If you haven’t been holding any Golden State Warriors’ futures, you’ve probably been rooting against the two-time defending champs and probably want little to do with putting yourself in the shoes of those who did hope to get their beaks wet by riding the NBA’s latest dynasty.
After sweeping the Portland Trail Blazers with their third comeback from a 17-point second-half deficit in the series, Golden State is safely in the NBA Finals. The Warriors became the first team to reach the championship round in five straight seasons since the Celtics made 10 consecutive trips from 1957-66. They did so with Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins sidelined and won Monday night’s Game 4 in Portland with Andre Iguodala sitting as a precaution after sustaining a calf injury.
You don’t have to sympathize with those who didn’t balk at laying the big number (-300 at the Westgate SuperBook when the season began) in backing Golden State to get out of the Western Conference again, but they’ve certainly had a lot of nervous moments over the course of the season. The Warriors looked noticeably vulnerable during the regular season, lost two games to a young Clippers team in the first round and were on the verge of falling apart just a few weeks ago. You can imagine what was going through their minds in Game 5 of the Rockets series. Watching Durant leave the floor against the Rockets after the Warriors had blown a 14-point halftime lead and a 2-0 edge in the series was sobering. He pulled up like someone had shot him with a paintball gun, limping off with a non-contact injury that was originally wildly speculated to be a torn Achilles. Golden State overcame his stunning departure and rode the remaining core to a huge victory to avoid falling behind in the series and then surprisingly overcame a scoreless first half from Stephen Curry in Game 6 to eliminate their rival in Houston as a 7.5-point underdog.
The Warriors haven’t trailed in a single series, but the Clippers made them work and the Rockets looked very capable of ending their run had they gotten a few more shots to fall. The Blazers got blown out in Game 1 but had a chance to win each of the next three games against Golden State, losing in frustrating fashion since they blew huge leads due to stagnant offense and an inability to get stops against the champs when they needed them most.
Portland actually led for the majority of the series, holding an advantage for 101 of the 184 minutes played. The Dubs just dominated down the stretch.
Draymond Green is playing at his highest level ever, running the show as a point forward by pushing the pace after rebounds and serving as the conduit from the top of the key when they’ve set up in the halfcourt.
Klay Thompson, who made his biggest shots in that Game 5 against the Rockets that essentially saved the season, has scored 23.3 points over the last six games after averaging 16.5 with Durant around for his first 10 contests.
Curry had two games where he put up 30 or more points prior to Durant’s injury. He’ll take a streak of five consecutive 30-point games into the NBA Finals, having made 30 of his last 72 3-point shots.
Curry quieted all critics wondering where he was these playoffs. To be fair, he struggled to make open shots he’d make in his sleep against the Clippers and Rockets before Durant went down. He missed a layup and a dunk in the same game. His rhythm was gone.
The next step for Golden State will be to ensure that he can stay hot while facing a long layoff.
The Warriors won’t have to take the floor again until May 30, opening in either Milwaukee or Toronto. That will give Durant a shot at returning for Game 1, but the severity of his calf injury isn’t clear. A timetable for his return should become more clear over the next 10 days, but there’s certainly a chance that he’ll be dressed in civilian clothes when the championship round opens.
I’ll have a preview of the Finals in next week’s edition, but it’s clear that Golden State’s heavy lifting isn’t done. The Warriors were at -200 to win it all at the start of the season and were right back at 1-to-2 when the Westgate released its latest NBA championship odds update on Monday.
They need Durant back to help handle the length that the Bucks and Raptors both bring to the table and will have to start a series on the road for the first time since last year’s conference finals and only the second time during their brilliant five-year run. Cousins is also close to a return after tearing his left quad in Game 2 against the Clippers, so there may be a lot of moving parts in play. I expect Golden State’s final obstacle to be a monumental one, so it will earn this three-peat if it comes through.
Raptors at Bucks: For my only play in this week’s edition, I like the Bucks to take advantage of a banged-up Raptors squad to take Game 5 at home by double-digits, so you’re going to want to lay the points and take a good look at a Milwaukee team that seems to be a formidable challenger to the throne. BUCKS
Last week: 2-0
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