Here is a link to my Thursday column about the Warriors and their upcoming monster road trip. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — Exchange between Steve Kerr and me before the Warriors’ 128-114 victory over the Dallas Mavericks:
Me: You win a lot of games with big margins. Sometimes, it’s easy. Sometimes, it’s blowouts. But you win a lot of games fairly easily. Is there any downside to that?
Before answering, Kerr laughed. Actually, he broke up, his man-boy’s face looking pleased, almost delighted.
Me: It’s a serious question.
Kerr, still laughing: I know. I know. What a great question to have to answer. I’m sure lots of coaches would like to answer that question at their pregame press conference. They’re not easy. None of them are easy. We beat Phoenix the other night by 19. It was like a six-point game with four minutes left. So, some of these games are deceiving when you look at the final score.
The whole purpose, the whole idea is to wear teams down. We’re a very good defensive team. We know we can score. Especially if we make stops, we can get out in transition. So, this is what we want to do. We want to wear teams out over 48 minutes and try to break free. If we can do that, I don’t see any downside. Do you?
Me: Let me tell you the underlying thought.
Kerr, interested now: OK.
Me: In the playoffs, it doesn’t always work that way. Teams are more prepared because they can learn what you do in the second or the third game. Sometimes, those games are closer. They may come down to something in the last 24 seconds, and it doesn’t seem your team right now is habituated to that. That was at the basis of my question.
Kerr: OK, that’s fair enough. I think we’ve had plenty of close games. Even with our margin of victory and some blowouts, we’ve still had plenty of games to work on our late-game execution and feel the pressure of being down late and we’ll have lots more for sure. I’m not concerned about that at all. As I said, that’s a wonderful concern to have. But we try to cover all of our bases with our preparation and that’s something we do work on as well.”
Kerr is an open, honest guy. Doesn’t duck questions. I don’t mean to imply it’s bad the Warriors win a lot, or win easily. Of course, a team wants to win. But there are other, call them subtle, considerations we’ll sum up with one question: Are the Warriors battle-tested?
The Warriors have played exactly three games decided by three or fewer points. They won two and lost one. They have played 47 games, so the percentage of close, sweat-inducing games is miniscule.
Teams need to play close, sweat-inducing games.
Last week, the Warriors played Chicago in Oakland. Should have been a cinch win; Chicago’s a good team, sure, but not at the Warriors’ level. The Warriors had the ball and the lead with 22 seconds remaining. Didn’t have to shoot. Just hold the ball and win. Stephen Curry didn’t know what to do. Drew a blank. Threw the ball away. Panic look. The Bulls took advantage, eventually won in overtime.
The Warriors certainly were not ready for that late-game moment. Not battle-tested. Kerr was not ready for that moment, either. He has as much to learn and prove as his players. No laughing matter, coach.
Again, I am not knocking the Warriors. I am wondering about their readiness. They don’t want to be the club — Dallas vs. the Warriors in 2007 — that plays great in the regular season, romps, and goes down hard in the playoffs.
Which brings me to the Warriors’ next 10 games. Nine of them are on the road. Some writers complain it’s unfair verging on immoral to expose the Warriors to such difficulty including planes, hotel rooms and the maid scraping the room key on the door and saying “Housekeeping,” while (you name the player) is dreaming about slam dunks. Kerr does not complain about all the road games. He welcomes them.
The upcoming road trip, interrupted by a long All Star break and one home game against the Spurs, is good. It confronts the Warriors with “adversity” — that old sports cliché. With duress. It means the Warriors will be tested and may even fail, as in lose a few games. But they will learn. Kerr will learn.
They will learn all games are not easy. They will learn how not to get exposed in a seven-game playoff series. Believe me, teams get exposed — it’s what the Warriors did to Denver two years ago. The Warriors need to play under stress to find out where they are vulnerable, where they need to improve. These romps look good right now but could hurt later on.
And remember, Kerr has had only a handful of opportunities to design the winning play against a quality team and to call the winning play with fans in an away arena going crazy. And the Warriors have had only a handful of opportunities to execute in an extreme situation, to grind out a win in a close, ugly game.
They have not been a grinding team. Things have been easy for them, although they came from behind against Dallas and then breezed, flew, to a win behind Stephen Curry going nuts with 51 points — the Mavs unable to guard him without Rajon Rondo. For a team that has been blessed by easy good fortune and so much talent, it can be scary and disorienting to find itself behind with a few seconds left in a playoff game. How tough are you? How resourceful? Do you even know the answers?
Fans should welcome the exhausting, stressful, even unfair upcoming road games. They are good for the Warriors. Exactly what they need.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.