NBA Daily: Warriors Are Contenders Even Without Curry

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All season long, we’ve been wondering what the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets would look like if they were crossmatched against one another in the playoffs, and at this point, it looks like a rookie is the only thing that can stop it from happening.

And I mean that with all due respect to the New Orleans Pelicans.

For the better part of the season, we’ve sat back and watched and seen how boredom, attrition and progressive fatigue—both physically and mentally—have gnawed away at the Warriors to the point that we allowed ourselves to be talked into the possibility of them failing to win the Western Conference for a fourth consecutive season.

All things considered, the other contenders in the Western Conference do have a puncher’s chance at ending the reign of the Warriors, but considering how dominant they’ve been thus far in the playoffs without Stephen Curry, it’s scary to think what they’ll look like when he returns to the lineup.

That return, by the way, is imminent.

After Curry sat out Game 1 of the Warriors second round playoff matchup with the Pelicans, he told reporters afterward that he felt good enough to play 20 minutes in Game 1. Despite this, the Warriors opted to hold Curry out until Game 2, which will tip off on Tuesday night.

“The plan is to return Tuesday, but ultimately it’s up to the training staff,” Curry said.

“I feel good.”

Head coach Steve Kerr also chimed in.

“[We] made the decision based on giving him the extra few days and the fact he only scrimmaged [Friday],’’ Kerr said.

“You’ve been out five weeks, and we’re playing in the playoffs. I don’t think one scrimmage is enough, even though he feels great, he wants to play and pleaded his case.”

In the end, though, the Dubs didn’t even need Curry, and that’s the scary part.

Sans Curry, the Warriors have scored 108.5 points per game in the playoffs and lead all playoff teams with 27.8 assists per game. They’ve also connected on 47.9 percent of their shots from the field—good for fourth among playoff teams.

Meanwhile, on the defensive side of the basketball, the Warriors have been far and away the best defensive team in the playoffs, ranking second in points allowed and first in both field goal percentage allowed and three-point percentage allowed.

Sure, one could make the argument that the Warriors have benefitted from relatively easy competition. The Spurs, after all, were without both Kawhi Leonard and Gregg Popovich. Fair as that may be to say, though, anyone who watches the Spurs or watched the playoff series between them and the Warriors knows that Golden State’s dominance of the Spurs was more about how good Golden State is than it was about how bad San Antonio was.

If anyone doubted that, they needed to look no further than Game 1 against the Pelicans.

Draymond Green had a 16-point, 15-rebound, 11-assist triple-double while Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson combined for 53 points on about 50 percent shooting from the field. The Warriors scored 123 points on the Pelicans and managed to hold Jrue Holiday and Anthony Davis to 32 combined points on 34 field goal attempts (of which the duo converted 13 of them).

Some may ask whether the Dubs are good enough to beat the Pelicans and Rockets this postseason. Instead, I’d ask whether or not they’d be good enough to beat them even without Stephen Curry.

When he returns to the lineup on Tuesday night, it will be just the latest example of the rich getting richer and the Warriors doing their best to win their third NBA Championship in the past four years.

One day, we’ll be faced with the reality of the fact that Thompson may know that he’s too good to be paid like the third-best player on any team, even if he is. Deep down inside, Thompson has to know that if he had the opportunity to go elsewhere and lead his own team the way that James Harden has, that he’d have the opportunity to leave a legacy much most lasting and impactful than the one he’s currently working on as the third fiddle behind Durant and Curry.

It’s okay if Thompson doesn’t have the same desire as Kobe Bryant or Kyrie Irving, it’s just something that we should all begin paying close attention to, because anyone who has watched enough of the Warriors over the past two seasons should know that Thompson is essentially the best insurance policy any team could ever have. He’s a first scorer trapped in a third scorer’s body (and spot in the rotation) and is probably good enough to be the second-best scorer on a championship caliber team.

Man oh man, just imagine how different the world would be if Thompson never saved the Warriors’ bacon in that fateful Game 6 against the Thunder back in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. The Warriors would have been regarded as flukes who were only able to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers because Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving were injured, LeBron wouldn’t have won a championship for the city of Cleveland and Durant and Russell Westbrook would have won a title for Oklahoma City.

Paul George probably would have been traded to the Los Angeles Lakers and Carmelo Anthony probably would have found his way to Portland. The world as we know it would be different.

Instead, though, Thompson saved the Warriors’ bacon only to see his team become the first to ever squander a 3-1 lead in the Finals and, as a result, somehow ended up as the forgotten man on a team that feature two perennial MVP-caliber players in Curry and Durant and one of the best all-around players a generation has seen in Draymond Green.

Fortunately, just due to the nature of competitive sports, Thompson always has opportunities to remind us of how great he is. He rarely squanders them.

With Durant needing a new contract this summer and Green only having two more seasons left on his deal, the Warriors will have to make a decision on Thompson and how rich of a deal they’ll be willing to dole out to him.

He shouldn’t be asked to take any pay cut as far as I’m concerned. He’s only of the more under-appreciated stars we’ve seen in quite some time.

And at the end of the day, just like it has to this point this offseason, the Dubs’ championship hopes rest, in large part, on Thompson’s ability to stay ready and contribute at a high level.

The Pelicans saw that the hard way. Hopefully the Warriors and their front office are smart enough to have seen that with the team surviving without Curry.

It wasn’t an accident.