- For the past five years, the Warriors have been the best team in the NBA. But Golden State's road to glory hasn't been the most compelling. With Stephen Curry on a shooting rampage and Kevin Durant looking unguardable, the joy is finally back.
About an hour before dropping 35 points on the Nets—and hitting at least five threes for the seventh straight game—Steph Curry was eating handfuls of popcorn in the Warriors’ locker room and catching Draymond Green up on the latest news from an NFL Sunday. (Jameis Winston had just been benched in Tampa Bay.) Curry’s popcorn affinity is long-documented, but any secret hope from the Nets that Curry would be weighed down by the hot, buttery snack was squashed quickly after he scored 16 points in the first quarter. In fact the Warriors as a whole, one year after a regular season colored by technical fouls and post-championship malaise that resulted in the third-best record in the league, seem to be playing fully unburdened in the midst of a 6–1 start to the season.
It’s a little hard to remember the last time Golden State appeared to be having this much fun. Ahead of last season, Steve Kerr admittedly gave the team a little bit of an out by playing up the challenges of making a fourth straight Finals run. A narrative took hold of a team a little tired of playing so much basketball, and storylines emerged about a cantankerous group prone to ejections. During the playoffs, the Warriors were pushed to their very limit by the Rockets, while the Finals seemingly lacked the slightest sense of drama to pull out more emotion. Through the first couple weeks of this season, Golden State looks to be playing a little less weighed down, more often channeling the joy that’s become a hallmark of the organization’s culture.
“We’re a little looser. We had a better training camp. We’re coming in with a little lighter atmosphere,” Kerr said before the Nets game Sunday when comparing his team’s current attitude to last year. He also cited the mix of young guys on the team as another motivator for the veterans, who are trying to help bring along a younger generation.
Of course, it’s the vets who make the Warriors go, specifically their collection of likely Hall of Fame talent. To start the season, Curry and Kevin Durant are flirting with the idea of both averaging at least 30 points per game for a full season. Curry’s game never quite slipped, but he made concessions when Durant joined the team in 2016. This season, Curry has been launching threes with the reckless abandon that made him the first unanimous MVP in league history. His shots draw the loudest cheers even in road arenas, and everybody in the building wants to be a part of one his supernova nights that break the rules of basketball as they know it.
Meanwhile, Durant remains hilariously unguardable, as his deeply refined offensive repertoire combined with his seven-foot frame leaves defenders holding their breath every time he effortlessly shoots over them. It’s going to be a fun year for people who like the Curry vs. Durant debate, because each player is going to give them many reasons to vote in their favor.
Opponents, on the other hand, are in a lose-lose-lose situation when it comes to the Dubs. Piss them off, like the Jazz—while building a double-digit lead—did in Utah earlier this month, and Golden State will turn its intensity up to playoff-levels before escaping with a win. Fail to put them away, like the Knicks did in Manhattan on Friday, and the Warriors will play 12 minutes of perfect basketball and leave with a blowout. Wait until the fourth quarter to make things close, as the Nets did Sunday with a flurry of threes, and Curry and Durant will calmly respond down the stretch with timely buckets to ensure a victory. Golden State has felt indestructible for a while. This season, at least so far, the team is combining its talent with an unflappability and joy that’s more reminiscent of the beginning of its climb to historical greatness.
“Guys are just having fun, man,” Quinn Cook told The Crossover on Sunday. “We’re only [seven] games in, but after a long season, you take some time off, guys are excited to get back together and get things rolling.”
Kerr, too, seems eager to get things rolling. Last year, Kerr only deployed the Death Lineup in 28 games, with injuries playing a large factor in that relatively low usage. And before this season, Kerr expressed that he would like to limit the time Draymond Green spent at center, with the hope of keeping him fresh come playoff time. But as Kerr’s competitive juices have flowed, so has the Death Lineup, which is currently the Warriors’ second-most used unit through seven games—despite actually struggling with a minus-8.2 net rating.
But this is what we’ve wanted to see. Since Durant joined the team, the Warriors have put somewhat of a chill on the NBA. The stories are still exciting, but everyone throws their hands up come playoff time. Even during last year’s West finals, there was a small sense among some that the series wouldn’t have been that close if the Dubs hadn’t coasted through some of the games.
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This season, we’re getting the best of both worlds. Teams that push the Warriors are bringing out an intensity that typically is reserved until well after the new year. And on just about every other night, Curry is captivating in a way that he hasn’t since the 73-win campaign.
It’s no secret that this could be the last iteration of this particular Warriors team. (We haven’t even seen Boogie Cousins yet, but it would be a shock for him to return.) There’s so much speculation about Durant’s free agency that his departure is almost being spoken into existence. Whether the players are consciously recognizing that or not, this does seem to be the most exciting iteration of the Curry and Durant Warriors. Maybe everything changes when it’s January and the team is bored of the season. Maybe a couple injuries will force Kerr to be more cautious before the playoffs. For five years, Golden State has been the best team in the NBA. For the last couple years, it hasn’t always been the most compelling show. For now, those two ideas seem to be aligning, resulting in some of the most exciting, fun, and joyful basketball you’ll ever watch.
Enjoy it while you can.