OAKLAND, CALIF.—The apropos soundtrack of the Golden State Warriors roared through Oracle Arena just before the fourth quarter of Thursday night’s deciding Game 6.
“It's not about what you've done, it's about what you doing”—enthused words of wisdom from the song by Calvin Harris and Ne-Yo.
After scaling the lottery for much of the last two decades, the Warriors have now advanced to the second round of the postseason for just the second time in 22 years following a 92-88 victory against the No. 3-seeded Denver Nuggets.
But the theme song is about looking ahead, and the Warriors are about to step into the veteran mitts of the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs.
“Winning a series against the Spurs, that’s all that’s on our mind,” Warriors guard Jarrett Jack said. “Everything else is in the past, in the rear-view mirror, and we’re not trying to look back.”
But while Game 1 in San Antonio isn’t until Monday, Jack might not be as ready to move on as he said—either that, or he’s ready to go right away.
Thirty minutes following the final buzzer, amidst the crowds of media and already-dressed players, Jack roamed the locker room like a giddy special guest, still adorned in his uniform.
“Hey Jarrett, you know we don’t play until Monday,” teammate Stephen Curry yelled from one side of the Warriors’ locker room to the other. “You can take your jersey off now.”
“Naaaah,” Jack laughed.
Later, as Jack continued to socialize from locker to locker, even rookie Festus Ezeli laughed with his veteran teammate.
“It’s over man, you can take that off now,” Ezeli said.
“No it’s not,” Jack said adamantly, still beaming.
And why shouldn't he be so thrilled?
The eight-year veteran has now won his first postseason series, and he was a primary contributor. Jack averaged 18.8 points on 52.6 percent shooting and seven assists per game in the series.
Jack, who told Bleacher Report prior to Game 6 that he’s focused purely on what the Warriors “have going on right now at the moment” rather than his upcoming free agency, will continue to be a necessary piece for the Warriors moving into the next round.
But he is just one piece that needs to perform against a looming spoiler.
Following the sixth-seeded Warriors’ upset against the third-seeded Nuggets, plenty of pieces will need to fall into place for another upset to occur, this time against the Spurs.
Playing up to the experience
The 29-year-old Jack is one of the few Golden State veterans leading an unschooled procession into the heart of experience in San Antonio.
In his role as an elder for the youthful Warriors, Jack will need to do a better job taking care of the basketball against the Spurs.
Jack totaled a team-high 24 turnovers in the series and often looked more overzealous than a veteran guard presence. The Spurs ranked No. 12 in the league in forcing turnovers (14.3 per game) at home in the regular season.
Golden State has just two players on its roster over age 30: the 32-year-old Richard Jefferson, who played just 3.4 minutes per game in the opening-round series, and 30-year-old All-Star David Lee, who miraculously returned in Game 6 despite what was supposed to be a season-ending hip flexor tear in Game 1.
Lee only played a minute-and-a-half on Thursday before sitting the remainder of the game. He said his appearance wasn’t “gimmicky,” though he isn’t sure what his role will be moving forward against the Spurs:
Golden State’s interior matchup
In Lee’s absence, the team’s other frontcourt veteran is Carl Landry, who averaged 12.8 points and four rebounds in 21 minutes per game against the Nuggets. He shot 50 percent from the field and 86.4 percent from the free-throw line.
Without Lee, and against a formidable post of Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter, the Warriors will rely heavily on the play of Landry.
Andrew Bogut, who was shaky before Game 6 with an injured ankle, will be needed for the interior toughness he displayed in the first round. But the surgically repaired ankle—that was also sprained in April—might be limiting as the postseason progresses.
Bogut told Sam Amick of USA Today after Thursday's win that he took a pain-killing injection prior to the series finale.
Composure could be a factor
The Warriors didn’t close out the series with a door-slamming finish. No, the difficult task of closing out an opponent in a series became more difficult when the team’s inexperience showed.
Golden State led 80-62 with nine minutes remaining on Thursday, as the crowd bellowed and neighboring San Francisco Giants All-Star Pablo Sandoval sat courtside, pumping up the crowd.
As close to the finish as the Warriors seemed, the wheels nearly fell off the cart of good times. Denver pulled within two points at 90-88 with 32.4 seconds left before a clumsy final stretch ended with a pair of Jack free throws as the team held on to its four-point win.
The veterans of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili won’t be as forgiving as the Nuggets.
The Spurs have home-court advantage and have not lost to the Warriors at home since Duncan began playing, winning 29 consecutive games in San Antonio dating back to 1997.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson called the Spurs “clearly the favorite” and discusses all of their credentials:
Leaning on the heavy role of the rookies
Golden State, relying heavily on rookies Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Ezeli, can’t afford to play like amateurs against San Antonio.
Green earned the save down the Warriors’ unnerving final stretch, scoring six points in a short fourth-quarter window from 4:28 to 3:16 that answered a 13-0 Denver run.
He recorded series highs of 16 points and 10 rebounds in his 24 minutes off the bench in Game 6, and his physical style and energetic demeanor will be a necessity against the Spurs.
“We are going to be the underdog regardless, whoever we play in the playoffs,” Green said. “We’re not going in there with the mindset, ‘Hey, we’re the underdog,’ we’re going in there with the mindset, ‘Hey, we come here to win.’”
Can Curry take over another series?
Curry has become the darling of the postseason, reigniting his popularity from his days at Davidson behind his potent three-point shot.
The new record holder for three-pointers in a single season (272) continued to torch from behind the arc against Denver. Curry connected on 23 three-pointers in the six-game series, averaging 24.3 points and 9.3 assists. He shot 46.8 percent from the field.
Curry battled through a left ankle sprain that he suffered in Game 2, but he never missed a game of the series. The vulnerable ankles of the blossoming superstar have been a storyline throughout his four-year career, and his health could be the ultimate decider for Golden State.
But Curry’s personal narrative brings the story full circle.
The Warriors drafted the 6'3", 185-pound small-school scorer with the No. 7 overall pick in 2009.
In Curry’s first three seasons, the Warriors compiled a record of 85-145 and never sniffed the playoffs. Last season, he played in just 26 games due to his bad right ankle.
So yeah, this feels pretty good for the kid who was used to being an underdog at Davidson.
“It’s still kind of surreal,” Curry said after his first postseason series win. “From my rookie year to now, it’s so much different. We’re just enjoying the whole experience. I was just trying to explain to our rookies now how nice it is now. … They didn’t have to wait very long for it.”
But Curry, like the other Warriors players, can enjoy this first-round upset for just one night.
The team practices on Friday, and the smattering of Spurs’ championship experience awaits.
So yes, the soundtrack plays on.
“It's not about what you've done, it's about what you doing.”