Everyone is burying the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors after their game 4 loss to the OKC Thunder the other night as the teams prep for game five tonight in Oakland.
That 118-94 defeat on Tuesday was the first time all season that the Warriors had dropped back-to-back games, and puts them one loss away from elimination in the NBA’s western conference finals after a record-setting 73-9 regular season.
According to what sports fan Toya heard on talk radio, all the Warriors are is a bunch of three-point gunners. It’s the only thing they can do. So in the playoffs OKC has been able to shut them down by clamping down hard on Steph Curry, who has been off his regular season MVP form.
I have said this before but will re-emphasize it here. The makeup and chemistry of an NBA team is very tenuous. There is only one ball, but five players. So it all boils down to how the unity of the five translates into putting the ball where it needs to be from their point of view against the defense of their opponents. That determines the fate of the team.
In terms of team chemistry, the thing I see overlooked is the health of the Warrior’s starting center Andrew Bogut. The 7-foot Australian is not playing up to par against the OKC, and while the team doesn’t talk about it, Bogut still seems slowed by an adductor strain he suffered during game five in the western conference semifinals against Portland. He is not him, and it shows.
“He’s almost fouling out of every game in 10-15 minutes,” head coach Steve Kerr said at the team’s downtown Oakland facility before tonight’s game five. “He’s got to be smarter with his fouls. We need him out there.”
Kerr blames Bogut for early fouls, which force him to the bench, but how often is fouling a matter of lack of lateral movement? And guess what a sore adductor takes away?
Thus, Golden State is playing without a fully functioning big man to rebound and protect the rim on defense, and a slick-passing big man on offense which opens lanes and 3-point opportunities for the sharp shooters.
In athletics it is very hard to play hurt. Look at the list of athletes who scratched from the Nike Pre Classic this weekend in Eugene. But in other team sports you can play, though not at full strength.
In game four Bogut only played 11:10 (just 11.44 in game 3). Bogut’s absence can found all over the game four score sheet. OKC scored 48 points in the paint, the Warriors 38. OKC had 21 second-chance points, only 13 for the Warriors. One Warrior had more than 10 rebounds out of a total of 40, while three Thunder players grabbed 10+ out of 56 total rebounds. That all points to a compromised Andrew Bogut. Accordingly, the sinuous Golden State offense now looks discombobulated, while the lack of power underneath on D makes the rim look fat and juicy for the OKC slashers.
Second, say what you will about Russell Westbrook‘s clinging D, league MVP Steph Curry is also not playing anywhere near full strength. Knee and ankle problems have slowed his normal flow. That shows up in his deep shot, where he went 2 for 10 in game four from three-point land. It shows up in his free-throws, where his league-leading 91% took a tumble to 71% (going only 5 of 7). Westbrook is all over him, yes, but Dr. Problem isn’t the only issue.
So nothing against OKC. Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are playing inspired ball, and their rabid fans are driving them hard toward the Finals. But the OKC bench is also closer to their full strength than are the Warrior subs, while OKC head coach Billy Donovan seems to have gotten the better of Steve Kerr, who hasn’t been able to find the right combination to offset the Bogut and Curry loss of production.
Game five tonight in Oakland should tell what the home-field really means. Or, is this seeming collapse by Golden State just payment due for that hard last surge to break the ’95-96 Chicago Bulls regular-season record? Maybe they left too much on those floors, and were already trending down as they finished the season, leaving them ripe for OKC’s picking.