The last time that the Golden State Warriors lost back-to-back games in regulation was almost exactly two years ago, back in early April of 2015. That 2014-15 Warriors team got blown out by San Antonio on the road, then lost a close one in New Orleans. After that loss, they won an NBA championship and 28 straight regular season games through the rest of that season and the start of the next one.
Tonight, Golden State’s 146-game streak without consecutive losses came to an end as the Bulls took them down in Chicago behind some strong defense and timely bench play. Golden State has now gone 0-2 since Kevin Durant went down in a heap with a knee injury against the Wizards, and while it’s not exactly time to panic, there’s something concerningly sluggish about their play right now.
Warriors fans and those worried about the team’s prospects for the month they’ll have to spend without Durant can take solace in the fact that the Warriors won 73 games without Durant last year. However, they also had Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, and a stronger bench. JaVale McGee is fine and Patrick McCaw has developed into a pleasant enough wing, but once you subtract Durant, they simply don’t have the same depth that they did when they throttled everyone last year.
Reduced depth matters, but when you still have three all-stars in your starting lineup, all that means is that you have smaller margin for error. The Warriors’ stars should still be able to get them over past lesser teams, like the Bulls and the Wizards. The problem that Golden State’s run into at the start of their current road trip is that Klay Thompson and Steph Curry can’t shoot the dang basketball worth a shit.
The two guards combined to miss all eight of their three-point attempts in the fourth quarter tonight, a fourth quarter in which the team only scored 14 points. Tonight, Chicago held them to their worst shared field goal percentage in games that they’ve shot 40 or more times. Steph Curry has never had a worse three-game stretch of three-point shooting in his career.
These shooting numbers are objectively terrible and they should unnerve Warriors supporters. Steph’s spent all year adjusting to playing alongside another ball-dominant player who shoots 17 times per game and now he has to take on more of a load while drawing increased defensive scrutiny. He is completely capable of shouldering that burden—after all, he just won two MVPs without Durant— but he’s clearly off his rhythm.
With that said, the Warriors were in this one until the very end, warts and all. Curry was incredibly active on the defensive end in the fourth quarter and he ended the game with five steals. He found himself open more often than he usually does, he just didn’t hit anything, this wild leaner excepted.
For their part, Chicago only managed 15 points of their own in the fourth quarter. They did most of their damage in the third, thanks to some unexpectedly competent play from Rajon Rondo and the bench unit. In the fourth, they tensed up and were it not for the Warriors ice-cold shooting, they’d have been dead. They went over three minutes between field goals late in the game until Dwyane Wade hit a jumper and Paul Zipser of all people closed it out with a huge three as the shot clock expired.
The Warriors will probably still be fine, especially if they can integrate Kevin Durant into the lineup before the playoffs start. They hold the one-seed, once thought to be exclusive property of Golden State, by just three games over the omnipresent Spurs. Having a healthy Durant is the top priority but they’ll be a lot better off in the playoffs if they can integrate him during a first-round series with Denver (remember when the Pelicans were supposed to push the Warriors???) instead of with Oklahoma City or Memphis. Steph will sort himself out, but for the first time since the Finals, Golden State looks the slightest bit vulnerable.
While Cleveland’s struggled and no other team has shown itself to be a credible threat to Finals hegemony, Golden State has floated above it all. They took a bit to integrate Durant into the lineup, but once they calibrated their lineup, they reached a terrifying level that I haven’t seen over their three-year run as the NBA’s best team. They might still get there, and I still think they will win the NBA championship, but this team is not invincible. Steph won’t be this lackluster for a long time, and like any team that loses a superstar to an injury, they’ll have to adjust. Two games is nothing to panic over, and they have a forgiving rebound game against the Knicks to look forward to. There’s uncertainty now, but the Warriors are still the NBA’s best.