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Warriors vs. Hawks: How Basketball Porn Became an X-Rated Blowout

The battle of the NBA’s best was supposed to thrill; instead, it turned into a rout. What’s next for Golden State and Atlanta?

Stephen Curry, NBA

Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors handled the Atlanta Hawks on Thursday.

Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images

There’s no use attempting to disguise it: we are knee-deep in the NBA slog.

Teams that are out of the playoffs are not trying to lose, but they’re not not trying to lose, either, giving big minutes to odd lineups and young players in the hopes of landing a lottery pick. Teams on the margins are scraping for fingerholds on the postseason, feasting on the aforementioned cellar dwellers or taking it to top-seeded teams who are prone to throwing in the towel early rather than risk injuries late. Like a YouTube video stuck buffering three minutes into a four-minute run time, this stretch of the NBA season tries your patience. But then – magically – the schedule gifts us this: Hawks vs. Warriors, the promise of basketball porn.

The last time the league’s top two teams met was February 6 in Atlanta, and it was the Hawks that came away with the win. But only after a back-and-forth game that was knotted at the half and saw all of Atlanta’s starters (plus two reserves) score in double digits while Splash Brothers Steph Curry and Klay Thompson went for 26 and 29 and Draymond Green pulled down 20 rebounds.

What made that game so compelling – and what makes the potential of these two teams meeting in the Finals so thrilling – is that both are built to create beautiful basketball, even if their constituent parts are different. The best teams in any given year are not necessarily diametrically opposed in terms of construction, but they often represent stylistically distinct ethea: the Spurs’ pace-and-space, the Pacers’ juggernaut defense, the Heat or the Celtics’ Big Three, the Suns’ Seven-Seconds-or-Less, the Lakers’ Triangle-plus-Kobe-plus-Shaq, the older Spurs’ Twin Towers.

But here we have two fluid, flexible teams built around ball movement, efficient shooting and versatility on the defensive end. Golden State might provide more distinct nodes within the system – no player on Atlanta is as individually responsible for offense as Curry or Thompson are, nor is any player as responsible for anchoring the defense as Andrew Bogut – but both teams employ a thick swath of players who function in multifaceted, semi-positionless ways: Shaun Livingston, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes for the Warriors and DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap, Al Horford, Mike Scott and Kyle Korver for the Hawks.

Coming into last night’s game, though, the Hawks were without Korver (who broke his nose against the Lakers – more specifically, against Ed Davis’ shoulder) and Scott (out six weeks with a broken toe) and the Warriors were missing Klay Thompson (ankle injury). With two teams that rely so heavily on depth and balance, which dinged-up lineup was going to crack first?

In the game’s first few minutes, though, it was difficult to look away from the sheer amount of movement out on the floor, the volume of cuts and rotations, especially for anyone accustomed to following teams without any kind of definable offensive system (cough, Timberwolves, cough). But after a first quarter that saw Golden State go up 28-24, it became clear that Al Horford (0-for-4) was in a funk, and it was one that Atlanta could ill afford without Korver’s scoring punch. As a team, the Hawks shot 40 percent to the Warriors’ 55, and it only got worse from there. By the end of the half, Atlanta had dropped to 34.1 percent from the field while Golden State had climbed to 58.5, and it was the latter team that looked like the well-rounded one with Curry, Barnes, Iguodala and Green all sitting at 11 points. The shooting percentages held more or less steady by the end of the game, which the Warriors won 114-95. Horford ended the night 4-for-18 and backup point guard Dennis Schroder – who’s looked markedly better since the All-Star Break – was a ghastly 1-for-12.

So what was it? Golden State’s stifling defense? Atlanta’s poor defense? Korver’s absence? Something else entirely? And how much does it mean for either team heading into the postseason, now that they’ve split their seasons series?

Although it’s not where it begins, it’s worth noting that a huge part of the Warriors’ success in this game was due to Barnes (11-for-13 for 25 points in just over 28 minutes) and Iguodala (9-for-12 for 21 points with 6 assists in just under 30 minutes) having their best games of the season, including some massive throwback dunks for Iguodala.

Where the breakdown really began for the Hawks was missing open shots early on and not having Korver to get things going. In a purely mechanical way, Korver provides two things on offense: made shots and the threat of made shots. He’s not a volume shooter, attempting just eight shots a game, but six of those eight are going to be 3-pointers. That threat generates space, and that’s where the Hawks can operate so efficiently.

But last night, the Hawks were getting decent looks in the first and just not knocking them down. At that moment, they needed Korver’s actual shooting – just someone plain making shots – more than the space it generates. As the missed shots mounted, Atlanta bogged down and the crisp movement the game began with evaporated in the third quarter, leading to ridiculousness like this:

Curry’s pass is obviously the highlight, but the subtler thing is how Leandro Barbosa kicks the ball to him and then doesn’t give up, instead darting out to the 3-point line while Schroeder fails to pick him up. That’s the hallmark of one team hitting on all six while the other sputters. The cherry on top is Curry jawing at Schroder as they head into the timeout.

In the end, the promise of basketball porn turned out to be more like porn than anyone anticipated: a lurid, one-sided display that got the job done, but with little actual resonance once everything got cleaned up. Perhaps the Hawks showed that their admirable balance can be upended when they’re missing a critical piece, but how is that different from most teams? The Warriors reinforced their status as the current title favorites, but they’re the team with the best record in the much more difficult conference, so that hasn’t changed anything. One late season game shouldn’t shift playoff expectations too severely, and this matchup is still the postseason’s best hope for a seven-game Finals that’s less pornographic and more tantric.

In This Article: Basketball, NBA, sports

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