Why the Golden State Warriors Are Legitimate Title Contenders

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Why the Golden State Warriors Are Legitimate Title Contenders
Rocky Widner/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors may have just lost to Chris Paul and the Los Angeles Clippers in a 126-115 offensive spectacle, but the Warriors' first few games still prove Stephen Curry and company are legitimate contenders for an NBA title.

Chris Paul became one of only two active players to score 40 points and earn 15 assists in one game, joining LeBron James, but he wasn't the only one making history in Thursday night's game. 

Curry held his own against the terrific Paul performance.  Curry became one of just five players to score nine or more three-pointers in at least three games.  Although the Warriors lost Thursday, they still were able to stick with one of the best teams in the NBA while Chris Paul was having an out-of-this-world performance.

If Golden State can amp up the defense and cut down on turnovers, don't be surprised if the Splash Brothers and the rest of the Warriors are holding the Larry O'Brien Trophy over their heads this summer.

 

Golden State's Depth

The Golden State Warriors clobbered the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday in their season opener.  The 125-94 win set a new Warriors team record for their biggest opening-night victory in franchise history, breaking the previous record of 28 points set in 1967 and matched in 1978.  The most impressive thing about this record-breaking victory is Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala combined for 17 points.

No, that's not sarcasm.  That is actually the most impressive stat in this game. 

Impressive because without their superstar Steph Curry scoring 20-plus, the Warriors were able to blow out a team that beat Chris Paul and the rest of the Los Angeles Clippers a couple of nights before.  Add in the fact that their big offseason acquisition Iguodala didn't even reach double-digit points, and it's even more impressive.

That's not to say Klay Thompson scoring 38 points and going 5-of-7 from three-point range on 15-of-19 shooting isn't impressive, because that is incredible.  Or that David Lee scoring 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting after having hip surgery in May isn't impressive, because that, too, is pretty incredible.

The Golden State Warriors are so deep they didn't even need ESPN's sixth ranked player in the NBA to score more than 10 points to crush the Lakers.  

We all know the Lakers are not what they used to be.  They have an aging point guard in Steve Nash, an injury-prone Pau Gasol and they are down one Kobe Bryant.  Not exactly a powerhouse team.  

But the Clippers still managed to lose to the Lakers and their bench, who scored 76 points, 41 of those points in the fourth quarter.  

The Clippers' stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, didn't have phenomenal games like Paul's 42-point, 15-assist night Thursday against the Warriors, but they still managed to combine for 34 points against the Lakers, double the amount Curry and Iguodala combined for in their contest against the Lakers.  

Championship teams have star players and a great supporting cast.  Like Batman and Robin.  Or LeBron James, the Big Three and the "Little 12," as Juwan Howard dubbed the rest of the Miami Heat after their 2012 NBA Championship.

Klay Thompson's 38-point game doesn't mean Klay will replace Steph as Golden State's go-to guy or the face of the franchise, I think Curry's 38-point performance against the LA Clippers cemented his superstar status.  But it does mean when Curry has an off game, there will be someone to pick up the slack.

Golden State has several weapons to choose from—each of their starting five have the ability to dominate or change a game: Stephen Curry, David Lee, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut.  In fact, each of their starting five average double-figure points for their careers.

Even the Miami Heat can't say that.

 

Stephen Curry

Some people may look at Curry's 10-point, six-assist performance Wednesday and say he's overrated or that he's overhyped. 

And they are immediately silenced by his spectacular shooting performance Thursday.

But Steph is more than just a shooter.  His 10-point performance one night and 38 points the next night isn't inconsistency, it's Curry being smart.

Stephen Curry is a superstar with amazing scoring ability, there is no doubt about that, but he also has a very special ability to understand the game in the present moment.  He has a unique feel for the game.  

He knew Klay Thompson was on fire Wednesday.  He knows, as a shooter himself, that when a shooter gets going you feed him the ball rather than mess with Thompson's rhythm by taking a selfish shot. 

In a postgame interview that can be seen on NBC on Yahoo! Sports, Steph talks about Klay's outstanding game.  When asked if Klay was telling Curry and the rest of his teammates to give him the ball, Curry laughed and replied:

He didn't have to.  He's not a big talker.  We kind of read his flow, and obviously you know when he's feeling it, he's getting good shots, so you know you just kind of live with it and ride that wave as long as you can and that's pretty often with him.

If you watched the Warriors play the Lakers or even if you watch these highlights below you can see Steph passed up a lot of shots he would have definitely taken had he been the one on fire like Klay Thompson.

Having a point guard who can score, who can pass and who truly understands the feel for the game is irreplaceable.  A floor general should always be in control of the game.  If your team is in a turnover frenzy you pull it back out, set something up and take care of the ball.  If your fellow splash brother is on fire, you find a way to get him the ball, making sure not to force your own shots.

Steph has a special understanding of when he needs to be the star, see his 14-of-23 38-point performance Thursday night, and when he needs to share the spotlight with his other very talented teammates, see Klay Thompson's 38-point performance Wednesday night. 

Steph doesn't have overwhelming pressure to be the star every single night.  He has other teammates who will pick up the slack, but his ability to feel out a game and know when he needs to step up or when he needs to get the ball to Klay makes him the most valuable player on this team.

 

Team Chemistry

Take a second look at the highlights from the Warriors' season opener against the Lakers shown above.

How fun does that look?  If you don't want to suit up and go play with them, there's something wrong with you.

Granted, it's always more fun to be winning by 30 than to be losing, but still, these guys have really good chemistry together—which is actually a little surprising since Andre Iguodala is new to Dub-Nation and David Lee just started playing again.

They play very well together—reading each other in fast breaks and in their pick-and-roll offense.  Their passes are sharp and quick.  They are never hesitant because they know their teammate will be there.  

Now, that's not to say there were no errors.  The Warriors had 15 turnovers, just one more than the Lakers, and had 25 turnovers against the Clippers, leading to a lot of Lob City dunks. 

But seriously, Igoudala threw a behind-the-back pass to Lee for a give-and-go ending in an Iguodala layup in transition against the Lakers.  There's a lot going on in that play in a matter of about three seconds, so if they aren't comfortable with each other or if they hesitate in the slightest, that play does not happen.

Here's another look.

In addition to the chemistry on the court, these guys seem to really like each other, notice the bench erupting when Thompson starts his three frenzy.

They all seem genuinely happy and excited.  

Even on his "off" night, Steph congratulates his teammate on Twitter with perfect emoji descriptions.

Curry raved even more about his fellow Splash Brother, saying he is going to be "a nightmare for defenders," as reported by NBC on Yahoo! Sports (linked above.)

You've got to love all the love going around in the Warriors' locker room.

A deep and talented team that has chemistry on and off the court definitely has the makings of a championship team.

 

Looking Ahead

The Warriors have all the pieces they need to be title contenders, but they still need some fine-tuning before they can make it to the NBA Finals in June.

As I mentioned before, the Warriors had 25 turnovers against the LA Clippers.  Eleven of those coming from their superstar point guard, Stephen Curry. 

That is way too many for any team aiming for an NBA championship, especially against a team like the Clippers, where turnovers turn into highlight alley-oops in transition.

The Dubs also need to improve their defense.  They allowed Chris Paul to score 42 points, forcing him to turn the ball over six times.  Six turnovers is still pretty high for a point guard like Chris Paul, but when Stephen Curry turns it over five more times than CP3, it's hard to recover.

Defense becomes much easier when the turnovers are cut down.  You're not trying to defend a high-flying Blake Griffin in transition if you control the turnovers.

The Warriors were at the tail-end of back-to-back games for their first two games of the season, so a little rust and fatigue is understandable. 

If the Warriors can fine-tune their turnovers and their defense then their depth, superstar point guard and team chemistry will lead them to the NBA Finals for the first time since 1975. 

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