Basketball season for the Otters has been fun. Another trip this weekend. This blog will return on Monday, February 15.
If ever there was a team sport in which just one great player can make it a big winner, it’s basketball. Add the right teammates and “big winner” can become champion.
In football, say a team has the best quarterback in the land. Unless he has receivers and people to block for him, there’s little chance to win many games. And even if he does have those pieces, the team still has to play defense. An un-hittable pitcher can throw only once every four games and the best hitter comes up only once every nine at-bats. A brilliant goaltender/keeper, whether in hockey or soccer, can assure a team of no more than a tie. Since the greatest goal scorers in both of those sports average less than one goal/game, there is no such animal as a “one-man team.”
Basketball, however, is different from the other team sports in that 1) only five people play at a time, 2) everyone plays both offense and defense and 3) the playing surface area (94′ x 50′) covers much less ground. One player can not only score but rebound, handle, pass and defend as well.
We have seen such players in NBA history, as far back as Wilt Chamberlain and Pete Maravich. Give someone like that other good players and the team can become major contenders – even champions, e.g. Bill Walton, Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant.
Today’s ultimate superstar, the one who looks more like John Q. Public (as opposed to Hercules, Spiderman or some other superhero), aka Stephen Curry, has single-handedly taken over games and led his Golden State Warriors to victory on several occasions due to his plethora of talents. While others on the squad have turned in magnificent performances, none of them do it better, or more often, than Curry. His line for last night’s contest against the Phoenix Suns (26 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 steal and 1 block) propelled the Dubs to an NBA best ever (for the first 52 games) 48-4 record.
The question that is increasingly being discussed by fans, pundits and even players is can Golden State break the Chicago Bulls record 72-10 mark? Forget who’s going to win the NBA Championship. That’s become a given. Jeff Van Gundy, as knowledgeable an NBA insider as exists made the comment that, with the exception of the Spurs, the Dubs would win a seven-game series against anyone even if every game was played on their opponent’s home court. Since that is not the case, we can assume Van Gundy would pick Golden State – even if they only got to play a maximum of three games at Oracle (and that could only occur if San Antonio would catch them – and win the tie breaker). There is something, though, that can derail Curry and his teammates.
Not just any injury. Plenty of those have happened this season, the latest being a broken right foot to Marc Gasol, the Memphis Grizzlies’ do-it-all big guy. This setback ends the younger Gasol’s season (and maybe his Olympics participation) in addition to any chance the Griz had to get out of the first round of the playoffs. Memphis is solidly entrenched in fifth place, four games behind the Clippers, three games ahead of the Mavs. This means that if the playoffs started today, LA would be their opponent, a series they would, by no means, be favored to win, however, if they fall, they’d have to beat OKC, San Antonio or the Warriors in a best-of-seven series – without Gasol. Good luck.
Alert: this next line is not meant to be a jinx of any kind (unlike most coaches, I have never had any superstitions). If Stephen Curry were to get hurt, Golden State would still be a major factor in the chase for the Larry O’Brien trophy but no longer would they be the favorite. One guy means that much to that team.
The Warriors are by no means a one man show – having three of their starters named to the All-Star team makes that fully apparent. Throw in the rest of their “rotation” players and they definitely remain a formidable foe. But a Curry-less Warriors club doesn’t summon near the angst for opponents that a Golden State team with its (for all intents and purposes, back-to-back) MVP.
Basically, the Warriors are a borderline great team without Curry, but a nearly unbeatable one with him. He draws so much attention, is unselfish, has as quick a release as any shooter in the history of the game (coupled with 30′-35′ foot range), yet can take a defender off the dribble – and finish, is a great free throw shooter and is, arguably, the best combination ball handler/passer in the game. Plus, although it doesn’t matter as much in sports as it should, his work ethic is unmatched and his integrity is beyond reproach.
The difference between every other player and Curry is when other starters are out of the lineup, coaches are fond of saying, “No one person can replace him; we’ll have to do it by committee.” Without Curry, there is no “committee” that can come close to providing for the Warriors what he does – including the 26-member Senate Armed Services Committee.
All that said, the Warriors would be the same overwhelming favorites if Curry was unable to play – and LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Kawhi Leonard, Demar DeRozen, Chris Paul (with Blake Griffin healthy) were also scratches from their respective teams. Still and all, Warriors fans better pray for one thing with their leader: