Here is a link to my Thursday column about the Warriors’ win over Atlanta. The full text runs below:
Hours before the Warriors defeated the Atlanta Hawks 114-95, a reporter asked Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer if Wednesday’s game between the Hawks and Warriors, the teams with the best records in the NBA, was a “statement game” for Atlanta.
“No,” Budenholzer elaborated.
He was dismissing the question, the entire notion that the game meant anything one way or another. Considering his team lost, he hopes he was right. He better be right.
Apologies to Budenholzer, who sure knows his business. But the game certainly was a statement game. The best against the best. Who are you? What have you got? Can you beat me?
These teams may meet in the NBA finals. Or either or both could get knocked off along the way. There is lots of knocking off in the NBA. But right now these are the elite teams by a mile. By several miles. The Warriors are the best in the West, the Hawks best in the East. And any game between them is a test and a statement. And the Warriors made the statement. And the Hawks definitely did not. It’s like they didn’t even clear their throats.
It was the way you want to see basketball played. Two teams that are the same team, running, passing, jumping. Displaying the intelligence of hoops to the max. Almost everyone on both squads can shoot — apologies to Andrew Bogut, a defensive specialist. Even Andre Iguadala, compensating for injured Klay Thompson, got into the act with 21 points — his season average was 7.5. Both teams know how to get guys open. Both teams make one more pass than you think possible. Both teams defend. A pleasure to watch.
You certainly imagine them meeting in the finals, although that is way in the future and Warriors coach Steve Kerr shudders at even pondering that possibility. The jinx factor. Or is it the humble factor? Or just the realization there’s so much basketball yet to play.
The Warriors were more aggressive to the ball all night. Just more aggressive. And they shot better. Way better. It’s like the Hawks’ basket got sprayed with an anti-ball repellant. The Warriors also were better at being the better team — for this one night.
Case in point: In the second quarter, Draymond Green, Mr. Hyper Activity, grabbed a defensive rebound, drove down the court like Stephen Curry, passed the ball backward to, whom else, Curry, who sank a 3 and got fouled and made the foul shot. Four-point play. See you later.
Right after that, the crowd chanted “MVP.” They were chanting for Curry. Green was pretty good on that play, too. Let’s be candid. If you didn’t know the Hawks’ splendid record, you’d wonder who these undersized skittish guys were.
What did Kerr take away from the win?
“It was really fun,” Kerr said afterward. “Really fun. I think what I took away from it was the number of players who made an impact. Festus Ezeli coming in in the second half. He didn’t even play in the first half because Mo Speights played those minutes. Festus came in and really locked down the paint late third, early fourth. I thought his minutes were huge.
“You go down the list.” Kerr looked at the final box score. “(Leandro) Barbosa off the bench with 13 points and some really good aggressive plays and a lot of guys who are going to contribute. We’ve got a deep team and we’re going to need all of them.”
Before the game, a reporter asked Kerr if the Warriors are a better team than they were two months ago. Kerr pondered the question. He always ponders questions.
“We should be,” he said. “We’ve been pretty good all year, obviously, but we’ve grown. We’ve been together for two months longer, so we know each other that much better. We’ve had some lulls during that two months but I think, all in all, we’ve continued to grow and climb. So I think that would be a fair assessment.”
Fair assessment indeed. The first game they played the Warriors lost to the Hawks in Atlanta 124-116. On Wednesday, the Warriors beat the Hawks. Murdered the Hawks. Made them look like a college team — NIT not NCAA. The Warriors’ win may or may not mean something in the long term.
This drama will be continued in the playoffs. Or it won’t.