The Golden State Warriors were an NBA best 67-15 in the regular season playing in the mighty Western Conference. They were on the verge of becoming an all-time great team.
All they had to do was beat the banged-up Cleveland Cavaliers and they would trail only the Chicago Bulls of 1995-96 (87) and Bulls 1996-97 (84) as the NBA’s 3rd most-winning team in a season. Yes. Those Jordan Bulls teams.
However, something strange has happened on the way to the coronation. That banged up Cleveland Cavaliers team has flat out bullied the Warriors. The league’s reining MVP Steph Curry has been neutralized for most of the first three games by someone they call ‘Delly’ and the real MVP Lebron James has done everything humanly possible to will the Cavs to a 2-1 lead.
The Warriors are the beloved by the analytics folks. They shoot a lot of 3’s and play small ball. They can also defend, but in this series the 3’s are not falling. They also have been outhustled, and their toughness is being questioned inside their own locker room after the Game 3 loss.
“They’re playing like a team that’s desperate and needs something,” Draymond Green said to reporters Wednesday, less than 24 hours after the Cavs earned a 96-91 Game 3 win. “We’re playing like a team that’s not desperate and got something.”
For all the jokes made about the Eastern Conference and the Cavaliers roster without Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving, a couple things are obvious after three games. Don’t underestimate the world’s best player, Lebron James. Also, remember the Warriors – for all their regular season wonder – have no champions on the roster. They didn’t even have to knock off the reigning champs in route to the title. In other words, the Warriors still have to prove it.
This doesn’t mean the Warriors can’t or won’t come back and win the series. They’d better listen to Green’s message though, and start hitting the floor for loose balls and fighting for rebounds a little harder. They also need to play smarter and cut the cute behind the back passes that end up in the stands or in the hands of Cavaliers defenders.
The Warriors need ‘more gritty less pretty.’ They also need better 1st quarters. So far, they have scored 19, 20, and 20 points in each of the first quarters in the series. That is hardly Warriors basketball. The Cavaliers have done a great job dictating tempo in the series. Some on the Warriors still believe the key to a comeback is as simple as shots falling.
One of the things that made the Warriors the NBA’s most watchable team is their energy. That has been lacking in this series, and perhaps the credit should all go to the Cavaliers for taking it away from them. They have slowed the pace and gotten back on defense, negating the Warriors’ fast break and faster pace in this series.
Championships are not won easily. You need to be fortunate, and no one seems to have been more fortunate than Golden State this season. No really serious injuries. No prolonged losing streaks. As a matter of fact, the Warriors have not lost 3 straight all year.
Yet so many questions must be answered if they are going to avoid that fate tonight. Can the Warriors find that energy and enthusiasm in Game 4? Can they get more Curry flurries? Can they play loose, aggressive, and smart? Can they prove they are plenty tough enough?
Those answers need to be ‘YES’ or the Warriors will be thinking about how they blew a championship opportunity the entire off-season.