Coming into this series, the primary focus was undeniably experience and inexperience. Along with it, however, was the question of sustainability.
There was a fascination—given his fourth quarter abilities and his clutch player award—with what De’Aaron Fox would look like in the playoffs. Fourth quarter Fox is a special thing, one could only wonder what playoff Fox could be.
In game one, De’Aaron Fox was doing everything, more than living up to his potential in a heightened setting. He scored 38 points on 13 of 27 shooting, including his 4 of 8 clip from three, and brought a fervency to his defensive pressure, playing perhaps his best defensive game after a good season on that end.
Though, the sustainability question arose. It was posited that Golden State might very well be able to make Domantas Sabonis have to really work. The initial game of the series, in terms of scoring and facilitating, bore that out; Domas finished with 12 points on 5 of 17 from the field with only 2 assists.
Fox was there, doing it all with the help of Malik Monk’s historic playoff debut off the bench. But as exciting and riveting as it was to witness, one question came to mind: How long could he sustain this? What happens after four or five games of that kind of load?
Coach Mike Brown highlighted the challenge himself, saying that Fox “physically… has to have a toughness that is at a level higher than what he’s ever thought of before.”
Two games in, though, it actually feels that the tables have turned when it comes to sustainability.
Game two brought much of the same in that Fox was doing a lot of everything. It was only a 24-point performance that time, but his focus and physicality on defense, as well as his work on the glass (5 boards) and as a passer (9 assists), were all on display.
Especially early in that game, it appeared Fox settled for a few three-point shots, bringing forth the concern in question, but in a 17-point first period, it seemed a lot of his teammates did as well. In the other three quarters, they came to life, meanwhile the Warriors looked like a sputtering engine, rolling adequately when Steph Curry was on the floor, and running into issues when he left it.
Golden State was +3 with Curry and -11 without him in the second contest. In games one and two combined, they’re +7 with and -12.5 without.
In the aftermath of game one, Bay Area reporters and fans alike were clamoring for more Steph Curry minutes, an idea that Steve Kerr, between games one and two, shook off, saying, “I think playing Steph 40-plus minutes isn’t the answer.”
“The answer is handling the non-Steph minutes better, and that’s something we’ve gotta do,” he declared, and rightly so.
The second game was not a great showing for Curry’s supporting cast. Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins scored over 20 points each, but Klay posted a -11 and seemed to disappear at times while Wiggins, despite providing some decent defense, went 2 of 8 from three.
Making it considerably worse than game one was that both Kevon Looney and Draymond Green got into foul trouble, with Draymond notably being ejected. Plus, only Gary Payton II was able to provide much of anything off the bench as Donte DiVincenzo and Jonathan Kuminga did not show up. And Jordan Poole, playing through an injury he sustained in game one, is still providing practically nothing for this team after an inefficient and sporadic regular season.
Meanwhile, Sabonis showed out for 24 points in game two, Monk had a characteristically productive night, and Davion Mitchell played like the MVP in that contest. Kevin Huerter found ways to score without having a hot three-point stroke going, Harrison Barnes continued being a steadying presence, and off the bench, Trey Lyles and Alex Len were solid after terrific game one performances.
The weight seems to be on Steph Curry’s shoulders more than anything.
Of course, things should be vastly different with the setting shifting to San Francisco. There will be no Draymond Green in game three, but the “livid” Warriors played their best basketball at home, and the potential for bounce back games and less foul trouble from an experienced team will present a tougher challenge for the visiting Kings.
Even still, until the Warriors can prove otherwise, the Kings have a better variation of weapons. It’s unlikely this Golden State team—with some rookies and Anthony Lamb, who will almost certainly never see the floor—will ever be as deep as Sacramento, but they can definitely bring heavier ammunition. Again, though, they have to demonstrate that.
So far, through two games, it’s clear Fox has help. Does Curry? And can Curry sustain the level of play his team needs from him if others don’t step up?
Despite returning to the Chase Center, the attack on Curry won’t get easier.
Asked after game two about the idea of a Dellavedova-style ice bath, Davion Mitchell shook it off, saying he’s “used to” the kind of physical output he demonstrated on defense. Instead, without saying it, he almost suggested that Curry might need that kind of treatment:
“Throughout the game, just keep a body on him, keep pushing him,” he said of guarding Curry. “I mean, eventually, he’s gonna get tired. It’s definitely hard for him not to get tired. Eventually his legs are going to weigh down and his shots are gonna be short, so we just try to do that.”