Dynasty Over? Can the Warriors overcome 0-2 playoff series deficit to Sacramento?
The accomplished franchise has collected four NBA championships in the past eight years. It has shattered countless scoring records. And it has revolutionized how a team can blend stars and role players together in a team-oriented culture.
Despite that promising history, the Golden State Warriors face a foreboding present. The No. 3 Sacramento Kings hold a 2-0 first-round playoff series lead against the sixth-seeded Warriors, marking the first time the organization has faced such a deficit since Steve Kerr became head coach nine years ago.
“That’s exciting, right? A new challenge,” Warriors forward Draymond Green told reporters. “We’ve conquered all the rest of them. So why not conquer this one? It will be a lot of fun.”
Why would the Warriors view their present circumstances as fun? Well, they have thrived during their dynastic years partly because adversity brought out the best in them.
In 2015, Golden State overcame a 2-1 first-round series deficit to the Memphis Grizzlies before eventually winning their first NBA title. In 2016, the Warriors also overcame a 3-1 series deficit in the Western Conference Finals to the Oklahoma City Thunder, an outcome that partly influenced Kevin Durant to sign as a free agent and lead them to two more NBA titles. And in 2018, the Warriors overcame a 3-2 series deficit in the Western Conference Finals to the Houston Rockets before winning their third NBA championship in four years.
“We know we have it. We know we’re capable,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry told reporters. “It’s just, ‘Can we execute?’ That question will determine our fate in the series. I like our ability to lock in on that and try to get off to a good start in Game 3.”
The good thing about that mindset? The Warriors cemented a 33-8 home regular-season record entering Game 3 on Thursday at Chase Center (10 pm ET, TNT). This season, they have dominated their opponents in points per game (119.7, 111.7), shooting percentage (48.4%, 45%), assists (30.5, 24.2) and rebounds (46.5, 43.7). Golden State will surely play off the energy that an expected sell-out crowd will provide in a high-stakes game.
The bad thing about that mindset? The Warriors have remained mediocre all season in road games. They had a 11-30 road regular-season record, a statistic that fared better only against three NBA lottery teams that had an 8-33 mark (San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons). The Warriors have also looked severely outmatched against their opponents in road games in points per game (118.2, 122.5), turnovers (16.8, 14.2) and personal fouls (22.07, 18.27).
In the short term, the Warriors might have what it takes to ensure a competitive series. Golden State has a 30-11 record after a playoff loss since 2013, which Elias Sports Bureau marks the highest winning percentage in that span. But if the Warriors force a return trip to Sacramento, they have not shown much evidence they have what it takes to win a road game.
Said Curry: “All we got to do is win one game right here, somehow, someway.”
The Warriors thought they had what it took to win in a Game 1 loss (126-123) and a Game 2 defeat (114-106). They welcomed back Andrew Wiggins after missing the final 22 regular-season games because of a personal issue, and he still looked remarkably sharp. Curry has averaged 29 points on a 48.8% clip through two games. Thompson has also scored efficiently (21 points on a 46.9%). Even with Wiggins and Curry missing late-game shots in Game 1, Golden State attributed those misses to rust that will eventually wear out as the series progresses.
But as the Warriors also showed in Games 1 and 2, they have some season-long flaws they have yet to correct.
They lacked discipline with their ball handling in Game 1 (15 turnovers) and 2 (20). They also could not defend without fouling in Game 1 (25) and Game 2 (26). In Game 2, Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo and Jonathan Kuminga all sat out in the fourth quarter amid sluggish play. Green also received a one-game suspension for Game 3 for stepping on Domantas Sabonis’ chest after he had grabbed Green’s left ankle, a play that earned him a Flagrant Foul 2 and an automatic ejection.
All season, Golden State has struggled with its ball handling and fouling. The Warriors have experienced more hiccups than success with their young players. And though Green has stayed stellar on defense, his uncertain availability could undermine the Warriors’ quest to avoid a first-round loss a season after winning the NBA title.
“You don’t just flip a switch,” Green conceded to reporters. “Your issues are your issues. You have to work through them and figure them out.”
Besides, the Warriors are playing against a Kings team that show they have can achieve greater things than just ending their NBA playoff drought since 2006.
The Kings have one of the NBA’s most prolific offenses. They have a dynamic scorer (De’Aaron Fox). They have an elite big man (Sabonis). They have a steady veteran leader (Harrison Barnes). They have a dependable secondary scorer (Malik Monk). Thus far, the Warriors have not shown they have what it takes to slow down the Kings and match their physicality.
Perhaps some of that dynamic changes in Game 3. Though Sacramento does not appear overwhelmed with its first playoff appearance in 17 years, maybe the Kings don’t play as comfortable on the road. Maybe the Warriors feed off their home atmosphere and make the necessary adjustments.
Fundamentally, though, the Warriors aren’t the same team as they were when they won NBA titles. Those teams never struggled on the road. They never had chemistry issues so early in the playoffs. And they never felt challenged significantly with their first-round opponents.
Nonetheless, the Warriors profess they will tackle their latest setback by relying on the same experience that helped them hoist Larry O’Brien trophies in past years. Time will tell whether the Warriors are competing with justified conviction or misplaced denial.
Mark Medina is a veteran NBA reporter who will be contributing to Aaron Torres Online and Aaron Torres Media throughout the NBA playoffs - follow him on Twitter @MarkG_Medina
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