The Warriors are going to their fourth straight Finals, but what the hell is wrong with them?
The Golden State Warriors are back in the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive year, but not without overcoming the Houston Rockets in a 7 game series for the ages. We saw the best assembly of singular talent, against a group that was built perfectly combat it. And though everything had seemed to turn to Houston's favor, talent eventually won out. But despite the Warriors innate dominance and the legitimate talent in Houston, there’s still something awry in Golden State.
The Dubs flash there brilliance most every game, but rarely do it for the span of entire games. It’s not always been this way though, it’s seemed to have started just this season. Though it’s counter intuitive to how we think of dynastic teams, the Warriors are just content to play below their standard until change is necessary. Luckily for them, most teams peaks don’t reach Golden States standards.
Similarly, their lack of respect for their opponents has also troubled them throughout the season. There isn’t “appropriate fear,” a concept that head coach Steve Kerr has harped on constantly, like there was in their last three seasons. Sure they may go over strategy before the game, but the players often size up their opponents as they’re playing, which so often leads to evaluations at halftime and thus their dominant third quarters.
These issues damn near bit the Warriors in the ass against the Rockets, though. After a game 1 of relatively great focus, and a solid offensive game plan, the Warriors cruised in game 2. Though stealing home court advantage kept out the criticism for the moment, their lack of urgency stayed the same. Even as their playoff starter, Andre Iguodala, was sidelined with injury through games 4 through 7, the effort continued to wane.
On the brink of taking a 3-1 lead in game 4 at home, the Dubs lost their 10 point lead at the start of the 4th quarter. The 3rd quarter of game 4 saw an offensive explosion from Steph Curry, but his 17 points would become overshadowed by the mere 12-point quarter the team had to follow it up. The Dubs were caught sleeping, refusing to realize that these games aren’t sure things. Had they made any more of an effort for those 12 minutes, they could’ve dodged a game 7, but it’s a hard thing to change at this point in the season.
I don’t think the players are the only ones to blame for the close call though, some of the onus has to be given to Kerr. They made a big effort in game 1 to hunt switches and let Kevin Durant attack; an uncharacteristic style for Golden State to play but one that was effective. Houston was able to make adjustments though. They let KD attack on isolation plays, and played as physical as possible on the splash brothers, thereby decapitating ⅔ of their 3 headed snake. KD was more than happy to get his buckets, scoring 38 points, as the Rockets beat the Warriors at their own egalitarian game.
It's not that surprising to see Kerr make his adjustments after a game though, rarely do they happen mid game. Occasionally a speech to spark the engine, but he likes to play it game by game. It’s just infuriating when he chooses to go down with the ship, especially when his most infamous blunder came in game 7 of the 2016 Finals. But Kerr finally showed his urgency in games 6 & 7. He cut the rotation down to 8 players, the starters with Kevin Looney, Jordan Bell, Nick Young, and Shaun Livingston off the bench. Maybe going to that rotation earlier could’ve ended the series quicker, or maybe playing the last card early could’ve given Houston a mental edge.
Regardless of the issues surrounding this team, they’re manageable, and aren’t systemic. It’s a matter of circumstance that the players can play without serious consequence or concern. The key to their problems is making sure they don’t become sewed into the fabric of the teams culture.