San Francisco Chronicle

This playoff run more fun than previous 5 by Golden State

- SCOTT OSTLER

How old are the Golden State Warriors? When you scroll through the excellent SFChronicl­e.com slideshow of the team’s playoff photos, you come upon an ad for the Neptune Society’s “Free cremation cost guide.”

Well, the Warriors are on fire, but not that kind of fire. And do you know what is aging well?

Their joy.

That intoxicati­ng stuff just gets better with age, like wine and your high school sports career.

The Warriors are relatively old, as Memphis guard Dillon Brooks said Friday night after the Warriors gummed the Grizzlies to death and sent ’em back to the BBQ kitchen for more seasoning.

“We’re young, and they’re

getting old,” said Brooks, too young to remember that George Bernard Shaw said, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

The Warriors’ core group has aged. The team once kiddingly referred to as Stephen Curry and the Screensett­ers, has become Stephen Curry and the Sunsetters.

Maybe it’s because of that aging process, but the Warriors’ current run to the Western Conference finals, their sixth such trip in the past eight seasons, is more fun than the previous five trips.

“Those (first five) teams were on a different level, talent-wise, age-wise,” Kerr said Sunday. “We were clearly the favorites in pretty much every series we played in that era.”

That makes this journey more unpredicta­ble and maybe more exciting than the previous five.

The first five times, the Warriors headed into the playoffs as the team to beat, and all five times they made it to the NBA Finals. None of those triumphant seasons was a surprise.

In 2015, the Warriors’ revolution­ary attack had every other team on its heels. It was the Warriors’ first trip past the second round of the playoffs since olden times, but that team establishe­d its dominance starting with Game 1 of the regular season.

In 2016, the Warriors were still light years ahead of the pack, arguably the best Golden State team ever (73 regularsea­son wins), and would have won it all but not for a suspension and an injury.

In 2017, ’18 and ’19, the addition of Kevin Durant made it unfair, and only injuries prevented a three-peat.

The current squad?

The Warriors have been difficult to read, from the beginning. Experts agreed that the Warriors were no longer elite, and not yet dead, but somewhere in between.

There were encouragin­g signs and impressive runs, but at various times the team has seemed too old, too young, too small, too frantic, too passive, too careless, too banged up, too incomplete, and/or too unfocused.

What did you think after the Grizzlies gave the Warriors an epic thrashing in Game 5 in Memphis? That the Warriors had finally hit a wall, or that it was a momentary slip?

I leaned toward A.

So did the Grizzlies and their fans, who celebrated their advancemen­t to the conference finals too early.

What was scary was that the Grizzlies were not just playing circles around the Warriors, but that Memphis had co-opted the Warriors’ secret weapon — joy.

Then came Game 6, and the Warriors rediscover­ed their joy, and it was stronger than the Grizz’s joy because it has been aged eight years (or more) in the barrel.

So far, so good, if the Warriors are your squad, but the tension mounts. They’re right back to where they started at the beginning of these playoffs, with their upside and downside complete mysteries.

On the previous five runs, the Warriors didn’t hit the conference finals not knowing what their starting lineup would be. It might seem that Friday’s win cemented Kevon Looney’s place in the starting lineup, alongside Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins.

But there’s a reason Looney was moved out of the starting lineup, and the Warriors are one loss away from going back to the drawing board. That’s one thing that makes this run so much fun: Kerr has shown all season long that he’s not afraid to make dramatic changes, to bring one player out of mothballs and put another guy into them.

Jonathan Kuminga barely played in the first round against Denver, then started three games against Memphis, then didn’t play Friday. Looney was the surprise star Friday with 22 rebounds in 35 minutes, but in the first five games of the series he averaged 15 minutes and had just 27 total rebounds.

Consistent excellence has also been elusive for all the other Warriors, with the possible exception of Wiggins, who has been rebounding, attacking and defending at a high level. And Gary Payton II, who is sidelined with an elbow injury.

Was it more fun when you pretty much knew what you were going to get from the Warriors every game, individual­ly and collective­ly?

It was fun, but not this much fun. This year there’s more to talk, to debate, to ponder and to worry about. The lows are lower than ever, and the highs are higher. Welcome to the roller coaster of joy. Buckle up tighter.

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