There are a million ways to explain away the last few games against the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Hell, the same goes for the first 67 games this season. The China trip, slow-play injury timelines, composed half-quarter bursts of energy, a bench full of trigger-unhappy role players, and a team perhaps just tired from the doldrums of 82 meaningless affairs. With just 15 games left, however, the Warriors are starting to finally have to toss aside the noise, and put together some iteration of the championship squad they are. Thus far, it has gone awfully. It took a Kevin Durant takeover to squeeze out a win against the Spurs, and back-to-back frustrating losses to flawed Western Conference playoff teams.
Are the Warriors in trouble? Has there been a single game, or a single half, that the Warriors have resembled themselves? As the questions rise, and the Houston Rockets continue to run through the entire Western Conference, it’s hard to imagine a Warriors team with Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, and Kevin Durant to sit back and remain content with the way they played. A team like the San Antonio Spurs led by Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan? Their stoic, poised, and calm demeanor allows for it. The Warriors trying to appropriate that mindset has made for a weirdly trying 2017-18 regular season.
It’s not that these are definitive moments in time that will represent the turning point on a dynasty just waiting for its 4th straight NBA Finals and 3rd overall championship. Losing to the Timberwolves without Steph, and half the bench including Andre Iguodala, David West, Jordan Bell certainly does not mean that the Warriors will lose to Houston or anyone else come May and June. Instead, it feels like the summation of smaller things adding up, slights chips to the wall that could perhaps send the entire thing tumbling down sooner than later. In 2016, those small things were the over-reliance on Steph to bail out bad defensive habits, a bench that fell victim to the lack of shooting and shot creation, a coaching staff unwilling to make adjustments quick enough, and a sudden cold spell from consistent spot-up shooters like Harrison Barnes.
It takes all of that for a 7-game series to happen. And as the Warriors trudge towards the postseason owning the unfamiliar task of a 2-seed trying to win the title, the small chips at the wall begins. Draymond can’t seem to shoot anymore, Klay’s defense has dipped up and down all season, the bench has virtually zero shot creators outside of a few outlier moments, and a defense that has tried to lock in for entire games, has also given up massive quarters to the likes of the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards.
As much as this stretch has shown some of the accumulation of flaws that could topple one of the greatest teams of all time, it has simultaneously given us the full experience of the one person that can swing back against the ride, single handedly. Kevin Durant is a force on all sides of the ball locked in. He can get to the hole, shimmy to the free-throw line, and pull-up from 3. On all three levels, there is nobody that can either make him uncomfortable. Just to make him more impossible, he snuck into the paint for offensive rebounds and putback layups. Guard, forward, center, Durant is the permanent band-aid willing and able to solve all the issues that a slipping Warriors team is starting to add up. Two years ago, the greatness of Stephen Curry and Draymond Green pushed the Warriors to 73 wins and one shot away from the single greatest season of all time. Two years later, facing the same systemic, physical, and mental issues that plagued them then, perhaps twofold, the Warriors find a savior in Kevin Durant. And we’re left to find out in the next couple months if that’s enough to keep them on top.