I tried to tell you this a week ago, but you didn’t listen, didn’t believe it or didn’t care. The Golden State Warriors are good, very good, maybe even great. They’re just not as great as you think they are.
And it’s now time to wonder whether they ever were.
So here we are, four games into the NBA Western Conference finals, and America’s shiniest new plaything is getting buried in the sandbox like something a wild animal left behind. The Oklahoma City Thunder blasted the Warriors by a 118-94 score in Game 4 last night, taking a 3-1 series lead in the process. Golden State has now lost two in a row for the first time this year. Over a span of six quarters in Games 3 and 4, the Thunder outscored the Warriors by a whopping count of 205-158.
Know what comes now? The excuses, and they’ve already started. According to the esteemed Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical, a source close to Curry recently suggested that Mighty Mouse is currently “playing at 70 percent, at best.” And that’s the beauty of being Steph. When you come back from injury against the Portland Trail Blazers, you get celebrated as a revolutionary little man with big courage. When you lose to Oklahoma City, you get excused as a cute, wounded duckling. Never mind that Curry has more turnovers (17) than 3-pointers (16) in this series. He’s Steph.
Sorry, folks, but it doesn’t work that way. The Warriors became America’s darlings last season when they won the NBA title with a new, refreshing brand of basketball that was both entertaining and wildly effective. They further burrowed into our bosoms with a 73-win regular season that set a new NBA standard. But as the 2007 New England Patriots would tell you, a historic regular season means nothing if the Warriors can’t seal the deal.
Is this truly “stunning,” as Draymond Green (-73 plus/minus in the last two games) told Wojnarowski following the defeat? Well, yes and no. The Warriors are obviously better than this. But a close inspection of their road to the title last season suggests as much good fortune as good basketball.
Over the last two years, the best NBA teams outside of the Bay Area have included, without dispute, the San Antonio Spurs, Los Angeles Clippers (last year), Thunder (this year) and Cleveland Cavaliers. Before this series, know how many the Warriors had faced in the playoffs? One. And that was a Cleveland team that effectively played The Finals without both Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, leaving LeBron James to rely upon such NBA pillars as Matthew Dellavedova and Timofey Mozgov.
Here was Golden State’s road to the title last year: New Orleans, Memphis, Houston, undermanned Cleveland. And this year, until now? Houston, Portland.
Dog food. Industrial-sized, mass-produced, dry and crusty dog food.
Here are the problems with Golden State, and these have always been the problems with Golden State: they’re not big and they’re overly reliant on the jump shot, the latter of which is less concerning given the snipers on their roster. Now they are encountering a Thunder team with the inside-outside game to exploit them on both ends of the floor. That has made the Warriors vulnerable in the paint (110 points allowed in the last two games) while shooting a terrible (for them) 18-of-60 from 3-point distance, a rancid 30 percent.
The Warriors are getting pounded near the basket. And they’re getting beat on the perimeter. Oklahoma City has attempted 128 free throws in the series. The Warriors have attempted 99.
Are the Warriors done? Of course not. That, too, would be an overstatement. Golden State will almost certainly win Game 5 at home, where the Warriors went a sterling 39-2 during the regular season. That will put them back on the floor for Game 6 in Oklahoma City, where the Warriors have been positively blistered thus far. If the Warriors can win that game and force a Game 7 back on their own floor, the pendulum in this series will indisputably have swung back.
It’s time to find out how great these Golden State Warriors truly are.
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.