Thanks to that immortalized blown 3-1 lead in the 2016 Finals and the more recent Christmas collapse, we may never get away from judging the Golden State Warriors’ on the basis of how they perform against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But maybe that’s not how it should be.
Because what we saw in the Dubs’ 121-111 win over the Toronto Raptors suggests the hangups, matchup issues, mental hurdles and other Golden State trouble spots we ascribe to the Warriors-Cavs dynamic don’t have all that much to do with Cleveland, specifically.
They showed up against the Raptors, too.
Sure, you can get into the idea of whether the Cavs have Golden State “shook,” and there’s that looming factor of LeBron James being the best player alive. But when so much of what doomed the Warriors against those mighty Cavs recurs against other quality opponents—like the Raptors—you have to wonder: Is this really just about the Warriors themselves?
Golden State played the extinction-level meteor to the Raptors in the first quarter, defending with energy, whipping the ball around (relatively carefully) and barely missing. The result after 12 minutes was a 42-17 advantage that featured only two turnovers and the added emphasis on pick-and-roll basketball head coach Steve Kerr promised:
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What happened next was as forgivable as it was predictable.
Both observers, like Real GM’s Danny Leroux, and the Warriors understandably assumed the contest was over:
Sim to End#Warriors
— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) December 29, 2016
Toronto got back into the game as Golden State coughed up turnovers on six of its first 13 second-quarter possessions. The period featured nine giveaways in all, leading to 22 Raptors points. The 25-point advantage dwindled to just five with under three minutes left in the half.
Remarkably, the Warriors went into the break on a blitzing run that opened the advantage back up to 17 points and resulted in a 74.4 percent conversion rate for the half. They turned it over more often (11 times) than they missed from the field (10 times).
The Warriors ultimately held on, shooting 56.8 percent from the field and 60.9 percent from deep. They needed to be that good because the turnover total hit 20 by the final buzzer, and because Toronto wouldn’t lay down. Golden State faced phenomenal shotmaking and real grit from a Raptors team that, to be equitable, was responsible for plenty of its struggles.
As has been the case all year, though, the Warriors getting in their own way had more to do with the drama than anything else—a trend that is only slightly excusable because of the positive reinforcement their highlight-hunting habits often generate.
From one splash brother to another. #DubNation #NBARapidReplay pic.twitter.com/B0AV7xhAmY
— NBA (@NBA) December 29, 2016
Kevin Durant was fantastic, finishing with 22 points, 17 rebounds, seven assists and five blocks. But he was complicit in the Warriors’ self-sabotage, following incredible full-court drives like this:
Basically 4 dribbles gets KD 94 feet. Wow pic.twitter.com/s3zI4CfhWs
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) December 29, 2016
With inexplicable decisions to pass up clean looks in favor of high-risk passes into traffic.
This damaging unselfishness, typified by the early-season emphasis on team assist totals, frequently crosses the line between egalitarian basketball and pure foolishness. As NBA gambler Haralabos Voulgaris quipped, sometimes, you’ve got to look out for No. 1:
Passing up your layup to try and get Zaza a layup isn’t unselfish – its bad basketball
— Haralabos Voulgaris (@haralabob) December 29, 2016
And as Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post noted, with talent like Golden State has, selfishness is a trait worth pursuing in many cases:
A lot of Golden State’s turnovers come from trying to be too cute on offense. Warriors should just take open shots instead of forcing passes
— Tim Bontemps (@TimBontemps) December 29, 2016
It makes sense, though. Every question we had about this team before the season was some version of “How can they share the ball between so many stars?” They’ve responded by sharing too much at times, and it has hurt them.
The Warriors, regardless of opponent, are almost always their own worst enemy. The irony is, it’s because they’re trying too hard to be friends with one another.
Without taking anything away from the Cavs, Raptors or any other worthy opponent, there’s only one team …