When Kawhi scored 41 against LeBron and company in Cleveland, we rejoiced. It was Dejounte Murray’s coming-out party, it showed Kawhi could ball on a relatively big stage against HOF-level competition (we knew this in the Finals, but still).
After this game we have a different kind of narrative. The Cavs are reeling if still talented. They are not the team that beat the historically great Warriors in the Finals last season. Instead they are a collection of parts that have more in common with the LeBron Returns: Year 1 squad that was trying to figure things out.
The through line in both is this: both of those teams went to the Finals and played well. That the Spurs beat this team last night means very little other than they took care of business against a struggling team. The things we are looking for at this stage of the game is incremental improvement and ‘tightening up’ as Pop says.
In the last ten, the Spurs have dropped three included one each to the Blazers and Grizzlies, two surging teams that are playing much better since the break. Also, the Thunder on a back-to-back in OKC.
Memphis was dealt a measure of revenge, the Thunder and the Blazers are on the schedule and so they too, will get a dose of the Klaw. The Spurs are what they will be in the playoffs. Kawhi is going to be relied upon to create and score upwards of 28+ a night. Pau is going to need to hit the threes he has been knocking down freely, and Patty et al will need to provide the punch off the bench.
It is setting up amazingly well. The Warriors are also adjusting to life without Durant, Steph is getting over his week long shooting slump but might have to reintegrate Kevin Durant sometime in the crunchiest of cruch times. The Spurs are in perfect position to exploit such a team.
Remember that the Warriors were readjusting to a slightly banged up Steph Curry throughout the playoffs and were exploited by teams that were in their Final Forms: The Cavs, The Thunder.
Also remember the Spurs transitioned from the well-oiled machine to bunny-missing also-rans in part because of that same Potential-Realizing Thunder squad. The post season is extremely long and yet an individual playoff series is relatively short.
Given the choice, I would much rather be in this position: playing well, being healthy than in the Cavs position. Still, that does not mean as much as we would like.