COMMENTARY | Most likely, the Golden State Warriors' 2012-2013 season will end sometime early in May, well before the NBA crowns a new champion. Players and coaches will express sentiments of disappointment and make statements like "Our goal is to contend for an NBA title," and unlike with Warriors teams of the recent past (all the way back to the distant past, really,) the words won't sound completely ridiculous or disingenuous.
Led by a finally healthy (mostly) Steph Curry, these Warriors have not only played themselves into an almost certain postseason berth, but they have also shed the loser's mindset that has plagued the franchise for decades.
The collapse could have come several times over the course of their eighty-two games. It could have been as early as the second week of November, when it became clear that the team would be without Andrew Bogut, the focal point of the team's blockbuster trade last season that sent away fan-favorite and long-time starter Monta Ellis. With no healthy Bogut, there arguably isn't much to show for that trade. It's true, it did allow Klay Thompson to play more minutes and he has proven to be a capable starter in his own right, but to see the seven foot Australian out indefinitely after such a brief stint on the floor surely was a blow to the team's confidence.
But they battled on; excelled, even. As 2012 came to a close, the Warriors entered the new year holding a record of 21-10. National pundits and bloggers started to take note, and the Warriors shot up power-rankings everywhere behind the strength of quality victories on the road against high caliber teams like Miami and Atlanta. They had arrived, or so the media began to proclaim.
But winning surely would not come so easily to a beleaguered franchise. The early successes had been a grind, won by a fierce commitment to defense and on the backs of consistent contributions from off-season bench additions Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry. As the early parts of 2013 unfolded, so did the young team's defense. After compiling a 2-5 record to kick off January, the team seemed to right the ship right as Andrew Bogut was getting healthy. They ended the month with an 8-7 record, and finally with a full complement of players. Back on track, it seemed.
The team endured six losses in a row early in February, giving up 115+ points to the opposition in five of the six. The defense looked lost and confused, giving up uncontested three pointers with regularity and lagging on rotations near the basket resulting in easy layups. What had been a fun and loose team environment seemed to be threatened. This is the moment that many teams that came before would have broken. Fingers would point about who wasn't keeping in front of their man, who was sagging in on the zones. Who was to blame? What had been a sure bet for a playoff appearance was crumbling into dust. The Lakers were starting to move up in the standings, and it seemed the bottom was about to fall out of the season. This was the collapse, it had to be. Another injury to Bogut was the cherry on top of the impending disaster.
As February bled into March, the Warriors were riding another losing streak, this one five games. Since the 21-10 start, they had gone 12-17. At 33-27 they were still in the playoff picture, but much less comfortably. They needed something to change, and change fast.
The change they needed came just in time. With Bogut again healthy, the defense got healthy, too. In the 12 games played since March 6th they have given up an average of 92 points per game to opposing offenses, a number significantly down from the season average of 100. For reference, if they had managed to play at this defensive pace for the entirety of the season, they would have owned the league's third best average in points allowed. The offense hasn't been there every night, and neither have the victories. But at a time when everything could have fallen apart, when playoffs could have become just another hope for next year, the Warriors knuckled down and gutted out the ever-present tough stretches of an NBA season- and they did it with discipline and defense, two qualities that had not been present as far back as this fan can remember.
This is not the Warriors team that I grew up with; it's not the We Believe team that stunned the Dallas Mavericks in the lone playoff appearance of the last eighteen seasons. If this year's team wins it's first round series, I will not be surprised. Neither will Steph Curry or Mark Jackson or Andrew Bogut, because they are no longer a team with a losing destiny. And if this season ends without a championship, as it most likely will, they should not be satisfied.
Nathan Pulliam is a long-time San Francisco Bay Area resident and avidly follows all major sports.
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