Mariotti: Warriors quieting all worriers 

Klay Thompson has more to celebrate than a 3-pointer in Saturday’s Game 4 win over New Orleans, because the sharpshooter and the Warriors will have at least a week off before facing one of the injury-riddled Blazers or Grizzlies. - GERALD HERBERT/AP
  • Gerald Herbert/AP
  • Klay Thompson has more to celebrate than a 3-pointer in Saturday‚Äôs Game 4 win over New Orleans, because the sharpshooter and the Warriors will have at least a week off before facing one of the injury-riddled Blazers or Grizzlies.

The operative word remains restraint, as in chillax, as in Curry. Before a championship parade can be planned — and I've already submitted the Bay Bridge as host site, all 8.4 miles of it, which the Warriors should be able to traverse at their hyperkinetic pace in roughly a minute and a half — a dozen more playoff games must be won. The earliest clinching date for the Larry O'Brien Jug is June 11.

Restraint. Chillax. Curry.

But suddenly Sunday, the concept of winning those dozen games became easier to picture. As if the Warriors aren't helped enough by sweeping their first-round series and earning a complete week of rest and relaxation — with no injuries to report, even after Andrew Bogut squashed his 7-foot frame into a coach seat Sunday morning from New Orleans to Los Angeles — they sat back and watched a succession of fortuitous events that only enhance their title worthiness. Yes, they still have to win those games when the franchise's recent postseason history always suggests impending doom. Yet I dare say we can brand the Warriors as favorites now, not that they weren't already formidable after a 67-15 regular season punctuated by 39-2 home dominance.

First came the news about their likely next foe, the Memphis Grizzlies. They have a 3-0 series lead over Portland, but they'll play Game 4 tonight without their outstanding point guard, Mike Conley, who was clocked in the eye inadvertently by a C.J. McCollum elbow and might be out for an extended period after entering the series with foot issues. The backup, Beno Udrih, missed Game 3 with a sprained ankle and said he'll try to play tonight. It may be up to Nick Calathes and Russ Smith ("Russ-diculous," as Rick Pitino nicknamed him at Louisville) to handle All-Star Damian Lillard, who is eyeing the unprecedented in an NBA postseason. "That is the easy thing to say: 'No one has ever come back 0-3.' It's not impossible," Lillard said. "We've got another game at home. If our minds are right and we take care of business — get a win, have some pride — it gives us a chance to steal one in Memphis."

Without Conley, the soul of a rugged team, the Trail Blazers might steal more than one. "He's got the biggest heart," Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger said. "He's a true leader, he's a winner, will do what's asked of him, and what isn't asked, he looks for to help the team win. It's a big blow."

At the very least, an extended series would take more life out of the Grizzlies, who have a hard enough time with the Warriors when Conley is in uniform. Two weeks ago at Oracle Arena, the Warriors took a 32-point lead over Memphis before coach Steve Kerr rested his starters. Last month, the Warriors won 107-84 at FedEx Forum. Imagine Russ-diculous trying to guard Stephen Curry.

Oh, but we're just getting started here. Were you feeling queasy about the notion of drawing the defending champion San Antonio Spurs — the Smartass Popovich Spurs, the Big Three Spurs, the five-title Spurs, the Kawhi Leonard-as-emerging-superstar Spurs — in the Western Conference finals? That scenario became less likely Sunday when the Los Angeles Clippers, left for dead after a rotten Game 3 loss, rallied to win in San Antonio. Which means this series probably is headed seven games, and no matter who prevails, the winner will be spent. If the Warriors draw a battered Memphis team, that has the chance to be another brief series.

Seeing a pattern here? Kerr joked he was headed to Cabo San Lucas for the week. Maybe he can go a little farther, to Bora Bora, and divert to the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight on the way back.

Oh, but there's still more. The primary championship obstacle, of course, is LeBron James, recalling how he destroyed the Dubs in the regular season. But his chances of winning a third ring will be more daunting if there are worries about Kevin Love and J.R. Smith. Love's tumultuous season in Cleveland became murkier when he dislocated his left shoulder Sunday, courtesy of a hook-and-yank job by Boston's Kelly Olynyk. Like a lunchtime accountant at the YMCA, Love ran off clutching his arm and wasn't seen again. He'll have the shoulder examined today, but this is an injury that could set back the Cavaliers the rest of the playoffs.

"Next man up," James said.

If only it was that easy, as he saw in Miami when Dwyane Wade began to break down. True, James has an explosive and healthy sidekick in Kyrie Irving, but it's vital that Love contribute mightily for a championship to happen. Now, in addition to chemistry issues and blending in as the third wheel, Love has whiny injury drama. "I thought it was a bush-league play," he said of Olynyk, who is not known as a dirty player on a team coached by Brad Stevens, sometimes confused with Howdy Doody. "Olynyk was in a compromising position, had no chance to get the ball, and it's just too bad he would go to those lengths to take somebody out of the game and do that to someone. I have no doubt in my mind he did it on purpose."

And to think the Warriors seriously considered trading Klay Thompson in a Love deal. It may go down as the Best NBA Trade Never Made, as the Splash Brothers continue their perimeter assault. The Golden State front office also is savvy enough — from Jerry West to Bob Myers to Kerr — not to pursue the troublemaking likes of J.R. Smith, who faces a one-game suspension after striking Boston's Jae Crowder in the face during the Game 4 clincher.

So, to recap, Memphis has injury issues, the Spurs and Clippers have inevitable attrition issues, and the LeBrons have a Love crisis and a J.R. controversy.

The Warriors? Their only dilemma in New Orleans, besides Draymond Green's gurgling stomach after sampling the local cuisine, was producing the complete, four-quarter game their coach had been demanding. That happened Saturday night. The best team in the West swept their opening series without incident or injury. Kerr is satisfied that his players backed their favorite's status with nary an ouchie or concern.

"We're a favorite. We have the best record. This team has playoff experience the last two years as an underdog, but I think it's easier as an underdog," Kerr said. "You just come out and let it loose. When you're the favorite, it's a little different feeling. I thought that was important in this series for us."

He called out his team Saturday morning for periodically losing focus in the first three games. Everyone is wide awake now. "We still have a long way to go to accomplish what we want to do," Thompson said. "We've had a bull's-eye on our back the whole year, but that makes it more fun. If you want to be great, you have to have high expectations. We've still got guys who really want to go deep in the postseason, including myself, who haven't had that experience yet."

Conley is answering questions about his eye and foot. LeBron is answering questions about Love's shoulder. "It didn't look like a basketball play," James said. "I've seen a lot of tie-ups in my day, and that tie-in was a little different. We want to play the game of basketball the right way. You want to be physical, but you never want the game to get out of hand."

The Spurs and Clippers, too, weren't without tensions. In the first quarter, Tony Parker demanded a foul call against Clippers star Chris Paul, screaming, "I'm bleeding! I'm bleeding!" Gregg Popovich screamed, too. Paul wanted the refs to call a technical call on the Spurs for screaming.

"It's the champs, so no tech," he said.

But Paul successfully wiggled into the champs' heads. At one point, the stoic Tim Duncan pointed at Paul and told an official, "He kicked me, he kicked me." Paul won the head games and Game 4 with 34 points and seven assists. Who would the Warriors prefer in the conference finals? If you want to topple a dynasty and maybe start a new one, it's San Antonio. If you want payback against a heated rival, it's the Clippers and Doc Rivers, whom Green refers to as "Glenn."

"Doc pretty much went at all of us," Paul said. "He told us about ourselves and told us what we didn't do [in Game 3]. He told us that when it comes to the playoffs, it's the players' time."

Said Popovich, who now will light into his players: "We lacked a lot of discipline. We didn't execute sharply enough in what we wanted to do strategy-wise or just in terms of general basketball play."

Either way, no one in blue and golden yellow is giving the Spurs or Clippers or any other would-be opponent much thought. "If we keep our composure to start games, especially on the road, we'll be fine," Curry said. "Our defense is what it is — it carried us all season, and that will be there for us. Offensively, if we just stick to who we are — moving the basketball, looking for the best shot each possession — our talents will shine across the board, and we'll be in good shape."

My only problem: Why isn't Andrew Bogut, who signed a $36 million extension and is due to make a fat incentive bonus, sitting in first class?

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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