Warriors motivated by failure, molding new cast members
Durant, Golden State starts exhibition season in Canada
The taunts will come as the Warriors move from arena to arena, some in a verbal assault raining down from the seats and some, in buildings that allow homemade signs, as written jabs. At one stop in particular, Cleveland, messages will likely be accompanied by laughter that is especially loud and mocking.
Maybe not Saturday as Golden State opens exhibition play against the Raptors here on the neutral ground of Rogers Arena (7:30 p.m. ET, NBA TV) and probably not during home games in Oakland or the preseason contest in nearby San Jose, allowing for the possibility that the fan of opponent will arrive packing snark. But it’s coming.
The first team to ever be up 3-1 in the Finals and lose has already spent the offseason feeling it, whether while the Cavaliers partied inside Oracle Arena after Game 7 or when Cleveland got its at-last championship parade. Now, the Warriors will undoubtedly hear it.
“It’s definitely motivation,” shooting guard Klay Thompson said. “You have to learn how to close out a series. I’ve been on the exact opposite of both spectrums, up (3-1) and down (3-1). And I’ve seen winning, coming back, and losing it. Obviously on social media a lot, and those people that talk trash to go out there and win, and have a lot of fun doing it. You can’t really hold on to the past that much. You’ve just got to look forward. And we’ve got such an amazing opportunity in front of us …”
Indeed, the real watch is not how the Warriors react to the shouting from the stands but how the Warriors react to the Warriors. Do they hold on to June as unwanted but potentially valuable motivation, the way Gregg Popovich wanted the gut punch of the 2013 Finals loss to sear his Spurs? Or do they consider it history, reduce three consecutive losses, two at Oracle, to a speck in the rear view mirror as a different time that can’t impact 2016-17?
Circumstances build a case for the latter, namely that these are different Warriors, with Kevin Durant in and two starters, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut, out. It’s not like a year ago, when Golden State returned mostly intact. And besides, the current roster doesn’t need to chase ghosts to find incentives. Durant signed. That acquisition alone makes this season about the big response no matter what happened before.
“I don’t think that’s a pain that we have to forget,” power forward Draymond Green said of dealing with leftover emotions of the Cleveland series. “We want to put it behind us, or you want to hold on to it to use it for motivation. That’s a (final) game you’ll never forget for the rest of your life. Whether we use it for motivation or not, in this organization we want to win anyway. So we don’t need any extra motivation, because we lost. I think if we would have won the goal is the same coming into this year: try to win another championship. So there wasn’t any extra motivation needed or anything. I think it’s all cliché, to be honest with you.”
There will be enough to track without even getting into the Warriors’ psyche. The schedule is an early test, with an opener against the Spurs followed by three games in five nights on the road followed by the hyped Durant-Thunder reunion in Oakland followed by the Lakers but on the second night of a back-to-back. All the while, coach Steve Kerr said he will be looking to dial back the minutes for his stars, even before Thanksgiving, after they either played into June two seasons in a row or, in the case of Green, Thompson and Durant, just had a short summer because of the Olympics.
The starting five is set — Stephen Curry and Thompson at guard, Durant and Green at forward, Zaza Pachulia at center — but Kerr will be test driving different lineups, perhaps into the regular season, before settling on a rotation. He’s got Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, but the potential of several new faces off the bench after that. Amid the many Golden State certainties — flammable offense, All-Stars in every direction, a veteran club unfazed by expectations — there could be a learning curve at first.
Being mocked for the biggest collapse in Finals history will be part of the scenery, maybe more if they carry June into October and beyond for motivation. Ear plugs will be helpful either way.
Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.
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