In the offseason, it was clear that Warriors Gaming Squad wasn’t satisfied with their late-regular-season 2 swoon and mid-round exit in the Playoffs. Focus and determination was the theme of their Season 3 prep, and almost a full season later, as they prepare for the biggest games of their careers in the NBA 2K League Finals delivered by DoorDash, that focus and determination has indeed paid off.
This will be the first Finals appearance in the team’s history, and the accomplishment is being met with appreciation and humble pride in the Bay Area. It’s an experience these NBA 2K League vets are not daring to take for granted. Mentally prepared and ready to fulfill their ultimate goals, it’s “championship or bust” for Warriors Gaming Squad.
NBA2KLeague.com talked to the WGS camp this week to check the pulse of the No. 3 playoff seed heading into the Finals.
You’ve made it to the Finals! Tell us how it feels.
Slaughter: Just to know that my teammates and I have put in all the hard work and hours on film, just to see all that paying off is rewarding, but we know that the job is not done. We have one more week to keep doing what we do and create, then execute our game plan to win the championship.
Gradient: Same thing Slaughter said. We, the four of us who came back for Season 3, thought we were supposed to be in the Finals last year. This is kind of like redemption for us. We know we’re the best roster, especially picking up Slaughter and Matty, we know for sure we have the best roster… so we now need to prove it. Last year we thought we were the best roster but didn’t show it. We need to show now that we’re the best, we’re going to win and no one’s messing with us.
Jin: We won the two banners last year, but at the end of the day we didn’t make it into the Finals. The banners were good and all, but we feel like we didn’t get it done at the end of last season.
Bsmoove: For me personally, being in the Finals hasn’t sunken in yet. It probably will whenever we play, but it’s crazy to think that we’re at the end, and we’re here. It’s definitely a great opportunity, and an opportunity I think we’ll fulfill and cement our place in history.
Matty: I’m very excited. Speaking about the guys, I can say that they’ve been the best at the game since I’ve gotten here. I’m very excited for the four retained players (CB13, Bsmoove, Gradient and Jin) because, for them to get this opportunity… they did win two banners last year and they probably were the best team. For them to get bounced from the playoffs, I know it really hurt. But for them to come back stronger this year is a testament to them.
CB13: Making the Finals means a lot to me, personally. We’ve been consistent for two seasons now. If you look at the preseason rankings, all the teams that were put in the Top 10 are nowhere to be found, and we’re one of the only teams that stood true regardless of the meta. This team has pros 1-5 that can take over a game, and I think that’s been huge so far this season as well. I’m excited to see us try to win a championship this year.
You spoke to us in the offseason about the importance of staying locked in throughout an entire season this year to avoid longer periods of struggle (that you experienced at the end of Season 2). What changed this year that afforded you the ability to stay focused throughout the entire year?
CB13: The three guys that we brought in–Coach Mike, Slaughter and Matty–brought with them an identity and an attitude of ‘we’re really going to work hard this year.’ Last year, we were the most talented team but we didn’t think it was possible to lose games. We were a fairly arrogant team. This year, we’re really humble and we work hard every single day. Everyone’s down to practice after hours, watch film. So, credit to the new guys, who were really our missing pieces.
Gradient: Yeah, bringing in those three guys who are high–energy, have real sports backgrounds–they knew what was needed for us. We’re watching film all the time. Last year, we weren’t as prepared as we are this year. It’s not even a measurement.
What kinds of COVID-related challenges did your team have to battle through this year, which makes your journey to the Finals even that much more incredible?
Slaughter: Our ability to move past some of the obstacles was a help to us. For example, our facility is just one floor above where we live in our apartment complex. We understood that we’re not one of the teams that could go to a facility with its own network. We also didn’t have an opportunity to see our families throughout the season. Some teams and some players had the ability to do that this year and we didn’t. We put more pressure on hanging out with each other and being there for one another, so I think overall that made us all stronger in the end.
How will you guys be able to beat Wizards District Gaming on Friday?
Gradient: JBM is a rookie point guard, right? We think he can’t hang with CB13. We know he can’t. My personal goal as lockdown is we want JBM to be the scorer. We know he can’t put up 40 PTS a game and match CB13, so we want to make him score and don’t let the other guys get involved, because they’re good all around, 5 deep. We can’t let other guys get involved.
Last year it was a 7-9 regular season record but dominant in tournaments and one playoff round. This year, a 13-3 regular season record and perhaps more of a struggle for you in tournaments, the playoffs not withstanding. What do you attribute that to? Why such a huge contrast between seasons?
Bsmoove: The three we brought in, Mike, Matty, Slaughter- they just gave us something we didn’t have last year. I’d say they gave us some leadership, kept us level-headed. It was just a different mindset this year. They brought an entirely different aspect to us off the court. We end up beating ourselves when we lose, but they knew we could make it here together and kept us on it this year all the way.
CB13: I attribute those tournament loses to what Bsmoove just said, In THE TURN, we were up 7 points in both games vs Kings Guard Gaming and just handed the games away. Although it was a loss in the box score, it was an experience, watching the tape back, that hey, we’re not far off. Sure we lost the game, but if we did X, X and X differently, we would have won and made it farther.
And yes, the level of professionalism that our “new three” have brought this year has really brought us out of being just a 2K team and into a group of people who have the same common goal. Being together for six months, we’ve really turned into a family, and I think that’s a big reason why we’re in the championship.
Matty, what are your impressions of Warriors Gaming Squad’s chemistry coming into this season? What did you add to the equation, from your perspective?
Matty: I’m a very big team-first guy. I talked to Jin, Bsmoove and CB13 in the offseason a little bit, we were already cool. When I was picked up, I was just very excited. I was telling my friends and family, if there was one place I could go to be a 6th man, I wanted it to be the Warriors. For me, working behind the scenes, I think it helps push all of us to be better, I don’t want to be the guy that forces someone to look over their shoulder and think oh, this guy’s trying to take my spot. I really just wanted to help this team in the best way possible. I was also a Division 1 college athlete, so I know what type of preparation it takes to get to very high levels in sports, and I felt like I could bring that mindset to this team.
Mike, this is Year 1 for you at the helm of Warriors Gaming Squad. Did you predict this level of success out of the gate? What’s this Season 3 journey been like from your perspective? Did you have a learning curve coming over into the 2K League?
Coach Mike: Coming in, I’d be lying if I said I would have predicted we’d be in the championship right now, but understanding the situation at hand, during the interview process, it was very direct that there was only one goal to be had. It wasn’t to improve, it wasn’t to just have a better regular season. The goal was to win a championship. We needed to win this year. I understood the pressure coming in! Given that we had these four returning players, and having conversations with CB13 throughout the summer last year, I could just see how dedicated he was going to be at achieving that goal. Him telling me he’d be down to watch film and do whatever was needed… For me, I’ve been a point guard my whole life and I just knew that I had a leader. I can go down the list and with Bsmoove, he’s been here for three years and just given the respect that the league has for him and seeing his game as a shooting guard… that’s totally our backcourt. Gradient’s one of the best locks in the league. At this point, I’m thinking it’s a no-brainer for the season! Then you add Jin to the equation, a guy who I think goes underappreciated, and at the time (upon first hire) I didn’t know we’d land Slaughter and Matty, but those four alone had me excited. With Slaughter, a lot of people don’t even know this, but we went to high school right down the street from each other, so now I have a Cleveland guy I could mess with, joke with. And then you add a Division 1 guy in Matty, and a lot of people don’t know this either–I didn’t even know it until I looked into his history–but I coached against him in college! I had six guys that brought something different to the table, and for me it was easy! During the interview, I’d pick up on the guys reflecting a lot about season 2, and I knew that a lot of the games they lost, they had beaten themselves, so this year, it’d be all about preparation.
You asked about a learning curve- I did have a learning curve. It all started with the Jazz Gaming loss (in Week 6). I put that game on me and I hate to put the blame on one person because it’s a team effort, but I genuinely felt like I didn’t make the correct adjustments. Then we lost two more at that point, and I felt like it was potentially a situation where I could have either lost the team, or refocused them, and the refocus was where the breakthrough happened. I had a good feeling that a lot of teams peaked around that time of the season, and we were 6-0 and we basically slept through those games. We re-evaluated the season after those few mid-season losses, became less selfish, shared the ball, changed our game plan, and if you look at the first six games and then the games that came after, you’ll see a totally different brand of basketball.
This season has been crazy but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Those three mid-season losses, and us inserting Matty into the starting lineup for a little while, I think that saved our entire season. It brought us all back to reality, and now we have an entire roster of hungry players who understand what’s at stake.
CB13, you’ve had an MVP caliber season. Was it your offseason grind, 2K21 compared to 2K20, a different focus, or something else that helped you up your game in Season 3?
CB13: Going into Season 3, I was drafted pretty high by Warriors Gaming Squad, and I was a pretty arrogant person. I thought I’d just hit the ground running when I got into the league and didn’t have any flaws. When I got here, I realized I had quite a few flaws last season. I was like, hey, if you really want to do this for a living, you can’t just claim you do it, you have to show it. So I spent a lot of time this offseason studying what I did wrong, and I had a talk with Rustin when they brought me back and I said, I’m going to take this jump, as long as you believe in me. He did, and in this offseason I really focused on becoming a better scorer. At the end of the day, I feel like passing is a harder skill to master than scoring, so if I could pass at one of the highest levels, I could score at the highest levels if I put the time in.
This group’s mentality, too: I could have 0 PTS and 6 turnovers after the first quarter, and no one on the team is never going to say “we don’t trust you.” They have full trust in me, and that’s a big element as to why I’ve been able to take off this season.
Your family and friends tailgating during last year’s Playoffs is still stuck in our memories. What are they planning to do this season with the Finals being played remotely?!
CB13: (Laughs) Yeah they were going crazy when I had 8 points at halftime vs Blazer5 in last year’s playoffs. This year if I were to have 20 something at the half, it would have been a much better crowd! They’re still into us this year. I think my mom is throwing a social distanced party at our bungalow for the Finals, but the rest of my friends are all back at college at this point so they’ll just be watching on ESPN2 in their dorms. I still get a lot of texts so I definitely feel their presence. It’ll be interesting to see how they react this weekend!
Bsmoove, you didn’t win any tournament MVPs this season, but your team is in the Finals. What has this championship run meant to you as one of the WGS veterans on the team, having been rostered for all three seasons?
Bsmoove: This year I had to play more of my role, based on the meta. It’s been different for sure, compared to last year, but I’ve always been a team guy, and I’ve always wanted to just do my job. I don’t care about stats. Last year, I think I went to leading the league in scoring to I don’t even know at the end of the year– don’t even care either. I just want success at the end of the day, so being here in the Finals, it just means that… I don’t even have words to describe it yet. It’s just a great opportunity that we have to take advantage of. I feel blessed, honestly. I didn’t think I would ever be here, personally, but then Season 2 came and we had all that success, so actually just getting to the Finals now is just a crazy accomplishment.
Slaughter, let’s talk about you re-entering the League after a season spent outside of it. Was this the year you had envisioned, coming back and instantly going to the Finals? Talk to us about the year you’ve experienced with Warriors Gaming Squad.
Slaughter: I knew as soon as I heard my name called during the Season 3 draft what was to be expected. I knew what my job was coming into the team: Play defense, rebound the basketball, always stay level-headed and do all the little things. This team had four studs before they went into the draft, so I knew that I didn’t have to come in and change anything. I wanted to come in and be myself. I knew that if I could do that and combine it all with the personalities on this team, the sky would really be the limit. It’s cliche to say this is championship or bust for us, but I had said to myself that if I got the opportunity to play with these guys, a championship was a real responsibility. It’s been cool to see it all pay off. I’m super appreciative of the opportunity. They believed in me and I’m just glad for it. It’s been a little different from my experience in Utah during Season 1, but without that experience, I wouldn’t be here either. I’m just looking to make the best of it.
Jin, is facing your old team in the Finals creating any added pressure for you to perform, or are you just looking at this experience as purely a Warriors-focused one?
Jin: A little bit of both. I feel like they have more pressure more than anything. I’m not feeling pressure at all. I see Wizards District Gaming as just another team. If we put in the preparation, watch the film and all that, I know it’ll pay off. I’m not nervous at all. I’ve always had a chip on my shoulder during my career. During the Season 1 draft, I feel like I was drafted too late overall, so I use that as motivation to be a better player and be the best I can, to prove people wrong. I feel like this Finals on Friday, I’ll be able to do that and beat my old team.
Jin with Wizards District Gaming in Season 1
Gradient, you won Play of the Year, and that play reminded us that the NBA 2K League is about having fun as much as it is about competing for a championship bag. Can you talk a little bit about the balance you try to maintain throughout the year between competing and enjoying yourself and providing “entertainment value” to fans?
Gradient: I’ve been at the team facility since early February, so you can’t be serious for seven-straight months playing 2K every single day. You’ll lose your mind! It won’t be fun, and you won’t win. Sometimes in scrimmages, I try to dunk on people, I try to make a highlight play. If we’re having a bad game, I need to make someone laugh. It’s one out of a thousand games. We have something like 700 hours put into the game this year. One scrimmage of fun– you’re still gonna be all right! You can’t be uptight all the time. You won’t win.
Making the Play of the Year, I love it. It was so much fun for me to use that Player. I put up all the crazy highlight dunks, the 360’s, the tomahawks. And especially with COVID and the quarantine, I need everyone to have a good time. I love watching the broadcast and seeing the chat go crazy. I love hearing Scott getting excited and hearing Dirk laugh. It brings fun for me to the game, knowing I’m still competing. I’m never throwing it, I’m always competing. But I also need to have fun while playing, and winning is more fun still.
Gradient, you’ve already faced some of the top point guards in the post season so far, and now you get ready to face the No. 1 pick in JBM. They all play very differently. And ever since you’ve started playing on the two-way finisher build, you’ve been putting on a clinic at Lock. How have you been able to prepare for each of these different PGs, or is the game plan just to try and dominate no matter who you’re playing?
Gradient: (Laughs) Last year, that’s how I game-planned, but this year– for me, you know I think Regg is fantastic and one of the best scorers in the league. I think he’s similar to Splashy. For those two playoff rounds, I game-planned similarly. But for JBM, it’s a play-first style and it’s a whole different game plan. We’re watching film every day to get as many different angles on it as I can. I do need to change up my game plan to compete with the different style of play.
And CB13, similar question for you. How do you attack this Wizards District Gaming team differently than you did during your previous playoff match-ups, specifically when the Wizards play a little bit more cohesive as a team on defense?
CB13: Yeah going against those teams, I saw Jazz Gaming hold Blazer 5 Gaming to 52-54 points a game, so I was thinking hey, maybe this might be a slug fest. While playing Jazz Gaming I was thinking, man these guys have no defense, we have 45 PTS at the half! I will always respect my opposing team’s defense, and going into the match, I’ll never be playing scared. The Wizards will come out playing great defense, as you saw them box up Raptors Uprising GC, but I’ll never lack confidence. I feel like I’m either the most prepared, or the most hungry to win the game when it comes down to it.
Slaughter, I don’t know if anyone in the League had bigger match-ups than you down low week after week. Now you have back-to-back weeks of facing MVP candidates at Center, and Dayfri and Ria play much different styles. How do you approach this game vs Dayfri?
Slaughter: It’s exciting, but this is also what I signed up for. This is why I wanted to come to the Warriors, to be able to compete at this level against the best of the world. It’s something I consider a big challenge. Ria is an all-league center, so I prepared for that. I studied his moves and technical tendencies. Now, it’s repetition, doing the same prep with Dayfri. They’re different but they’re both two beasts. Their usage rate is super high, so I need to up my game and not let myself or my teammates down. If I come out playing well, our team usually plays well. If I handle my business, we’ll be in a good position to win the game, so I just need to make sure I’ll be locked in.
Watch the NBA 2K League Finals Delivered by DoorDash on Friday, August 28th starting at 7 pm/et on ESPN2, Twitch and YouTube!