Everything is different now, in terms of the roster, the attitude and the outlook, as was evident again Thursday night, in a fairly convincing 110-99 win against what, until now, has been the NBA’s best team. The Warriors had been 33-3 with Thursday’s starting lineup, but never led by more than four, and never in the final 39 minutes. And they never came close to catching up with James, who started seeing his shots fall when he took the court earlier than usual, nearly three hours before tipoff and, even with a tight back and against a raised hand, kept seeing them fall until he exited with 42 points.
Just as the NBA will certainly take his presence in June, against the opponent he tormented Thursday night, he took his coaches’ challenge to play in the post more, and then stepped out to the perimeter and hit shots that, as Warriors forward Draymond Green said, “you want him taking.”
“He’s probably the best player in the world, so once he gets going, it’s hard to stop him,” Green said.
Still, of all the current top-seven seeds in the West, Golden State would serve as the ideal foil, certainly better than the San Antonio Spurs (seen that three times against James already), Los Angeles Clippers (second team in their own city), Houston Rockets, Dallas Mavericks, or smaller-market Portland Trail Blazers and Memphis Grizzlies. There’s only one matchup that might be of equal mainstream appeal, even if it still seems unlikely, considering the Oklahoma City Thunder, if they make the playoffs, won’t have home-court advantage in a single series. Certainly, though, if they rolled through the West with their star power and fortified bench, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook would provide compelling theater in a rematch with James of the 2012 NBA Finals.
The Warriors play in one of the NBA’s largest markets with a passionate fan base, even if the team hasn’t been consistently strong enough to register from coast to coast. They play a pleasing style and have a personable coach in Kerr, whom fans know from television, even if they didn’t see the same side of him that the officials did Thursday.
There’s the storyline of Curry and Kyrie Irving, two of the more prominent young figures in the league’s point guard revolution, and there are plenty of other players with familiar names, from Andre Iguodala to J.R. Smith to Andrew Bogut.
But, of course, the headline storyline would be James vs. the league’s latest wonder kid, one who accrued more All-Star votes at the most competitive position (West backcourt), one who is featured in an increasing array of advertisements, one who is more relatable than any other major superstar in the game—including James—because he hardly looks like an extraordinary, adult specimen, with his babyface and 185-pound frame.
“I often compare him to Tim Duncan, because it’s a rare combination, a rare quality he has to be humble and sort of arrogant at the same time, if that makes sense,” Kerr said. “Steph is arrogant with his game, and incredibly humble and modest off the game, and with people, and with the media, and with his teammates. And that’s a powerful force.”
Will the Warriors see James again?