time Western Conference champs.
There’s no need for a conservative overhaul to the entire operation. No one is calling for anything that radical. You have to stick with what got you here.
However, pausing in that split second before throwing that behind-the-back pass … or before reacting to a bad call … or a perceived slight from the opposition … those would all serve the Warriors well in what has all the ingredients of being an epic Finals.
Like Curry said, he knows the concept of making the right play, the simple play and understands that there will be deciding moments in these games that are the difference between winning another championship or not.
Now, if he and the Warriors can just curb their enthusiasm for all things that don’t fall into the right, simple play …
Sekou Smith is a veteran NBA reporter and NBA TV analyst. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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