Golden State Warriors

Defense really does win championships

curry draymond

We all got pulled into the current, right? Well, everyone except Charles Barkley, who picked the Thunder to win the title before the season started. But he probably hates Dell Curry because Dell wouldn’t gamble and/or take copious amounts of Jack Daniels shots with Barkley one night back in the early-90s, so he doesn’t count.

The Warriors won 73 regular season games, and hadn’t lost two games in a row all season. Most pundits had Golden State winning this series in five or six games, but the invincibility aura was lifted in the second half of Game 1, stomped in Game 3, and lit on fire in Game 4 as the Warriors lost 118-94 and inserted their surrender lineup with three minutes remaining.

Thanks to the Thunder playing better defense and grabbing more loose balls, along excellent play from their two best players while Stephen Curry and Draymond Green look injured, tired, and shaken (7-for-27, 12 turnovers), the Warriors are a loss away from joining the 2007 Patriots on the very worst elite list of all time. Except, those Patriots got to the Super Bowl, and the Warriors are light years behind where they thought they’d be at this point. Sorry, let’s move on.

The shift in priorities was palpable throughout the campaign. The Warriors didn’t need to play the same kind of defense they did last season, because they had an extra year with the Kerr/Gentry/D’Antoni/(OK, Don Nelson, too) offense. And with Curry going thermonuclear on a near-nightly basis, they could win copious amounts of games and championships the way that all teams in the future would. As Rick Barry always says, you can’t “stop” a dominant offensive player. You can make things difficult, but that’s it. But is that a way to create, or maintain, a champion?

  • In 21 playoff games a year ago, the Warriors allowed their opponents to score 100+ points four times.
  • Tonight was the eighth time they’ve allowed 100+ in 14 playoff games.
  • They allowed their playoff opponents to score 110+ in two games a year ago — once was the overtime win in New Orleans, the other was Game 4 in Houston when Curry took a header.
  • The Warriors have allowed 116.6 per game in their last seven games, including tonight.

We all know that Curry isn’t 100%, but that can’t be an excuse. Otherwise, Warriors fans are no better than the Cleveland kids who kept crying about Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love a year ago. Plus, Curry is actually on the floor. There’s no comparison.

The defense isn’t the same, but why?

  • Andrew Bogut pushed himself throughout this season on the quest for 73, thinking his teammates would pull him through in the postseason like they did a year ago. That hasn’t happened, and his defense isn’t what it was a year ago.
  • The Festus Ezeli plan was detonated by “hack-a.” Apparently Billy Donovan knows what he’s doing.
  • As much respect as I’ve paid Andre Iguodala over the past few years, and as many great plays as he’s made in these playoffs, he isn’t the same player who was named NBA Finals MVP.
  • Shaun Livingston played too many minutes in the first two series, due to Curry’s injuries.

See a theme, here? The Spurs got old against the Thunder. LOLOL! OLD SPURS ARE OLD. Well, age comes at you fast. The strength in numbers hasn’t been quite so strong against the most athletic team in the NBA.

Also, Draymond Green has been absolutely vacuumed by Kevin Durant in this series. Durant’s arms are even longer than Green’s, and Durant has clearly studied Green’s tendencies. So, Durant can guard Green, but Green (either due to his ankle injury or the fact that Durant is one of the best offensive players of all-time) isn’t even asked by his coaches to stop Durant on the other end. And Green, who has been consumed by anger toward Steven Adams, hasn’t looked like an All-NBA defender since the series began.

Curry isn’t playing defense at all anymore. And during several possessions in the second half, when the Warriors were in desperation mode and the Thunder were rollicking, Golden State’s team defense was awful. The switches that defined them for over a year weren’t quick enough. Or, they were nonexistent.

Combine that with an inability (or, worse, a level of desire that didn’t match their opponents’) to corral what seemed like a hundred tipped rebounds, and Curry’s all-time awful offensive night, and the Warriors didn’t stand a chance tonight against a team that’s coming together in so many ways at just the right time.

I’m just surprised that it’s happening this way. I was prepared for a very difficult series. I picked the Warriors in seven, but it was a tenuous seven. Durant is Durant, and the Warriors have struggled against athletic, long-limbed teams this season. But I didn’t expect to see Curry flinging passes so casually, like this was just another game against the Suns in December. I didn’t expect to see Green get his pocket picked so easily, or for both of the Warriors’ best players to look toward Klay Thompson to save them (he did his damndest, rendering my story from earlier today completely moot).

Can we count the Warriors out now? Not exactly, because if they win Game 5 convincingly enough, the tone will change and the NBA might pull some tricks out of their bag in Game 6. But we shouldn’t expect that outcome. Golden State got shellacked twice in a row, and they seemed to accept their fate a little easier than I ever would’ve imagined.

Not a good sign.

It was reminiscent of 2013, when the Warriors gave the Spurs all they could handle in the first round. They lost Game 1 after holding a double-digit lead (sound familiar?) and by the end of that series their two most valuable players (Curry and Bogut, at the time) were dealing with so much ankle pain that they didn’t seem all that upset to call it a series in Oakland during their Game 6 loss.

I thought the Warriors were past that, but maybe it’s unfair to point directly at the 73-game winners and say it’s all about them. It’s probably the Thunder’s time. But, if the Warriors lost their way, it’s not because they chased a regular season wins record or didn’t sign the right guy. All season they relied on Curry magic above all else, and Klay magic if that didn’t work, and defense … well, only if the first two didn’t work. Meanwhile, the Thunder look like the best defensive team in the NBA.

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