If the Warriors want to cap their record 73-9 regular season with a Game 7 victory over Cleveland Sunday night at Oracle Arena to win their second straight NBA title, then, their best players are going to have to play like it. On that point, Jerry West and Bill Walton are agreed.
West has been an executive board member with the Warriors since 2011 and widely is regarded as the behind-the-scenes architect of the current team, and Walton is an unabashed Warriors fan until his son, Luke, coaches his last game with them in Game 7 before taking over as Lakers head coach. West and Walton were together Saturday at a Steiner Sports memorabilia event attended by nearly 800 fans on the Garden City campus of Adelphi University.
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Both credited Cavaliers star LeBron James for flipping the script to rally from a 3-1 deficit with two straight 41-point games with help from Kyrie Irving who had 41 in Game 5 and 23 in Game 6. The Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson each have put up big numbers the past two games, but they didn’t get much help from their teammates.
“James is a remarkable player,” West said. “His total game is like a Swiss army knife, he does everything. He’s been superb the last two games. His shooting can come and go, but the last two games, he’s really shot the ball.”
Outlining the Warriors’ to-do list for Game 7, West said, “We cannot get a big deficit in the first quarter, and more importantly, we can’t afford to have Steph Curry get in foul trouble. He’s got to be a lot more cautious. Some of the fouls he’s getting are not wise fouls. The last two games, Cleveland simply has dominated (with) their ability to shoot the ball and our inability to make shots we normally do.”
Warriors forward Draymond Green was suspended for Game 5 and came back with a lackluster effort in Game 6, and starting forward Harrison Barnes went scoreless in Game 6, shooting 0-for-8.
West suggested those two, in particular, need to step up to support Curry and Thompson. “We need somebody secondary to score,” West said. “We can’t have players who are starters not score a point. Draymond, being away from (Game 5), looked like he had some wind taken out of his sails (in Game 6). But I think you will see a completely different team out there.”
Walton echoed the notion that the Splash Brothers need more support, but he also said they must be determined to dominate the big moment. “To win, you have to have the best player in that game,” Walton said. “You have to have the one guy who’s going to come and say, ‘I’m the best player.’ The last two games, that’s been LeBron James. But that is up for grabs. Nothing is predetermined.”
By way of emphasizing his point, Walton noted the record of Celtics Hall of Fame center Bill Russell. “He played in 10 seventh games in the NBA playoffs, and he won every single one,” Walton said. “He averaged 18.6 points and 29.3 rebounds per game, including his last seventh game at the Forum. Jerry West was there. He will remember it but not with fondness.”
West is known as “The Logo” because the NBA logo bears his likeness, but he sounds content to pass that torch to Curry, whom he believes has changed the way the game is played.
“Steph is the best shooter (in NBA history), and Klay Thompson is ridiculously great, too,” West said. “They’re two of the best shooters I’ve ever seen in my life . . . Steph has become the face of the league and also has created a new kind of player, I think, that we’re going to see in this country.
“Young kids are emulating his warmup. They’re also looking at his ability to shoot. Everyone is not built like LeBron James or not physically equipped like him. Steph is a remarkable player, and he’s fun to watch.”
Or so West hopes for Game 7 Sunday night.