It’s remarkable the amount of times the mettle of the Golden State Warriors has been questioned during their run of three NBA championships in four years.
It happened when the Thunder took them to the brink in the 2016 Western Conference Finals. It happened during the gut-punch Finals collapse that same year to the Cavaliers. It happened last year when the surging Rockets — who visit Oracle on Thursday — claimed the top seed in the Western Conference and challenged them in the playoffs. It’s happening now.
But with the exception of the Finals defeat to the Cavaliers, which they’ve followed with consecutive titles, the Warriors have shown incredible resilience with their season in flux and critics in full voice. Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Kevin Durant have faced elimination in a combined 39 career playoff games, winning 21 of those desperation clashes.
So why are we acting like Golden State’s ongoing regular season struggles have any bearing on its future postseason performance? Why are we treating this squad, which is more battle-tested than almost any other team in NBA history, like we treat the Toronto Raptors or Denver Nuggets, who have accomplished nothing of lasting significance and not yet proven they can rise to the occasion when written off in the playoffs?
Sure, Thompson is cold, shooting a career-low 34.4 percent from three. Green has been erratic, his own perimeter shots not falling and his temper sometimes boiling. There have been rumors Durant might depart as a free agent after this campaign. Curry missed extended time due to injury.
The Warriors, at 25-13, are similarly positioned in the Western Conference as they were last year. Right now, they sit a half game behind the Denver Nuggets for first place. At this point last season, they were just two games ahead of a Rockets team that ultimately overtook them in the regular season standings. We know how that turned out.
“It’s the start of the season,” Durant said. “Obviously there are going to be some games that are struggles physically and with mental fatigue … but we fight through it.”
The Warriors are near the top of the conference despite the myriad issues they’ve faced, despite the lack of day-to-day interest in the regular season that comes with having won three championships, and despite a much-improved pack of teams behind them.
Like any dynasty, the Warriors know heightened scrutiny is part of the equation. Anything less than a 70-win pace would be picked apart, cut into reality TV-sized pieces.
Golden State couldn’t beat the Lakers on Christmas with LeBron out for most of the second half. Draymond and KD can’t get along. Andre Iguodala threw a ball into the crowd.
“We’re maybe the most scrutinized team in the history of the league,” coach Steve Kerr said this past week. “We’re right there with the Bulls teams that I played on. I felt the same, but even more so now because of the number of media outlets and the immediacy of the judgement and criticism. So it’s all part of it. Our guys have learned how to deal with all of that over the past few years.
“It doesn’t matter. What matters is how you respond to a bad loss, to a bad stretch, to injuries.”
We won’t know if the Warriors are OK until they either hoist a trophy or slink off a basketball court in May or June. We won’t know if there’s a fatal flaw until they’re dead.
For the Raptors, Nuggets or any other normal NBA contender, this kind of regular season funk could signal an apocalypse. For the Warriors, it probably just means the beast is asleep. Keep quiet, lest you wake it from its slumber four months too soon.
“We’ll bounce back,” Kerr said, “I have no doubt about that.”