Biggest Takeaways from Golden State Warriors' Early Postseason Showing
The Dubs have yet to play a complete game or even field a complete roster. But the primary constant in this series has been the undeniable talent gap between them and the eighth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers. With advantages in star power, depth and postseason experience, Golden State looks a few levels above Portland's weight class.
Lopsided series don't typically teach many lessons. Both the seedings and regular-season statistics say this is what's supposed to happen.
However, the first two outings yielded five clues about the Warriors' playoff present and, in some cases, future.
5. Ian Clark Carving His Spot
Ian Clark spent his first few NBA seasons fighting for a roster spot. And even in this, his breakout year, he battled for a consistent place in the rotation and role on this team.
Through two playoff games, it seems he's found both.
He leads the second-teamers in points (25) and shots (16). His 19 minutes per game trail only the four All-Stars and Sixth Man of the Year candidate Andre Iguodala. Clark, who's connected on half of his field-goal and three-point attempts, is one of only three Warriors—and the lone reserve—to reach double figures in each of the first two contests.
"He's learning how to, not just survive in the league, but how to thrive," head coach Steve Kerr said, per Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle. "The first couple of years, it's about survival when you're in that spot. I think surviving teaches you an awful lot if you're smart and pay attention."
Unless Clark's shooting goes awry—he's had hot streaks and frigid ones this year—his prominent role appears unlikely to change. Outside of Iguodala on his rare aggressive nights, there isn't another scoring threat like Clark on the bench. He can space the floor, find shots off the dribble and shake free with timely cuts, all of which helps him pile up points in a hurry.
With the Splash Brothers unseasonably dry and Kevin Durant already bitten by the injury bug, Clark's quick strikes can be vital to this attack.
4. Klay Thompson Is Pressing
A snapshot from Game 2—the contest's lasting image—captured Klay Thompson in all his two-way glory.
The 6'7" shooting guard, who's never averaged more than 0.8 blocks per game, met Damian Lillard at the rim and denied the former Slam Dunk Contest participant with an emphatic rejection. After circling along the baseline, Thompson sprinted up the left side of the court, caught a pass in stride and striped a three-point bomb from the wing.
It was an incredible encapsulation of his All-Star ability. It was also one of the only six makes he had on 17 attempts. And the dismal shooting effort followed a 6-of-16 clunker in Game 1 which necessitated a spirited training session to rediscover his stroke.
"You could tell Thompson was trying to get it back on Tuesday," Bay Area News Group's Marcus Thompson II noted. "After practice, he was going hard through drills with Warriors assistant Chris DeMarco. Thompson's shirt was dripping with sweat, and he worked on a variety of shots."
So far, no good. Thompson is shooting 36.4 percent for the series (28.6 from three) and is just 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) on catch-and-shoot jumpers. His defense picked up considerably in Game 2, but he also has only five rebounds and four assists (against eight turnovers) in 66 minutes.
This isn't entirely out of the ordinary, as his shooting will hit the occasional rough patch. And history says whenever he bounces back, he'll do so in earth-scorching fashion.
But he'd be wise to let the game come to home instead of forcing the issue with hurried shots.
3. Center-by-Committee Dominating
Remember when there were concerns about Golden State's center spot? It feels like forever ago with the Warriors now enjoying a 5 for any situation.
Zaza Pachulia provides toughness and savvy at the point of attack. Draymond Green's versatility becomes a superpower when he plays small-ball center. David West shreds defenses with pinpoint passes to the steady stream of cutters. And JaVale McGee brings seven feet of lob-smashing, shot-blocking energy.
"When he can electrify the crowd with a huge block and the alley-oop dunks and things like that, it's just a different dynamic that we love to have," Stephen Curry said of McGee, per CBS Sports' Sean Wagner-McGough.
Kerr has made this position a timeshare. Pachulia, West and McGee have averaged a combined 39.5 minutes, with the remainder of the playing time going to either Green or the youngsters doing mop-up duty.
Every option has been great. West has been the worst shooter at 50 percent from the field; McGee is 10-of-11 for the series. Collectively, the traditional three-headed monster has delivered 21.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 3.5 blocks. Conversely, Portland's starting center, Noah Vonleh, has managed a meager 2.5 points on 25 percent shooting, 4.0 rebounds and 0.5 blocks in relief of the injured Jusuf Nurkic.
Granted, with Nurkic out, this is by far the worst center crop the Warriors will see in the postseason. And it's still up in the air whether deeper, more sophisticated clubs will be able to game-plan against these bigs and exploit their weaknesses.
But for now, this potential area of concern is actually a powerful asset.
2. Defense Fully Engaged
For the first three quarters of this series, the Blazers went shot-for-shot with the Warriors, hanging 88 points in 36 minutes on the league's second-best defense. Then, Golden State remembered it has the league's second-best defense.
Portland managed just two points over the following five minutes and has yet to regain its rhythm. The Blazers shot 47.8 percent during the first three quarters; they have plummeted to 32.5 percent in the five periods since.
Their prolific backcourt tandem of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum combined for 75 points—68 through three quarters—on 54 shots in the opener. They managed a meager 23 points on 34 attempts the second time around.
"It felt like we were both surrounded by two and three guys each time we got past our defender," Lillard said, per Bay Area News Group's Anthony Slater.
This is how the Warriors look at their world-beating best. They fly around the perimeter, denying touches to top scorers and contesting everything. Their active hands harass drivers on the move, and their bigs protect the basket in their own way (some with athleticism, others with smarts).
As explosive as their offense is, their defense has as much to do with their recent run of dominance. They have fielded a top-five defense four years running and done so while coasting at times against inferior opponents.
But their playoff defense has arrived, which should terrify everyone. The Warriors went a staggering 26-2 during the regular season when holding teams under 100 points.
1. Health Remains Biggest Threat
The full-strength Warriors are a force like none other in the NBA.
They had this season's most All-Stars, most wins and highest point differential. They were the only club with top-five efficiency marks on both offense and defense. They kept the most critical players from last year's record-setting 73-win team, then supplemented the group with an in-prime former MVP.
No team is ever a championship lock, but Golden State can make a compelling case to be considered as such—if everyone is healthy.
The Dubs were down three rotation players in Game 2, as Durant (calf), Shaun Livingston (finger) and Matt Barnes (ankle) all missed the proceedings. Durant's absence drew the most attention not only because he's the best player of the three, but also that he missed 20 games during the regular season to injury.
That's why the Warriors are being as cautious as they can with him.
"If he's ready to play [in Game 3], he's going to play. But if there's any question, then we won't play him," Kerr said, per NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper. "We've got to get him healthy."
The good news is whenever Durant is ready to go, he should seamlessly transition back into the action. He lost more than a month to a knee injury, shot 40 percent his first game back, then averaged 25.7 points on 60.4 percent shooting his next three times out.
Talent overcomes almost everything. Injuries are the exception. If the Warriors can avoid more untimely ones, they'll continue on as title favorites until proved otherwise.
Zach Buckley covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @ZachBuckleyNBA.