SportsPulse: While the first four series completed are now all tied at one apiece the Trail Blazers made sure to break that streak by going up 2-0 on the Thunder.
It isn’t crunch time or time to panic, and it isn’t time to start writing the obituary of the Golden State Warriors dynasty. It’s not time to launch comparisons with the Warriors and the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning – a top seed that flamed out at the first hurdle.
But it is time to learn something in these NBA playoffs, and the defending champions and their current predicament provide intrigue for a case study.
Their upcoming Game 3 clash with the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night has turned into far more than just another first-round playoff game.
Not only did the eighth-seeded Clippers tear Golden State apart down the stretch of a spectacular 31-point comeback at Oracle Arena in Game 2, but they opened a window of potential fragility of a team that rarely shows any.
What the Warriors do about it, and how effectively they respond, may tell us everything we need to know about the mindset of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and company, and whether the assumption they will cruise towards another championship passes muster.
“Make adjustments, hold ourselves accountable,” Curry said when asked how he wanted to see the Warriors bounce back. “When we get on that plane, we have a fresh start to take control of the series.”
It was widely assumed around the league that this was the playoff matchup Golden State wanted, one made possible when the Clippers’ impressive late-season form suffered a temporary blip in an April 5 loss to their struggling neighbors, the Lakers. That set in motion the potential for the Oklahoma City Thunder to leap into sixth, with the San Antonio Spurs sandwiched between.
Yet even with Paul George and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder were never going to be the Warriors’ first-round kryptonite. The Warriors are the ultimate star-studded group, and they have withstood the challenge of rosters built around one or two superstars before – with one notable exception. And the Thunder have little in common with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving’s 2016 Cleveland Cavaliers.
A sturdier challenge comes in the form of the Clippers, at least partly because Doc Rivers’ squad is built on such fundamentally sound foundations that it highlights any weakness in the opponent.
Pound for pound, it’s not a fair fight. Player for player, the Warriors against pretty much anyone is not a fair fight, even with DeMarcus Cousins out with a torn quad. If the Warriors are as united as they claimed on their “60 Minutes” special, then bouncing back from Monday’s embarrassment should be easy. If all is well within the camp, their army of fans have little to worry about.
But if that togetherness is on shaky ground, the Clippers, who work for each other as a matter of habit, have a chance expose it. If there is discord, it will be apparent against Los Angeles.
And if there is some kind of mental fatigue about the Warriors, because, you know, winning so often can get tiresome, then the never-say-die attitude and constant work rate of the Clippers will give them plenty to handle once more.
This isn’t a prediction of a series upset for the ages, just an assertion that it’s time for the real Warriors to stand up after playing the regular season on autopilot.
“We let our guard down (in Game 2),” Klay Thompson said. “We weren’t the aggressors anymore. We didn’t deserve to win that game.”
That this is a team of championship caliber has been proven over and again. Possessing such pedigree and history buys you a lot of leeway, which is why no one panicked when Steve Kerr’s group suffered uncharacteristic losses throughout the regular season and often resembled a soap opera.
The latest that you might have missed, because there are so many plotlines around the Warriors that it’s hard to keep up: Draymond Green’s mother has been retweeting critical comments about Kerr and Durant.
There are so few dynasties in sports because while winning is hard, continuing to do so is even tougher. Now, there is a call and it needs to be answered.
On Thursday, we will find out if the Warriors still have the stomach for a fight and can turn the humiliating start to their week into a laughed-off blip, or whether the seams of togetherness are being stretched on the NBA’s greatest modern team.