DALLAS — Are the Golden State Warriors to be taken seriously as Western Conference playoff contenders?
They say their 105-101 overtime victory against the Dallas Mavericks Monday night, coming one night after losing at Oklahoma City and with several ready-made moments to quit and sleep it off on the long flight home, is further proof that these Warriors are in the fight for the long haul.
Golden State is now 6-5 on the young season after taking two of three on the road. They are two wins that can be nitpicked because they came against injured opponents: the ravaged Minnesota Timberwolves and the Dirk Nowitzki-less Mavs, a struggling club that’s now 6-6, but one that was 4-1 at home.
“We’re a young basketball team and you realize people [will say] Dirk Nowitzki’s not there, Kevin Love’s not there or Ricky Rubio or (Nikola) Pekovic,” second-year Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. “At the end of the day we don’t have Brandon Rush. At the end of the day we don’t have [Andrew] Bogut. We’re missing two guys that [are] legitimate guys in our lineup. That’s neither here nor there. We’re going to find ways to gut it out and compete. Winning against two teams that’s going to be in the mix in their building says a lot about this basketball team and their mindset.”
It said a lot about point guard Stephen Curry, who yet again tweaked his ankle, landing on a foot after rising to the rim early in the fourth quarter. His response? A total takeover. Twenty of his game-high 31 points came in the final period and overtime.
“I never want to see him roll his ankle like that, but it seemed to make him mad,” said forward David Lee, who dominated inside with 17 points and a game-high 19 rebounds. “He went off after he did that. He made plays not only for himself, but for others; made a couple of great plays on defense, got a rebound at the end. He’s a great player and we’re happy to have him as our point guard.”
The strength of Curry’s fickle ankles could ultimately determine if the Warriors are for real. But, assuming health, Jackson has an intriguing roster that is beginning to resemble the tough, resilient identity he’s preaching. The Warriors crushed Dallas on the boards, 62-43, and 19-7 on the offensive glass, leading to an identical edge in second-chance points.
Pounding the glass was huge considering the Warriors shot just 40.7 percent for the game and coughed up the basketball 21 times. But they also forced 17 turnovers and, for the eighth time in 11 games, held their opponent to below 44 percent shooting.
For much of this one it was difficult to discern good defense from atrocious offense, but the Warriors have a track record now, having entered Monday’s game ranked fifth in the league in field-goal percentage defense at 42.9 percent. That’s right, a Warriors team that’s getting grimy on the defensive end. At the end of regulation and overtime, the Warriors got critical stops that won the game.
“The record shows, the history of this team alone, you’re not going to be successful just relying on the offensive end,” Jackson said. “But if you hang your hat on the defensive end, good things can happen.”
And, so, the Warriors wonder how much better they can be with the 7-foot Bogut manning the middle. But, as Curry noted, in the big man’s absence they are also discovering the character of their roster. On Monday, rookies Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli started and combined for 29 points and 20 rebounds. Rookie reserve Draymond Green added nine points and seven boards. Jackson said he could point out 10 players who aided in what he deemed a “big time, big time win for a young team.”
So are the Warriors for real? Ultimately, the durability of Curry (tested again Monday) and Bogut (once he returns) will decide if Golden State can contend for a playoff spot.
For now, they are certainly making it fun to find out.