When the Golden State Warriors beat the Utah Jazz on Monday night, there was a lot of talk about what an impressive victory that was over the team with the NBA's best record. That was a little overblown. The Jazz were playing without Mike Conley and Donovan Mitchell, two of their three best players.
Golden State's 122-116 win over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday? That's a different story. All things considered, this was probably the single-most impressive victory of the Warriors' season.
For starters, Stephen Curry had his worst shooting game in recent memory (1 of 11 from 3). As a team, the Warriors shot just 11 for 40 from 3 (27.5 percent), while the Suns shot 43.2 percent (16 of 37).
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
Your Ultimate Guide to Every Day in Sports
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox.
There was an error processing your subscription.
To defeat the team with the second-best record in the league, a team who is playing close to full strength (no Cam Johnson) and battling for a very meaningful No. 1 overall seed, on the second night of a back-to-back, when you lost the 3-point battle by 15 and Curry couldn't hit water from a boat, sends the clearest of messages as we head down the final week of the regular season and into the postseason.
The Warriors are dangerous.
It's starting to feel a little bit like the "We Believe" Warriors, who, as a No. 8 seed, were more talented than their seed, got hot down the stretch, and wound up taking down the 67-win Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2006-07 playoffs. That Warriors team went 15-5 over its last 20 games heading into the playoffs. If these Warriors win their final two games, they will finish their final 20 games at ... you guessed it ... 15-5.
If the Warriors do end up in the playoffs, whether as a No. 7 or 8 seed, you're going to start hearing a lot of these "We Believe" comparisons. But as Draymond Green pointed out after Tuesday's win, there really is, and never will be, any comparison between these two iterations of Warriors basketball.
"We ain't no We Believe 2.0. We got f------ Stephen Curry."
It's true. That "We Believe" team was more talented than its seed would indicate, and Baron Davis was a monster. But Davis is no Curry, and "more talented than your seed" is not the same thing as having championship DNA. That '06-07 team was an underdog through and through. When teams like Utah and Phoenix look down the sideline and see Stephen Curry and Draymond Green and Steve Kerr on the other side of the scorer's table, they do not see an underdog. They see guys who've gone somewhere they're still trying to get.
That, more than anything, is what they showed in these two wins over Utah and Phoenix. There's still that little something extra about this Warriors team, that thing you can't quite define but know it when you see it. Call it guts. Resolve. Fight. The heart of a champion. Call it whatever you want, but it's a real thing, and the Warriors just might be tapping into it at exactly the right time.
And it's not just because they have Curry. Yes, he's the biggest reason. Curry is arguably the best player in the world right now, and any time you have that guy on your team, you're dangerous.
But it's when you combine Curry with a top-five defense that is peaking behind Green (who is back to being one of the most influential defenders in the league) and what is starting to look like a pretty legit second option in Andrew Wiggins (who finished with 38 points and was all over the court against Phoenix), that you really have something cooking. That is not the kind of team you want to mess around with in the first round as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
Golden State still has a long way to go to make the top eight. After Tuesday's win, it sits in the West's No. 8 spot, tied in the loss column with the No. 9 Grizzlies with the season series tied 1-1 and one matchup remaining on the final day of the season. Unless Memphis loses back to back games against the Sacramento Kings on Thursday and Friday, that final game will be for the No. 8 seed.
The No. 8 seed, of course, represents the difference between having two chances to win one play-in game and having to win two straight as the No. 9. That's a big deal. Either way, it won't be easy to get out of the play-in tournament. That's the beauty of this thing. It's legit win-or-go-home drama. Anything can happen.
But let's say the Warriors do make it out as either the No. 7 or 8 seed. Who will they see in the first round? Either the Jazz or the Suns, in all likelihood -- the two teams they just beat on back-to-back nights.
Now again, the Jazz were not at full strength on Monday. That was not necessarily an indicator of how a potential Utah-Golden State series might go. But the Warriors suddenly have a bunch of shooters spreading the floor and can play Green at the five, which theoretically draws Rudy Gobert out of the paint to some degree. Golden State's defense is versatile as heck and can switch all Utah's pick-and-rolls. Golden State would have the best player in the series, which isn't a bad place to start in the tale of the tape.
If they faced Phoenix, well, you just saw the Warriors beat the Suns on a night when Curry was ice cold while operating on fumes. What about when he's hot? And the team is rested? The Suns are really good. But again, the Warriors would have the best player in that series on both ends of the floor.
Are any of these scenarios likely to play out? We'll see. It starts with getting the No. 8 seed over Memphis. That increases Golden State's chances of making the top eight dramatically. From there, as it stands, they would play the Lakers in the first play-in game. Obviously that would be a tough task, but that's not set in stone, either. Portland or Dallas could still end up in the No. 7 spot. There's a bunch of basketball left. But the Warriors are playing as well as they have all season, and they have to be feeling good about their chances.