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After the Kings triumphed in Game 6 at Chase Center, 118-99, to send the series to seven, Malik Monk told reporters that starting strong and running on the Warriors was an emphasis for his team. Why? Because there was only one day of rest between Games 5 and 6 as opposed to the typical two, and it’s not as easy for the Golden State geezers to keep up with the youngbloods as it used to be.
“They were a little tired,” Monk said of the defending champions. “We’re a little younger than they are, so we knew we could take advantage of that. We’re gonna try to do the same thing Sunday.”
The Kings did attempt to repeat what won them Game 6, but the Warriors weren’t having it.
On Sunday, the basketball world watched Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors do it again. With Steve Kerr as head coach, the franchise is undefeated in all playoff series prior to the NBA Finals, which held firm when the Warriors flexed their experience in a 120-100 victory in an away Game 7 to the dismay of Sacramento’s heaven – no beam illuminated the NorCal sky this weekend.
This came after Golden State went down 2-0 in the series and eventually needed to win twice in California’s capital to avoid a first-round elimination. In the regular season, these Warriors went 11-30 outside of the friendly confines of Chase Center. But that was then, and this is now, and these games carry a completely different connotation.
In response to Sacramento’s up-tempo Game 6, Golden State imposed its methodical, intentional style and controlled the ball in Game 7, patiently waiting for the right matchups to exploit offensively. It worked like a charm, with Curry finding plenty of space to operate to the tune of 30 second-half points and 50-total points on 20-of-38 shooting in the entirety of his legendary night. Simultaneously, Kevon Looney tirelessly worked the Kings on the glass, hauling down 10 offense boards and 21 overall rebounds in a monster game.
Meanwhile, an element of panic appeared within the Kings offense as they bled buckets on the other end and couldn’t keep Looney from muscling toward everything down low. In the second half, Sacramento responded to Curry’s connections by rushing down the floor to get up the first look available from beyond the arc as if one heave could delete the deficit. The Kings shot 13.6 percent from three in the last two-quarters of Game 7, and not a single one of their players scored in double figures in the contest’s concluding 24 minutes.
That freshness that was supposedly so helpful in Game 6 wasn’t so in Game 7. At 35 years old, Curry put up a performance for the ages, and Sacramento still hasn’t won a playoff series since the second Bush administration. Experience trumped youth again.
There is no team with more experience in the NBA right now than Golden State. Attendees of six of the last eight NBA Finals, the team’s core of Curry, Looney, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green have been around the block. Their years of practice in the postseason, in Game 7s, and in all pressure situations, was a determining factor against Sacramento, and the skill of having been there resonated around the rest of the league, too.
The Lakers dispatched of the Grizzlies in six games, erasing the West’s No. 2 seed from the playoffs with a vengeance. The tension between these two teams wasn’t a secret, and while both sides threw fuel on the fire, only one was left with the bacon.
LeBron James was undeniable as a teenager. Now nearly 40, he’s no less unflappable. You will not conjure up a moment too big for him. Memphis had no answer for James as he averaged a double-double and was one of the best distributors in the series. Anthony Davis, who won a title with the Lakers in 2020, took care of what James didn’t down low, including outstanding rim protection.
On the other hand, Memphis spent more time dodging media than making plays. The Grizzlies are a collection of players who haven’t been there before, though a number of them thought they could speak like they have. It is obvious to those of us living in reality who told the truth.
This theme was also seen across other first-round series. Cleveland’s 7-footer Evan Mobley, who the Cavaliers took with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, was a beast in the regular season, averaging 16.2 points per game and connecting on 55.4 percent of his field goal attempts, culminating in a 117 offensive rating for the campaign. Against the Knicks, he looked like a fish out of water, unable to score in double figures for the series, shooting 45.8 percent from the field, and putting up an offensive rating of 93. Jalen Brunson, who was crucial to Dallas’s run to the Western Conference Finals a year ago, made all the right plays and is the biggest reason why the Knicks are hooping and the Cavs are golfing.
Perhaps the counter to this argument could be the dismissal of Milwaukee, who couldn’t get by to the second round despite its wealth of experience from its championship two seasons ago. But unlike their top-seeded counterparts in the West, the Bucks were matched with a Miami team that can boast players who aren’t on their first rodeo. Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo, Kevin Love, and Duncan Robinson all combine for 229 NBA Playoffs contests-worth of experience, and that’s not including Victor Oladipo and Tyler Herro, whose injuries keep them from participating in most of the series. Plus, Giannis Antetokounmpo missing a couple of games is quite the wrinkle.
Experience was vital in this postseason’s first round, as it is every year in every round. The NBA Playoffs are a pressure cooker of massive magnitude relative to the regular season, and not every player can handle it, let alone the first time they enter. That’s not to say the Grizzlies and Kings are forever doomed, or that Mobley can’t become a big-time postseason performer – the Warriors drafted Curry in 2009 and didn’t advance beyond the second round with him until 2015 – but if I were putting together an NBA roster with my sights set on contending, the experience would be among the main factors I considered.
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