A two-time NBA MVP, the league’s second-leading three-point man and basketball’s most versatile forward walk into a bar. They sit down, look at the television screen above them and, for the first time in seemingly forever, see someone else at the center of the basketball world.
Questions come to mind.
What if their golden flash of a season was just that, a flash? What’s huffing and puffing down the finish line for 73 wins when you can’t win the only one that matters?
Game 16 of the playoffs is an elusive one. No team would know this better than the reigning champion Golden State Warriors. They’ve gotten to Game 16 and won it, but never after being down 3-1 in a series.
The Warriors are on unfamiliar turf, facing the daunting task of becoming only the 10th team in league history to come back from a deficit of that magnitude.
But hey, if anyone can do it, it’s the 73-9 Warriors… right? Maybe not.
Not with Stephen Curry, proclaimed the greatest three-point marksman to ever grace the hardwood shooting an abysmal 37.2 percent from beyond the arc in the conference finals, a far cry from his 45.5 percent season average.
In addition to his three-point woes, Curry’s field goal percentage (-8.5 percent), free throw percentage (-4.4 percent) and points per game (-5.8 ppg) have all drastically decreased from their regular season levels, leaving in their wake a flurry of questions regarding the league’s most popular player’s health.
Following a freak accident in the Warriors’ first round Game 4 victory over the Houston Rockets, Curry sprained his MCL. The price for the Grade 1 sprain would be two weeks; at least that’s what was initially thought.
Speaking to CSN Bay Area’s Rosalyn Gold-Onwude, Curry conceded he still felt pain in his knee and that playing with so little rest between games didn’t give his injury a lot of time to work itself out. And although it’s a valid point, it’s not an excuse. It can’t be.
There’s more to a 73-9 team than one player. After all, 73 victories are 73 testaments to the depth of your bench and the quality and consistency of your play. When you’ve broken the record for most wins in a regular season, it’s hard to have the humility to keep your guard up at all times. Whereas when you have your future in a two super-star nucleus being swarmed by rumors of it breaking up due to year after year of playoff disappointment, it’s hard to let this opportunity get by you.
Thus, the Western Conference Finals have brought forth to one of basketball’s biggest stages the collision of two very separate worlds, one relatively satisfied after having won a Larry O’Brien Trophy the previous season and winning 73 games the following one, and one relatively desperate with the loyalties of its 27-year-old dynamic duo potentially hanging on the outcome of the series.
To spell it out: The Warriors more likely than not underestimated the Oklahoma City Thunder. Big time.
Thinking Billy Donovan would probably trot out the same tactics he did the three times they lost to the Warriors during the regular season, Curry and company were in for a rude awakening. They wouldn’t see the cruise they probably had in mind when looking forward to the series, no, not at all.
What they would see was a furious, hell-sent and slightly ironic re-hashing of their own forté: small ball.
Placing the versatile rim-protecting Kevin Durant and tenaciously quick-handed Russell Westbrook alongside Andre Roberson, Dion Waiters and Serge Ibaka gave the Warriors fits throughout the first four games of the series, the Warriors saving grace being their throwback-to-March performance in Game 2.
The Thunder are contesting every shot with their length, pushing Curry to his limit and giving the Warriors ample room to begin doubting themselves. Oklahoma City has done well in presenting the Warriors a coffin, but seemingly less prepared and more apathetic with each game that passes by, the Warriors are claiming the honor of driving in their own final nail.
With Draymond Green posting some of the worst plus/minus ratings in league history and co-splash-brother Klay Thompson facing the same myriad of problems as Curry, the Warriors, barring a miracle comeback, have some questions to ask themselves in the off-season.
Have the Thunder discovered The City’s kryptonite? If so, how many head coaches are at home taking notes for next season?
Was it all just a bad series or has Warriors basketball been exposed?
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports