The Golden State Warriors are the reigning NBA champions, and possess the single greatest regular season in league history. So why do I suddenly feel they’re wildly overrated?
Is it because I’m a hopeless cynic?
Or is it because, incredibly, they haven’t won a playoff series yet — in two seasons, mind you — against a team we could consider truly elite?
Think about it. En route to the NBA championship last season, the Warriors somehow managed to avoid the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers and Oklahoma City Thunder, the last of which failed to make the playoffs following an injury to Kevin Durant. The Spurs lost to the Clippers, who then blew it against the Houston Rockets. That left Golden State with a road to The Finals that consisted of the New Orleans Pelicans, the Memphis Grizzlies and Rockets.
Call me a skeptic, but that isn’t exactly Murderers’ Row.
And then, when the Warriors did encounter a truly elite team, LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers were already without Kevin Love and were about to lose Kyrie Irving, too.
Everything broke right for the Warriors in 2015, which is hardly their fault. But the Indiana Pacers of 2012-14 might have won a title, too, if someone had knocked off the Miami Heat in one of those years.
Cold, I know.
Yes, the Warriors won 73 games this season. So what? The Chicago Bulls of 1995-96 went 72-10, which would have meant relatively little had it not also started the Bulls’ second three-peat. The Bulls then went 15-3 in the postseason — 11-1 up to The Finals — leaving little doubt that they were alone above the rest.
With the Warriors, how do we really know yet? Yes, we love how the Warriors play, love the sheer marksmanship of Stephen Curry, love the Splash Brothers and the competitiveness of Draymond Green. But a year ago at this time, everybody wondered whether the Warriors could truly challenge the way things generally have been done in the NBA. Their best player is a 6-foot-3 point guard, after all, and their big three came through the draft, without the benefit of a top-five pick, let alone No. 1 franchise-altering talent. Their best player is neither a big man nor a dominating wing scorer, which led many to question whether the Warriors could actually win it all.
Unless, of course, the road was perfect.
On Monday, all of the Warriors potential weaknesses were on display against the Thunder, who might well very have two of the three best players in the series. First, the Warriors had trouble with the Thunder’s size. Second, they had nothing to fall back on when their shots didn’t fall, especially in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors went 6-of-23 from the field overall (26.1 percent) and 1-for-10 from 3-point distance. Indisputably, this is a relative rarity for the Warriors, one of the best shooting teams of all-time. And yet, somewhere, somebody was whispering the following:
Live by the jump shot, die by the jump shot.
Fact: In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, Golden State scored just two second-chance points to the Thunder’s 13. That is consistent with teams that ranked about the worst (20th, 10.0 percent for Golden State) and best (first, 13.1 percent for the Thunder) in offensive rebounding percentage. The Thunder held a 30-19 edge on the glass in the final two quarters. And while there aren’t many (or any?) in the game who can defend Curry, the Thunder have one of the best (or the best?) candidates in Russell Westbrook. And he relentlessly hounded Curry for much of the night.
Get the picture? The Thunder have size that the Warriors don’t. They have a point guard to match up with Curry that few (if any) others possess. And they now have beaten San Antonio and Golden State on the road in three consecutive games, no small feat against teams that went a combined 79-3 at home during the regular season.
Can the Warriors win this series? Of course. They could easily win the next four even. But by now, you presumably get the point. In the last two seasons, the Warriors have held a matchup advantage over every team they have faced in a postseason series. Maybe they have an advantage against the Thunder, too. But for the first time, really, the Warriors are truly picking on someone their own size — and in some sense, actually bigger — which raises an interesting question:
Are the Warriors really as good as we think they are, or have they just been the right team, in the right place, at the right time?
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.