OAKLAND, Calif. – Mark Jackson can deny it all he wants, but he’s the one who said it.
“We’ve been bad,” the Warriors coach said of his team on March 6. And: “If we expect not just to make the playoffs, but if we expect to do the damage that we want to do, we’ve got to be better.” Also, in zeroing in on the primary problem: “Our defense is bad.”
So it was either being forgetful or going for revisionist history when the same Jackson said late Friday that the Warriors never lost their edge in the difficult second half of the regular season, when the very encouraging start mostly without Andrew Bogut and entirely without Brandon Rush and while relying heavily on three rookies gave way to weeks of a reality check down the stretch.
Really, this playoff response, this 2-1 lead over the favored Nuggets after the 110-108 Golden State victory at rollicking Oracle Arena, came from nowhere. At the very least, it came from a long way away.
From months away, to be exact. These are the Warriors with their edge back, the way they played until February arrived and the overachieving roster of the first half of the season crashed back to Earth. There was a six-game losing streak, the stretch of 10 defeats in 15 games, the real possibility very late in the regular season of dropping to seventh or eighth in the Western Conference, particularly unwanted territory because it would have meant a meeting the Thunder or Spurs in the first round. In the last 10 games alone, Golden State warmed up for the playoff by losing to the Kings, the Jazz and the Lakers along with Oklahoma City.
To deny the Warriors had to regain their edge is not true. Of course they had to. Of course they did.
No one could have counted on Golden State bringing the proper level of playoff intensity because there was no consistent sighting for much of the second half of the season, not to mention fact that this group had never been in the postseason. How very Warriors of them. This is like the surprising break from the gate amid injury-fueled doubts, only this time they have done it when it mattered most.
“I tell you what,” Jackson insisted when asked about the Warriors regaining their edge. “ We never lost it. We struggled. We’re a young basketball team, we certainly struggled. You lose five, six in a row. But one thing that I did after losing six in a row, I had my video guys talk to each player and ask them about making the playoffs and being successful. In the face of adversity, it’s easy to answer those questions when you win six, seven in a row. We struggled at times. But we’re a team that works extremely hard, we’re tied together, they compete.”
They lost a tough series opener in Denver, lost All-Star power forward David Lee for the rest of the season because of a hip injury, and responded. Win in Oakland, win in Denver. They’re back, all right. There is no denying it.