So that’s one question answered. With last night’s surprisingly handy 112-101 win over the Spurs, the Warriors have now clinched the top seed in the West and home-court advantage for as long as they’re still playing. The final three games—at Memphis and San Antonio, then home against the Grizzlies—mean nothing from a competitive standpoint. But it’s obviously not so simple as that.
The Warriors must win all three games to surpass the 1995-96 Bulls for the best record in NBA history, and even at full strength it is far from a gimme. The Grizzlies are playing for positioning, and to avoid OKC in the first round, while the Spurs are the Spurs, even if you’d expect them to seriously rest their old men from here out. Seventy-three wins isn’t guaranteed if Golden State goes hard (just as a loss isn’t a sure thing if starters rest), but it’s a lot more likely. Steve Kerr’s got himself some choices to make.
Kerr says his instinct is to sit some players to regather their energies for what the Warriors hope is two months of playoff games. But! There’s a big “but.” He may have already made some promises.
“We’re going to talk about it (Friday),” Kerr said. “We’ve been putting it off for as long as we were able to, which was until we got the 1-seed.
“Now that we have that, I’m inclined to give some guys some rest if they need it. But I’ve sort of made a pact with the guys that if they’re not banged up and they’re not tired, and if they want to go for this record or whatever then. So we’ve got to talk.”
So how do the Warriors feel about the prospect of resting over the final three games, even though it might help down the line? Not warmly, based on their public comments last night and in recent days.
- Klay Thompson: “I’m not going to rest. I’m only 26. When I’m 36, I’ll be looking to rest more.”
- Harrison Barnes: “I’m 23, so I’ve got no problem playing the rest of these games, and we’ll go from there.”
- Draymond Green: “To get this far and kind of just tank it and say, ‘Aw, never mind.’ ... Let’s face it, we probably will never get to this point again. That’s why it’s only been done one time. I think most guys in the locker room are all-in, and we’ll figure that out this weekend.”
Steph Curry’s postgame comments (full transcript here) were more nuanced—he wants teammates to speak up if they feel strongly about playing or resting—but he did note that 73 wins is “obviously a lot to play for.”
Selfishly I want them to go for it. It matters a lot to me, a person with no stake in the issue beyond wanting to see history. It sounds like it matters to the players. It must matter to Kerr. But the conundrum is, as always, balancing that desire for the record with getting players rested, with locking down playoff rhythms, and with reintegrating Andre Iguodala and Festus Ezeli, who both missed significant time, into the rotation.
Ultimately, it’s up to Kerr. He’s the coach, and any final say is his, and if he genuinely thinks resting certain players is for the greater good (however he defines that), then he should make that call. Thankfully for the rest of us, he appears to believe going after the ultimate team record should be a collaborative decision.