Some will point to the Golden State Warriors’ comeback win against the Sixers Tuesday night as a “slump buster.”
They’ll note that the Warriors, who had lost three straight games heading into Tuesday’s contest, found their offensive game late, erasing a 16-point deficit with 13:55 to play behind Stephen Curry’s 12 points on 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc.
Curry’s 3-point shot is back, so the Warriors must be back too, right?
Golden State looked as flawed Tuesday in a victory as they had in some of their recent losses.
It wasn’t Curry, the back-to-back NBA MVP who pulled the Warriors over the finish line Tuesday, it was Draymond Green, who turned in a virtuoso fourth-quarter defensive performance, keeping the Sixers to 14 points in the final frame.
It was Warriors coach Steve Kerr finally realizing that the way to score points is to make Jahlil Okafor defend a pick-and-roll. (Or, more accurately, have him stand indiscriminately as the pick-and-roll happens around him.)
But the Warriors cannot count on either picking on a comically bad defender for more than half of the fourth quarter or having Green turn in a Defensive Player of the Year Award-caliber performance every night.
And even on a night when the Warriors did have both of those things, the game still came down to the wire.
Without Kevin Durant, who is sidelined with a sprained knee, the Warriors look … pedestrian.
With Durant sidelined, the Warriors are now 3-5, with Curry shooting less than 30 percent from behind the arc and Thompson shooting just above that line.
Many of the duo’s missed 3-pointers are open shots, too, but their respective shooting slumps are not an ebb before the inevitable flow of Splash Bros 3s. No, some of those shots aren’t falling for a reason.
The Warriors were always going to be a worse team without Durant — that’s obvious — but the former MVP’s absence has revealed how vital he is to this Warriors’ team that won 73 regular-season games without him last year.
Remember, Durant was supposed to be augmentation — an unfair addition to an already superb team — but without him in the lineup, the Warriors have looked anything but superb.
Yes, there was a tough schedule — a hellacious 8-game stretch that was capped with Kerr resting next to everyone for the Dubs’ game against San Antonio. And yes, Durant will be back and the Warriors are conscious — perhaps hyperconscious — of not over-exerting themselves in the regular season after last season’s Finals failure. But there’s also stagnant, predictable offensive basketball and lazy defense being played by a team whose reputations were the antithesis of those characteristics.
The Warriors spent the first part of this “light years ahead” season trying to integrate Durant into their free-flowing offensive system. They ran plenty of sets for No. 35, and he and the team thrived. Who knew it was so easy to score?
Thompson and Curry took a back seat for a while, and while there was plenty of outside talk, both seemed fine sharing the workload. They didn’t need to prove themselves after the last two years.
But the presumption was that with Durant out, we’d see more of the old Thompson and Curry down the stretch.
Thompson might merely be in a slump — he’s inscrutable, so don’t bother thinking about it too much — but even if his stroke has abandoned him for the time being (though he was 5-of-9 from distance Tuesday) he’s still one of the best defensive guards in the league.
But we certainly haven’t seen the old Curry — the Curry that won back-to-back MVPs — since Durant’s injury.
Yes, Curry’s in a shooting slump — those fade. Perhaps Tuesday’s fourth quarter was a sign he’s coming out of it. But more concerning is the fact that Curry isn’t driving to the hoop like he used to, pre-Durant, and his defense — always a liability — has often been unplayable.
The latter is an effort issue.
Figuring out the offensive problems takes a bit more diagnostics.
Perhaps the reason Curry can’t find his offensive groove is that the Warriors no longer have Andrew Bogut’s passing out of the high post, which allowed Curry a critical outlet in the offense, and we’re just seeing it now because Durant isn’t around as a safety blanket.
Or perhaps Curry doesn’t have four viable shooters on the court at all times anymore, making a dribble-drive offense the Warriors ran so effectively the last two years a lot of work for little gain.
Or perhaps the toll of two MVP seasons and deep playoff runs has taken a toll on the 29-year-old (he’s three years younger than LeBron — think on that) and that guile just isn’t there in the regular season.
Maybe it will show up in the postseason. Maybe it won’t matter, because Durant will presumably be back and healthy and Kevin Durant is one of the greatest basketball players to ever live.
But what if he doesn’t come back? What if he’s not at 100 percent, much like Curry in last year’s playoffs?
Has this Golden State team shown in Durant’s absence that they’re still a team worthy of a title?
You’d have to squint hard to see it.
There’s still time for Curry and the Warriors to find their best Durant-less selves. Maybe it is merely a shooting slump and Curry will be back to his hyper-efficient ways soon. Perhaps the Warriors have been sandbagging it a bit and will decide to round into form as the playoffs approach.
Or maybe this is an imperfect, tired team that’s showing serious cracks without their best player.