The Warriors, in their pursuit of the greatest glory, flew past the clouds, winked at the angels, and climbed higher than anyone had done before. Alas, they flew too high, too close to the sun, and now you know what (almost certainly) follows.
In losing last night to the Thunder, 118-94, the Warriors lost the season. Like Game 3 before it, the Warriors surrendered Game 4 in the second quarter. Once again, the Thunder drew first blood, taking an early 8-8 tie to a 22-8 lead halfway through the first quarter. Once again, the Warriors clawed back, closing the gap to 30-26 by the close of the quarter. And, once again, came the second quarter, and with it came the missed shots, missed free-throws, and careless turnovers. The Thunder scored 42 points and ended the half with 72, just as they did in Game 3, and the Warriors were staring at a 19-point deficit. It would prove to be insurmountable.
The only question now is whether a 3-1 series deficit is also a mountain too high to climb. The obvious and rational answer is “yes.” Coming back from a 3-1 hole has happened only nine times in NBA playoff history and has never happened in the Western Conference Finals. Even disregarding that, the eye-test clearly shows that the Warriors simply look like a team that has given up the ghost. Steph, it has become clear, remains hampered by his knee injury. He has simply been unable to become the whirling dervish that allows him to find the space to knock down the threes the Warriors’ offense so desperately needs. When those shots don’t drop, the Warriors’ spacing gets drawn in with fewer passing and driving lanes, while allowing the Thunder defense to coalesce in the middle, snuffing out all Warrior attempts to score in the paint. Meanwhile, Draymond has become a complete liability on the court. No one can know whether or not the pressure and scrutiny he has faced this week has gotten to him mentally, but he is clearly not himself at the moment. And, it has to be said, coach Steve Kerr has been losing the chess match with the Thunder’s rookie coach, Billy Donovan. Kerr simply has no answer to the Thunder’s size advantage, and his carousel of centers has been a failure.
Losing on strategy is one thing. But it’s the lack of heart that is, well, so disheartening. The Warriors are not playing with urgency or energy. They are lackadaisical with their precious possessions, all too willing to make an errant pass into the front row or into the hands of a Thunder guard who saw the pass before it was made. This stands in sharp contrast with the Thunder’s insatiable hunger for the ball and merciless drives to the hoop. No one can say if the Thunder simply want it more, but everyone can say it sure does look like it.
The Warriors come home for Game 5. They should win that game, though what was once a certainly has now become a mere favorable probability. If they do, they will head back to Oklahoma City, down 3-2. If, somehow, someway, they win that game, the Warriors will have retaken homecourt advantage, stolen all momentum, and will come back to Oakland for the final game with the Thunder reeling. Yes, it is possible. The end of this story has not yet been written. We do not know if this ends in triumph or tragedy, but, right now, the wax on the wings is melting and Brunnhilde has walked onto the stage.
Western Conference Finals
Golden State Warriors (1) v. Oklahoma City Thunder (3)
Warriors trail series 1-3
Game 1: Warriors LOST, 108-102
Game 2: Warriors WON, 118-91
Game 3: Warriors LOST, 133-105
Game 4: Warriors LOST, 118-94
Game 5: Warriors at home, Thursday, May 26, 6 PM, TNT
Game 6: Warriors at Oklahoma City, Saturday, May 28, 6 PM, TNT
Game 7: Warriors at home, Monday, May 30, 6 PM, TNT