Thunder or Spurs? Warriors eager for rest before showdown in West finals
Get all of Ben Golliver's columns as soon as they’re published. Download the new Sports Illustrated app (iOS or Android) and personalize your experience by following your favorite teams and SI writers.
OAKLAND, Calif. – After dispatching the Blazers in five games on Wednesday, the Warriors looked forward to a few days of resting their knees and ankles in advance of the Western Conference finals. The defending champions opted to rest their mouths too.
Golden State wasn’t interested in providing any bulletin board material for Oklahoma City or San Antonio, its two possible opponents in the West finals, after Game 5. Draymond Green intentionally drew headlines this week by boldly predicting a Game 4 victory and then declaring that the Blazers were “done” after pulling it off, but he adopted a lower-key approach when asked whether he wanted to face the Thunder or Spurs.
“I don’t have a preference,” Green said after Golden State’s 125-121 win over Portland in Game 5. “Regardless of which team we play, it’s going to be tough. We know that. I’m going to enjoy this one tonight and enjoy closing this series out.”
The Thunder hold a 3-2 series lead over the Spurs with Game 6 set for Oklahoma City’s Chesapeake Energy Arena on Thursday.
If Oklahoma City wins Game 6, the West finals will begin on Monday in Oakland. If San Antonio forces a Game 7, the West finals won’t begin until Wednesday at Oracle Arena. The Warriors will enjoy four full days of rest in the first scenario and six days of rest in the second.
Either way, the Warriors are headed for much tougher sledding than they’ve faced in the first two rounds. Golden State was able to eliminate both Houston and Portland in five games despite missing MVP Stephen Curry for good chunks of both series.
The warm-ups are now over. While the Rockets (41-41) ranked No. 15 in regular season point differential and the Blazers (44-38) ranked No. 13, the Warriors’ next opponent will represent elite competition. The Spurs (67-15) finished the year second in that category, trailing the league-leading Warriors by a fraction of a point, while the Thunder (55-27) ranked third. The Thunder and Spurs also posted the league’s second- and third-ranked offenses, respectively.
“Both teams pose different problems,” Klay Thompson said Wednesday night. “You’ve got the two-headed monster in OKC and two of the top five players in Durant and Westbrook. And you’ve got a deep, solid, fundamental team in San Antonio. It’s really a coin flip. You’re not going to get any breaks playing either team.”
However, the Warriors will at least enjoy a rest break before dealing with their next foe. The timing is ideal: Curry recently returned from a knee sprain, his second injury of the postseason, Green re-aggravated an ankle injury on Wednesday, and starting center Andrew Bogut left Game 5 early and did not return with a right adductor strain.
“We definitely need a few days,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Steph has been back two games now, but he’s not 100%. I think this will be good for him to get a couple days to get off the knee and then do some treatment. We’ll see how Bogut and Draymond do. Yeah, we could use some rest.”
Curry, for his part, said that his knee is “fine” and that he will “be all right” after missing two weeks with an MCL sprain.
Green admitted that his ankle was “a bit sore,” but didn’t sound overly concerned. He also shrugged off concerns that the Warriors might develop rust during the downtime.
“Usually if [rust] does [happen], it lasts for a quarter, maybe a quarter and a half,” he said. “It’s something you can bounce back from. The rest, I think that goes much further than the rust. … [With me] kind of tweaking my ankle and Steph’s knee and Bogut going down today, the physical is definitely big for us right now.
“[When] everybody’s health, the mental goes way farther. There’s the stress of knowing that I’ve got a game today, your entire day is stressful. Not having that stress for five days allows you to recharge and really get ready to go again. This comes at a great time for us and we’re definitely going to try to take advantage of it.”
Regardless of whom they face, the Warriors will enter the series as favorites, thanks in large part to Curry’s successful return and spectacular performances in Games 4 and 5 against the Blazers.
During the regular season, Golden State went 3-0 against Oklahoma City, including a dramatic overtime win in which Curry drained a career-high 12 three-pointers, and 3-1 against San Antonio.
It’s possible that both the Thunder and Spurs will represent the toughest playoff challenge of Kerr’s tenure, given the injury issues faced by LeBron James’s Cavaliers during the 2015 Finals. From a point differential standpoint, the 2016 Thunder and the 2016 Spurs are superior to the 2016 Cavaliers and all of the Warriors’ 2015 postseason opponents.
“Any time you win a series, you’re just relieved,” Kerr said after closing out the Blazers. “Then you move on and at that point you have a brand new set of challenges. This was a great series and I’m happy we pulled through. Now we’ll get a little rest and see what happens on the other side of the bracket.”