Debating William & Mary, sports and culture since 2011. Updated every Wednesday.

A (not at all conflicted) rebirth – The Golden State Warriors

In Basketball on January 7, 2013 at 11:45 am

“I’ve got a feeling, this year’s for me and you/So Happy Christmas/I love you baby/I can see a better time, when all our dreams come true” – The Pogues, Fairytale of New York

If the hopeful romanticism of that line sweeps you off your feet, it’s important to remember that the song’s setting is a New York City drunk tank, and that the protagonist also directs the phrase “You’re an old slut on junk” to his love interest shortly thereafter.

In that spirit of tempered optimism — WARRIORS!

It’s a new year, and the Golden State Warriors have a legitimate shot at reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

That was the year, as you may or may not know, that a Jason Richardson/Baron Davis-led”We Believe” team stunned the first seed Mavericks in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs. It was also the year Davis posterized Andrei Kirilenko in the second round — perhaps the greatest single moment in Warriors history since Rick Barry rocked a neckerchief* and won a championship.

Every moment after that glorious dunk and post-dunk belly flash has been an evil hangover by comparison; a combination of bad luck and even worse front office gambles. The 2008 squad had the best win total of any team not to make the playoffs — 48-34. The following season, and the one after that, and the one after that, were miserable for a variety reasons, none of which I want delve into**.

Fortunately, the 2011-2012 squad have delivered hangover relief like Paxil-laced Kraft Mac ‘n’ Cheese. Basically, Mac ‘n’ Cheese minus the soul crushing self-doubt that comes standard in powdered cheese packets.

The Warriors have long been known as a run-and-gun franchise whose capacity for lighting up scoreboards was matched only by its inability to create stops or generate points off the offensive glass. While this team maintains some Warrior mainstays — a lot of three point attempts, point guards who are actually shooting guards, undersized big men — for once, the Warriors are averaging more points than what their defense hemorrhages.

This year’s team has held their opponents to 98.6 points per game. While that still puts them below the league median, it’s a marked improvement over last year, when they ranked 29th and allowed 101.2 points per game.

The improvements on defense have not offset the franchise’s trademark on offensive firepower. The offense, led by David Lee and Stephen Curry, is scoring 101.8 points per game — compared to 97.8 last year — good for sixth in the league.

That point differential is a bit too slim for comfort, however, and that is reflected in the team’s projected record up to this point in the season (19-13 projected, 22-10 actual). The real difference makers, in my mind, have been David Lee, Carl Landry and the Hungry Hippo-like frequency with which this team accumulates rebounds – 46.1 per game, third best in the league.

In particular, Lee is finally delivering on the double-double potential he showed as a member of the New York Knicks. The Warriors have been criticized for overpaying the power forward over the last couple of years, criticism that made sense when you consider Lee’s ability to accumulate All-Star-caliber stat lines on terrible teams.

This year, he has thoroughly dominated in the paint, averaging 20.2 pts and 11.1 rebounds per game on .538 shooting. He also averages 3.7 assists per game — dishing out to Curry, Klay Thompson or Jarrett Jack when he’s caught on the inside.

Curry and Thompson are having banner years in their own right. The duo rank 2nd and 3rd in the league in made threes per game, respectively, behind New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson. With Jack — who has impressed as a backup point guard and sixth man — both are able to move without the ball and fire threes on catch-and-shoots. This is likely the reason why Golden State is one of four teams to average more than .390 beyond the arc thus far***.

All of the above came together in December, when the team completed a 7-1 Eastern Conference road trip, easily their most successful in my lifetime. Those wins included a last-second victory over the Miami Heat, a blowout in Atlanta and a close one in Brooklyn — as well as victories over otherless auspicious teams . More importantly, it served as a catalyst for a 15-4 record over their last 19 games.

The strong start to the Warriors season paved the way for new rivalry within the Pacific Division. The 25-8 Los Angeles Clippers, another franchise whose history has become synonymous with woeful mediocrity, are the only team that stands in the way of Golden State’s first divisional title since 1976.

Wednesday night’s match-up between the former Western Conference doormats was a blood bath. With the exception of the Warriors’ befuddlement at the hands Matt Barnes’ strong side lay-up, the Clippers never stood a chance.

At one point, the Warriors held an 18 point lead in the first quarter. Of course, although it had all the makings of a blowout, GSW fans are keenly aware of the that sneaking sense of dread that accompanies a Warriors lead. Essentially, if anything can go wrong, it will.

It didn’t. The Clippers mounted a run in the second quarter, bringing the scores within four, but Golden State pulled away in the second half en route to a 115-94 victory – led by a 31 point effort from Curry****.

Of course, all of this  is exciting. Not “video of Stephen Jackson eating ribs” exciting, but exciting nonetheless.

For years, I treated the Warriors’ record like it was a debit card statement. I’d rather not know how or why they lost games in Sacramento or Charlotte, just like I’d rather not know how much I spent at the Taco Bell on 28th Street and Madison Avenue.

Until this year, Warriors fans in general deserved that sort of willful ignorance. Last year’s tank job for the 7th lottery pick (Harrison Barnes, who is worthy of a separate post) was a travesty, and fans let owner Joe Lacob know as much when he was booed at the Chris Mullin jersey retirement ceremony following the Bogut/Ellis trade.

That moment, hopefully, was the proverbial darkness before the dawn. For once, fans can look forward to a better team, when all their dreams come true.

Maybe not all dreams, but it’ll be better than the “old slut on junk” that was the Golden State Warriors.

*Bring back neckerchiefs.

**But if you want to delve: Andris Biedrins averaged 1.68 points, 3.74 rebounds and just over 15 minutes per game last season. He’ll make $9 million this year. That contract is symptomatic of everything that has gone wrong for the Warriors since I left high school (those two things aren’t related).

Other things the Warriors screwed up: Not re-signing Davis, trading Richardson for Brandan Wright, allowing a slow-burn feud to develop between Curry and Ellis, drafting then shattering the confidence of Anthony Davis. Lastly, Corey Maggette. No one is ever ready for Maggette.

***Curry, in particular, has been extremely efficient. Among players who attempt more than five threes per game, he ranks second in 3FG% behind OJ Mayo (.456<.459).

****I wrote this prior to Saturday’s similarly one-sided loss to the Clippers, in which Curry was almost a non-factor.

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