Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Golden State and the Celtic dagger

It might just be that the Boston Celtics knocking off the Golden State Warrior a few days ago was an omen of things to come.

Before that game, GS had been undefeated at home and were well on their way to catching and surpassing the all-time best regular season record of 72-10 set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls.

To Boston, and particularly GM Danny Ainge's credit, the Celtics are on their way back to being competitors again. No, they're not there yet, but headed in the right direction. Ainge and the franchise understood they had to "blow it all up" a few years ago and start over. Too many aging players making ridiculous salaries. He traded them away for future draft picks knowing full well the team would get a lot worse before it got better. The hiring of brilliant young coach Brad Stevens was a stroke of genius. They are now crawling their way back into contention. Look out for these guys in a couple years.

But they weren't supposed to beat Golden State this year. Especially with so much on the line for the Warriors. Yet the Beaners not only waltzed into GS's Oracle Arena, but beat the home-town team convincingly. An upset? Sure. Nobody expected that to happen. But an even bigger upset would occur a few days later.

After GS had dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers, the lowly Minnesota Timberwolves visited the Bay area and stuck another L on Golden State. Minnesota? Really? In other words, the Warriors have now lost 2 of their last 3 at home to teams they were supposed to defeat easily.

As was mentioned in this space several days ago, could it be Golden State is "gassed"?

Their home unbeaten streak now gone, GS has to win 3 of their last 4 to merely tie the Bulls of old. Two of those games are home and away versus not-so-good Memphis, but who knows what could happen? Good grief, not long ago the Warriors got thumped by the absolutely woeful LA Lakers.

And then there's the kicker. Their other two games are home and away against the San Antonio Spurs. Coach Pop down in Alamoland has been resting his starters down the stretch to get them ready for the grind of the playoffs. Gregg Popovich is on record saying he doesn't care about his OWN team's still perfect home record, though on some level it's probably a pretty safe bet his players want to become the first team in the history of the NBA to finish a regular season undefeated at home. He is much more concerned with his players still having gas in their tanks when the post-season begins in a couple weeks. Put another way, he's looking at the bigger picture and, after all, isn't a championship the only thing that really matters in the end?

Few would doubt Pop's wisdom/track record. In the last 17 years, his Spurs have been to the NBA finals 6 times, winning 5 of them. The last one, in 2014, shattered the dynasty dreams of the Miami Heat and likely precipitated Lebron James heading back to Cleveland. He didn't get the 3,4,5, whatever titles he once crowed about bringing to South Beach. He got two and then a thumping.

It remains to be seen whether Popovich will continue to rest his starters in the few regular season games left -- particularly the two match-ups against the Warriors.

Far more interesting is how the Warriors will react themselves during their last 4 games. Could they regroup and run the table? Maybe, but that game in San Antonio will be tough. Or maybe they win 3 out of 4 to tie the Bulls' old record.

But another not-so good possible scenario looms as well. After blitzing the field for most of the season, what if they really are running on fumes these days?

Could it be that the up and coming Boston Celtics drove a dagger into their splashy team morale by knocking them off at home? The dismantling of the Trail Blazers in the next game would suggest otherwise. But how to explain the hapless Timberwolves defeating them in the ensuing contest?

Their final four regular season games will be telling indeed. True, maybe all is well, and perhaps they'll roll to another title. Would you really dare to bet AGAINST these guys?

But if the wheels fall off -- it's possible -- particularly in the playoffs -- remember the Boston game as the one that loosened their lug nuts in the first place.

The game yours truly REALLY wants to see is the final regular season match pitting the Warriors against the Spurs in San Antonio. If the Spurs remain undefeated at home, would Coach Pop REALLY rest his starters for the playoffs when they have a chance to make history?

Can you imagine the heat he would take from the media if he did just that and the Spurs lost? It would be brutal. Though normally a master of controlling reporters, rather than the other way around, even the brilliant Gregg Popovich would be swarmed under. The talking heads and various social media networks would eat him alive as well. Did I mention toast on the internet?

But first things first. Let's see how things play out for both the Warriors and the Spurs in the few games they have left in the regular season.

Regardless, will it matter once the playoffs start? A definite maybe. One team has been the proverbial jackrabbit all year, while the other has paced itself like a marathon runner.

How it will all play out in the next several weeks in anybody's guess.

Speaking of first things first -- ah yes. The glorious Masters golf tournament is upon us again. Hoops can wait for a few days.....

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