The Golden State Warriors have been nearly unbeatable over the past three seasons. The monumental rise of superstar Steph Curry has been phenomenal. He went from a simple three-point shooter to the NBA’s first unanimous MVP winner. And, he went on to win that award in consecutive seasons. He’s the first point guard to do that since Steve Nash in 2006-07.
Last season, Klay Thompson had one of the best three-point shooting seasons of any player in NBA history. He knocked down more threes than both Ray Allen and Reggie Miller ever did. Yet, didn’t even lead the league in three-point shooting. Curry did, breaking his own NBA record for the most threes in season. A record that he’s broken three times now. Thompson, however, has cemented his place as one of the elite shooting guards in the NBA. Along with his stifling defense, some of his highlights include a Three-Point Competition trophy, three All-Star appearances and the most points ever in one quarter (37).
Draymond Green went from an under-sized power forward to a two-time All-Star and All-NBA second-teamer. His performance over these past two season redefined the forward position. And, introduced a new type of style that beautifully utilizes a small lineup.
And all the players in between like Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Andrew Bogut, Mo Speights and Leandro Barbosa completed the Warriors’ plan of NBA domination. Steve Kerr, arguably one of the best coaches in the NBA, turned this tightly-knitted team of jump-shooters, role players and journeymen into a team that changed the NBA.
But after their record-breaking 73-9 campaign, the Warriors fell short in the NBA Finals to their unofficial Eastern Conference rival, the Cleveland Cavaliers. This has been rehashed a million times over but if anyone didn’t hear, the Warriors lost a 3-1 series lead to a determined Cavs team led by Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Following that heartbreaking defeat, they went out and got one of the best scorers in NBA history in Kevin Durant. Looking to match their regular season success of last season, signing Durant left little hope for other teams.
The arrival of KD did not exactly lead the team to a 82-0 record. But he did fall into the lineup without a problem. In the first game with his new team, Durant scored 27 points and recorded 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocks and two steals with no turnovers. However, the Spurs were the big winners that day, winning 129-00 on the road in an early-season statement game. But with that much talent, it wasn’t hard for Golden State to soon get into the win column. They would go on to win 16 of their next 17 contests, including 12 in a row.
On February 28, the Warriors found themselves in their customary spot atop the Western Conference heading into Washington with a record of 50-9. Unsurprisingly, that was the best mark in the NBA. While it seemed all was well, an injury forced Durant out of the game when Warriors center Zaza Pachulia was bodied by Wizards center Marcin Gortat, ultimately causing Pachulia to fall on Durant’s left leg. Durant was said to have hyper-extended his left knee, ruling him out indefinitely. He was set to be reevaluated in four weeks.
Since Durant’s injury, including the Wizards game, Golden State have lost five out of seven. They’re currently on their first three-game losing streak since the 2014-15 season. And after scoring 100 points or more in every game since December 10, they’ve failed to reach 100 points three times in their last six. In Curry’s last seven, he’s gone 18-76 (23 percent) from three-point land. This includes games where he went 0-11, 2-11, 2-9 and 1-8. His sharp-shooting teammate Klay Thompson has gone 18-64 (28 percent) over the same seven, including games where he went 3-13, 1-11 and 2-8.
Hopefully for the Warriors, Steph and Klay can return to form just in time for the playoffs. Hopefully, their cold streaks in March will be balanced out by insane shooting displays in April.
But right now it’s the middle of March and for the first time in years, the Warriors are in danger of losing their top spot. They are currently tied with the Spurs, who beat them without much of a fight on Saturday night. Coach Kerr sat his starters for one of the more anticipated games of the season in the midst of an intriguing chase for the first Western Conference spot. The decision to bench his starters is still unclear. But now, the bigger concern is the loss of Kevin Durant and his team’s confidence.
Without Durant, the Warriors have lost a big part of his offensive gameplan. As would any team with that type of playmaker. But what’s most concerning for Golden State is that the shots are not falling for Curry and Thompson. That’s not to say they won’t ever return to their deadly shooting forms, of course. But their confidence that made it acceptable to pull up from 30-35 feet is starting fade. Other teams can now see that although it seemed these sure-fire shooters were untouchable, they are human. In March, the Warriors ranked 20th or lower in points scored per game, not to mention field-goal, three-point and free-throw percentage.
The Warriors had maintained a strong lead over San Antonio for most of the season, but now that lead has disappeared. Now the concern is that the Spurs and Houston Rockets are beginning to hit their mid-season strides. San Antonio have won nine out of their last 10, while the Rockets have won 10 of their last 14. Suddenly, the Warriors double-digit game lead on the Rockets had dwindled to 6.5.
If the Warriors continue to struggle without Durant, it’s going to be a rough stretch of games. Durant will be evaluated in two weeks (near March 28), but even then there’s no guarantee that he’ll be ready to play. Until then, the Warriors are scheduled to play eight games, including matchups against the Bucks, Thunder, Grizzlies and Rockets. Following the Rockets game, Golden State faces the Spurs. And two nights later, they have another game against the Rockets.
Golden State is hoping that Durant is ahead of schedule for those three crucial games at the end of March. But if he’s not ready, the Warriors can only hope that Curry and Thompson have found their shooting touch.