Thrilling Warriors lift playoffs out of mud


When a couple of young guns from Oakland make headlines, it’s not always good news. But these shooters have the best intentions, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are the hottest thing going in the NBA.

Just when it seemed the playoffs might follow a predictable and tired theme, with few upsets and the usual suspects advancing, the Golden State Warriors have arrived.

Here’s a team that constantly impresses even the crusty media cynics, like myself, who often complain about the declining quality of play in the NBA. It’s not all bad. It still can be great.

Following the Warriors is a roller-coaster ride of 3-point barrages, blown leads, upside-down turns, extreme drops and thrills at insane speeds. It’s a young team treating the playoffs as an amusement park.

“It’s fun to watch,” LVH oddsmaker Jeff Sherman said. “The Warriors are playing great basketball right now.”

Not all playoff series are entertaining. Some are as excruciating as watching infomercials on vacuum cleaners, and if the Atlanta-Indiana first-round series didn’t suck every bit of life out of you, tune into Golden State-San Antonio Friday night and get rejuvenated.

“The Warriors are young and they have been playing loose. I love the way they play,” VegasInsider.com handicapper Brian Edwards said. “Curry and Thompson are going to be the difference.”

Thompson scored 34 points and Curry had 22 on Wednesday as the Warriors shot down the Spurs 100-91 to knot the best-of-7 Western Conference semifinal at a game apiece. Thompson hit 8 of 9 3-pointers.

Golden State would be up 2-0 if not for an historic collapse in Game 1, when San Antonio erased a 16-point deficit with four minutes left in regulation and stunned the Warriors 129-127 in double overtime. Curry hit six 3s and finished with 44 points and 11 assists.

The Warriors’ collapse turned that game into an instant classic, and I made the mistake of saying Golden State’s players would be too emotionally crushed to come back and win the series against a veteran team guided by the league’s best coach, Gregg Popovich.

Instead of reeling in devastation, the Warriors showed youthful resilience, and the Spurs showed they might be a little too old and slow to keep up. But I won’t make the mistake of counting them out. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are not going out quietly, and Popovich will adjust.

Mainly, Popovich has to hope a jump-shooting opponent starts to miss a few more jumpers. Curry is the best shooter on the planet, and what makes him lethal is he’s also so good off the dribble. Double-team him or run him off the 3-point line and he is surrounded by scoring options — Thompson, Jarrett Jack and rookies Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green.

Amazingly, Golden State has not missed injured All-Star forward David Lee at all. Andrew Bogut is cleaning up the boards and power forward Carl Landry adds the physical aspect a finesse team needs.

“The Spurs could get it going,” Edwards said. “But the Warriors look like the better team and I think they are going to win the series. I like Golden State in Game 3.”

The Warriors are 8-0 against the spread during the postseason, having covered all six games in the first round against Denver, and they go into Friday's game as 2½-point home favorites. The favorite flipped Thursday morning, when the Spurs opened in that role.

“It went from plus-1 to minus-2 in about three minutes,” Sherman said. “I think San Antonio is in more than trouble. I don’t know if there’s much the Spurs can do to stop those guys.”

Perceptions and odds have roller-coasted almost 180 degrees after two games. San Antonio was a 9-1 favorite going into the series and was laying 9 points in Game 1. Now, the Spurs are minus-175 series favorites headed into a road game in which they are underdogs.

“It’s surprisingly shaping up right now where it could be Memphis and Golden State,” Sherman said of the West finals. “I honestly don’t see how Oklahoma City is going to pull through this.”

The Thunder are in serious trouble, with Kevin Durant trying to do everything without injured point guard Russell Westbrook at his side. The Grizzlies, minus-170 series favorites and 5-point favorites Saturday, are getting most of the money.

In the East, where the basketball often gets ugly, Miami is having only a little trouble putting away the injury-ravaged Chicago Bulls, and the Indiana-New York series is essentially a coin flip.

All four semifinals are tied 1-1 for the first time in NBA playoff history.

This is no longer predictable and tired, and Curry, Thompson and the hot-shot Warriors get most of the credit for that.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.