Summer superlatives are old news. It feels out of place right about now. Whatever glory and destiny that was bandied about as a possible paper dynasty was created has been temporarily suppressed. Still, the Warriors were pretty much as advertised. No one expected them to get anywhere close to last year’s exceptionalism. On the plus side of the margin, they were expected to breeze through the regular season with an early adjustment period. But nothing to lose sleep over. Post All-Star break they would be on cruise control and unlike last year where they were chasing something, they could rest, manipulate rosters, and ease their foot off the gas a little bit to prevent the fatigue that was obvious in games 6 and 7 of the Finals.
But, in a be careful for what you ask for moment, no one dared to contemplate what if? What if Durant suffered an injury? What if karma was after them?
The acquisition of the second best player in the NBA had consequences that were airbrushed away. In the summer, everyone was healthy. But what about when everyone was not healthy and a thin bench would be called on to fill the gaps, pray tell, what then?
Matt Barnes, I suppose. But the California native and journeyman Barnes can do nothing about the three game slide and an average record the last 10 games, 5-5. The Warriors and Spurs are now tied with only one game to play against one another. (This year they play a three game series).
The Warriors have the slightly easier schedule over the Spurs. The Warriors only have 7 games remaining against teams currently in the playoffs and only three of those are on the road (Thunder, Spurs, Rockets). The Spurs have 9 games against teams who are currently in the playoffs. Only three are on the road (Grizzlies, Thunder, Jazz). Warriors-Spurs final matchup in San Antonio will probably decide the top seed.
We know from history. A championship caliber team can win anywhere. When Kyrie Irving sank that three pointer in Oakland to give the Cavaliers the win, it was the eighth time in 17 years a road team won a championship away from home, although none of those were a seventh game. All players say we want a game 7 at home. But clearly good teams can win anywhere. The Warriors themselves won a title on the road.
The problem at hand for the Warriors is less about falling into the second seed and possibly facing the OKC Thunder in the first round, a team they have punked into submission every time they have played them this year. The question remains: are the Warriors playing well? Are they a smooth running confident machine?
A lot is made about Kevin Durant’s brilliant season, leading the Warriors in scoring, rebounding, and blocks. He has been particularly extraordinary in a year when there has been a lot of scrutiny upon him. It was worth it, the hit the Warriors took to push players out the door to fit Durant in. He is a special player having a special season but he has been injured before. What planning went into projecting the unthinkable Plan B?
After the stomach tilting Kevin Durant is done news transitioned into it could have been worse news, the Warriors looked like a team treading water. Steph Curry’s shot is missing air. With Durant on the floor and when Curry’s three is off the potential for long rebounds for the Warriors is always present with Durant’s length, athleticism and size. He grabs misses. But without Durant the Warriors have to play harder and they just are not doing that consistently.
It makes sense in an odd way. They won the title without Durant. The band of four brothers are still digging and clawing and competing. But gone are their reinforcements. Everyone looks like they have the missing Durant flu.
The 76ers will heal the Warriors in the short term. The Warriors will get back to it and put The Process in its place. But you don’t heal an illness by using a bandaid on your throat. You cure an illness by taking your medication.
When Durant returns he has to get in shape, chemistry has to be re-established. Before that, Steph Curry either needs rest, a shot of medicine for his three ball or a little bit of both.
This latest ordinary look to the Warriors is shocking only because for so long they were close to perfect. Everything clicked. Everyone worked off one another. Everyone was skilled. They didn’t make mistakes. They passed effortlessly. They scored effortlessly. And they did it while having fun.
The having fun part is missing with Kevin Durant sidelined for _______. To be the Warriors again they need the fun back and they need Kevin Durant back too.
photo via llananba