The Vintage Warriors are back and aiming for the title

SAN FRANCISCO — Maybe the Golden State Warriors can summon the energy, cohesion and ruthlessness to outright embarrass an opponent once in a playoff series, just to show they’re capable.

Either that or they find some vintage Warriors juice just in time for June.

It feels like a different level of Retro Warriors than Golden State’s image at its best – relentless defense, opportunistic and timely offense, then run and hide at the first opportunity.

Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks experienced this firsthand in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. The Warriors bombarded the newcomers, 112-87 in a way that felt new, but oddly familiar.

They aren’t the most desperate of the back four, a title that belongs to the Miami Heat. But due to two years missing that milestone, they might just be the right mix of grateful and hungry.

And if the opponent was anyone other than this resilient and stubborn group, the streak could effectively be over already.

It wasn’t a barrage of triples from Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, a better offense against good defense, but a focused, intentional effort with no discomfort or potential for in-game disappointment.

There were certainly moments reminiscent of championships past: Curry didn’t throw a pass to anyone before Draymond Green caught him while Curry moved in and threw a triple that sent Chase Center into a roar that only Oracle could. equal. But that was not the general tone here.

The Warriors displayed that clinical approach in Game 1 of the playoffs against the Denver Nuggets and MVP Nikola Jokic, then annihilated the Memphis Grizzlies in Game 3 of the Semifinals. They didn’t let the upset Mavericks feel like they were coming to the Chase Center to steal a game on Wednesday.

Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green reacts against Dallas Mavericks guard Luka Doncic in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at Chase Center in San Francisco on May 18, 2022. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

It was a reminder that the Warriors were the second-ranked team defensively during the regular season, and hellish when the core cogs are healthy. The Mavericks shot just 23% from three and 36% overall. With Doncic being such a deliberate player, the amount of shots won’t be plentiful, and if they don’t make the quality appearance, the Warriors will keep walking as soon as possible.

As for Doncic, he will see visions of Andrew Wiggins in his dreams – knocking him to the ground, arguing over screens, tiring him out.

“I think it’s very important to try to make him work,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Any great player in the league is just trying to limit the damage he does. I think Wiggs picking it up, trying to get him to expend some energy was really helpful.

Wiggins is often hard to read on the floor, not very expressive and only cracks a smile for a short time before returning to a resting position. On that note, this behavior must be frustrating for a player like Doncic who likes to get under the skin of his defenders – he has the subtle satisfaction of dropping a falling back jumper or rolling inside a leaping defender for shots. twisted layups.

He had none of that, scoring just two points in the third after an 18-point first half that kept the Mavericks within striking distance. Jalen Brunson (14 points) and Spencer Dinwiddie (17 points) didn’t play terribly, but if Doncic isn’t playing to his astronomical averages, it doesn’t look like the Mavericks have much luck in this series.

“It started with Andrew,” Thompson said. “He was moving the puppies tonight. I just think our ball pressure and defensive assist was spectacular tonight.

It wasn’t just that Wiggins was solely dedicated to the cause of the Doncic sighting. If you believe the Warriors sprinkle the magic of their culture around anyone and turn even the wisest competitors, Wiggins is confirmation.

His attacking skills were as evident as his natural defensive gifts, but his decision-making was always a question – how could he perform in high-stakes, high-stakes competition? In Game 1, he hit the opportune shots in the first half as Curry and Thompson snaked, rushing their shots and acting almost as if the Mavericks were wearing Memphis Grizzlies uniforms. Wiggins took the torch, scoring 15 of 19 until his teammates joined in the fun.

Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins heads for the basket against Dallas Mavericks goaltender Luka Doncic in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at Chase Center in San Francisco on May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn )

Golden State Warriors forward Andrew Wiggins heads for the basket against Dallas Mavericks goaltender Luka Doncic in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at Chase Center in San Francisco on May 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn )

“Wiggs understands the nuances of what winning basketball is about,” Curry said when asked how Wiggins has evolved since being acquired in February 2020, in a trade for D’Angelo Russell and a first-round pick. round that became Jonathan Kuminga. “Just how to capture the little things in terms of constant defensive effort, meeting those individual challenges, being aggressive on the attacking side.

“He understands that this time, in terms of the playoffs, it’s about winning games and the joy that comes with it. It’s not like he scores 30 goals every night. It’s the other things that help you win and the joy you get out of it.

Curry missed his first five 3-point attempts in the first half, but sparked a mini-run in the third when they pushed the lead to 22. Thompson struggled just as mightily, but the beauty of this team, as she always was, was the strength of her defense aided by breathtaking shooting.

Jordan Poole attacked a lane that no longer featured Steven Adams or Jaren Jackson Jr., playing in a series that seems more suited to his offensive gifts than the last. Dallas will certainly try to get him into Doncic as the series progresses, but Poole had the first laugh on Wednesday, with 19 points.

Curry led the Warriors with 21 and 12 rebounds, his first playoff game leading the team in the latter category since the 2019 NBA Finals. It showed just how versatile and, at times, misguided this team has been over the years.

They wouldn’t be confused for the intimidating crushers in defense, but the execution of the game plan was breathtaking at times. On a play in the first quarter, Green zoned to the right side of Dinwiddie to prevent a drive, but pointed the corner from the weak side, knowing a jump pass would lead to an open triple for Dorian Finney- Smith.

As the pass headed towards Finney-Smith, Green leapt up. He deftly slid around a set screen to free Finney-Smith, stood up and blocked his out of bounds attempt. Not only was Green there, but Curry also got a piece of the ball.

They weren’t on a string, they were of one mind.

“Everyone sort of leans on Draymond,” Kerr said. “Draymond sets the tone for us. We had a good defensive night. But we cannot let our guard down.

They said all the right things afterwards, respecting Doncic’s power like they would any superstar on the other side. Although it’s not every night, it seems clear the Warriors intend to make the most of this chance, leaning on anyone to do anything if the game calls for it. .