OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors are dealing with real regular-season adversity for the first time under head coach Steve Kerr.
Playing without Kevin Durant through a grueling stretch of eight games in eight cities, the Dubs looked drained early against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday. Golden State eventually won 106-104, thanks to an otherworldly performance by Draymond Green, who finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists, 6 blocks and 4 steals.
The game wasn’t pretty even though it ended the Warriors’ slide of five losses in seven tries.
During that span, the reaction cycle was predictably frantic, because that’s what happens when great teams go into slides — like when the NBA commentariat crowned the Dubs last year as the eventual-champions Cleveland Cavaliers struggled after sustaining a couple of key injuries.
The same thing was happening as the Warriors struggled without their best player.
Fans were understandably shook — because that’s how fans get when their team loses its best player — and they were resorting to pointing fingers.
Was Stephen Curry’s shooting to blame? (No, but his improvement late against the 76ers, shooting 3-for-5 from deep in the fourth quarter, was key for one regular-season game). Has Kerr lost the locker room? (Shorter answer: No). Or, was it a combination of several factors? (Of course).
The stars on this year’s team have a much heavier load offensively than in years past. They didn’t get any time off over the All-Star break. Klay Thompson and Green played all summer with Team USA and Curry has been working through a loaded promotional schedule that’s left him visibly drained at times.
And now, they don’t have Durant, their best big man on both ends of the floor. The guy who made carrying a traditional roster unnecessary and a deep group impossible due to his max contract.
The leadup to this game wasn’t the first time this season Curry and/or Thompson have struggled scoring. It’s just the first time it’s been noticeable because they didn’t have the security of Durant’s 25.3 points per game to rely on.
That doesn’t make them an average team and beating an overmatched 76ers team doesn’t mean they’re back.
Fittingly, Green had the perfect message that sums up where the Warriors stood. A point, delivered during a second-quarter timeout, that Thompson synthesized to, “There’s no need to panic when it’s not going right for us.”
“[I] continue to remind guys that we’ve been in a little bit of a rut,” Green recalled, “and the only way to change that is to grind your way out of it. It’s not going to be pretty.”
The Warriors still have most of the pieces. And with encouraging news on Tuesday that Durant was progressing — taking jumpshots for the first time since the “boo-boo” — the level for concern can be dropped safely to “not high.”