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The Post-Game Brunch: 'The Warriors Can Filet You With a Stiletto or Bludgeon You With a Club'

San Francisco editors Jon Steinberg, Gary Kamiya, Joe Eskenazi, and Annie Tittiger meet over virtual bagels to talk Warriors and collectively exhale.

Andre Iguodala

Andre Iguodala 

 

Jon Steinberg, editor-in-chief: Wow, guys, wow. How are those tickers feeling this morning? What a game. What a team. What a relief that Iman Shumpert couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat last night. That last shot of regulation, with Iman the Potenial Destroyer collecting His Excellency Lebron James's missed jumper and throwing up a desperation—but, oh, so crushingly clean—shot had "Heartbreaker in Oakland" written all over it. I can't help but feeling that the Warriors almost—almost!—didn't deserve to win Game 1. We've enjoyed incredible luck throughout the regular and post-seasons (good team health, favorable playoff matchups, the eery tendency of opposing point guards to come up lame at the worst possible time), but that missed shot seemed like the luckiest stroke of all. What do you think? Are we just dang lucky, or are we just dang great?

Joe Eskenazi, senior editor: Jon, there are very few lessons gleaned from a career in print journalism that can be neatly applied to the Warriors, basketball, or the NBA Finals, but here is one: You make your own luck. If you're the Warriors, I think you'd rather Shumpert (6 points) be in the position to win the game than LeBron (44 points). If Shumpert makes that shot—well, that's making your own luck. In fact, Shumpert's miss was a fitting microcosm: The Karl Malone strategy worked last night; LeBron got his points and his subpar supporting cast couldn't step up to push the Cavs over the top (The Dubs, meanwhile, drowned Cleveland with their depth: We had a Marreese Speights sighting!). With Kyrie Irving likely done, that means LeBron will have to do even more. That's a tall order. Because the Warriors won last night without coming close to playing their best ball, or even well by their standards. The team started out shooting 4-for-19 and struggled throughout. But that's why this year's Warriors are transcendent and such a far cry from the Run-TMC-era team: The Dubs defense is the league's best and Andre Iguodala is one of the league's best defenders. So, that's how you win games when the jump shots don't fall. Cleveland scored 100 points on 94 shots and LeBron was forced to settle for difficult fall-away jumpers and floaters. And if he hits those and beats you—well, that's making your own luck. 

Gary Kamiya, executive editor: First off, Joe and Jon: Wow! Unbelievable game. One of the most taut, competitive, thrilling postseason Bay Area games I can remember, in any sport. Jon, on your question "are the Warriors lucky or great?" there's some truth in both, but more of the latter. Yes, Shumpert's follow only missed by an inch, in which case we'd be staring at Sunday's game almost feeling like a must-win. But the real takeaway from this game is that the Warriors' greatness has a lot more "sand" in it, as Mark Twain would say, than commentators like Charles "jump shooting teams can't win" Barkley think. They're incredibly tenacious. We've seen it all year and in every round of the playoffs. They fight it out every possession, down to the wire—and when you combine that with their pinball-wizard ball movement (missing for long stretches last night, but that had a lot to do with the excellent defense played by the Cavs) and the balletic grace and hydraulic shooting of the Splash Brothers, both of whom had a solid game after slow starts, it's a lethal combination. They can filet you with a stiletto or bludgeon you with a club. They get down 14 points in a first quarter where they were more nervous than a sixth-grader singing his first song at the school play, and they just keep grinding, waiting for Curry to suddenly go all Gale Sayers on his defender, tie him up in knots with six simultaneous unreadable fakes, and then knock down the J as if he were dropping the ball through the basket from a ladder. 

Besides heart, this win to me was all about two things: team defense and depth. OK, LeBron scored 44, mostly on isolation plays (and he's amazing, a force of nature, but I hope just once before I die to see a ref call him for clearing out with his off hand when he goes inside). But the Dubs didn't collapse on him like the Hawks did. They charged the guys guarding him—Barnes, Green and then the real hero of the game, the coach-on-the-floor, move-anticipating, great-hands defensive monster Andre Iguodala—with the responsibility of staying in front of him, so he couldn't kick it out. LeBron only has six assists. As Bogut said, this meant the other guys on the Cavs didn't get touches and didn't get a chance to get into a flow. Joe's right: I'd way rather have the King score 40 while Shumpert, Smith and the others stand around like cigar store Native Americans. Funny to say you played great defense when a guy goes off for 44, but the Dubs did. And their guts to come back from a rebounding debacle in the first quarter (which is going to be a continued concern for them with Tristan Thompson, a 240-pound force, on the offensive glass) and outrebound the Cavs the rest of the way was another indication of the inner fortitude of this squad.

And the W's depth? Ridiculous. This might be the deepest NBA team I've ever seen (and a great link with the '75 champion Warriors, who also played 9 or 10 guys). Their second unit could be in the playoffs. When they got down 14, it was Livingston, Iguodala, Barbosa, Ezeli, and Mo Speights (and what a lift Mo' Buckets gave us) who stemmed the tide with their athleticism, energy, and continued tenacious D. They wore the Cavs down. By the overtime, they had nothing left, and the loss of Kyrie Irving after a heroic effort pretty much spelled the end. If Irving can't come back, it may be the end for the Cavs.) By the way, did LeBron revert to his weird former tendency to late-game passivity in overtime, or was he just exhausted? In any case, a Cavs team that depends on LeBron, Irving, and Mozgov to do most of its scoring is going to have its hands full with a team with the depth of the Warriors. 

Annie Tittiger, managing editor: It's not luck: it's magic. This is a team that even when their star shooters never really heated up, the defense held Lebron Freaking James just enough to keep the game close. And the bench! Thank you, Gary, for bringing that up. It's phenomenal: after Curry, Thompson, and Bogut went out (cred to Bogut for that epic block on Lebron: NICE TRY, LEBRON.) and Speights, Iguodala, and Livingston came in, the game changed—it was like Warriors basketball again. And I firmly believe, my friends, that we have Steve Keer to thank for that. He's taught this team how to WATCH the game, see how the other team is playing, and then slowly deconstruct their game once they're back on the court. It's genius. It's teamwork at it's finest! It's magic. We always knew they had the talent and potential, they just needed to learn how to harness it. Kerr's just the best. I watch his postgame conferences religiously after the game because he is just so damn wise. Of course, credit is due to our dear Iggy who had the monstrous task of defending the King and held him off as much as the basketball incarnate could possible be held. And Iggy is 50 pounds light than Lebron—it was essentially like sending out a corgi to fight with a full-grown pit bull. But Iggy's got a little mathematician in his head who's figuring out angles faster than Le Bron can move...in other words, they're well matched. And to Speights, who hadn't been off the bench since May 5??? How do you manage to play that kind of game after having to take a seat for that long—it's just beyond me. I love this team. I love them because they ARE a team. Every single player counts. Also: no one has yet mentioned Barbosa and all his scrappy (if sometimes sloppy) brilliance. His three-pointer from the top last night? To be honest, I didn't know he had that in him. 

Joe Eskenazi: I agree with all of that, but defer to Gary's first-hand knowledge of the '75 Warriors. In the midst of last night's game, one of the best I've seen in years, it occurred to me how unfathomable it would be in the present day for the NBA Finals to be bumped from the host team's home court by the Ice Follies and forced to set up shop in Daly City. Astoundingly, that happened in '75. (When a ticket in the rafters cost $6. The Ice Follies cost $6.50). I think it said an awful lot that, with the game on the line, the Warriors were single-teaming LeBron and forcing him to make those jumpers. It was also notable that, only in overtime did Steve Kerr go small and play Draymond Green at center. That obliterated a tired and depleted Cavs squad; it was a bit of an "I am not left-handed" moment. And, again, what a wrenching turn for Kyrie Irving. From the potential game-winning block on Steph Curry to a sickening injury and, probably, a suit and tie on the bench. There but for the grace of God...
 

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