I was accepted into the best public high school in the Bay Area and one of the best in the nation (bear with me here, in no way am I bragging). I coasted through middle school, knocking out classes, tests, and everything else possible without bothering to read any of the textbooks or study even a second. I picked up my own little science fiction books and spent class time talking about Magic: The Gathering strategies. In my first quarter in high school, I was knocked straight down to the ground, coming in at a solid 2.17 GPA and sending my basketball season in jeopardy. I was shocked but remained confident, because everything before then had gone my way and adversity was familiar only in concept. As the test questions started to slip towards gibberish, so did my level of confidence and denial.
The Golden State Warriors are one of the most confident teams I've ever seen. It's not unsurprising to see teams feel that they're the better squad despite losses piling up. Steve Kerr after their second straight loss to the Memphis Grizzlies called this the Golden State Warriors' "moment of truth". After a season filled with Stephen Curry highlights, celebratory dances, smiles and blowouts, and an overall feeling of the warm and fuzzies, we are now at the basketball season's most urgent demarcation point.
There are no more premature dances before shots made, no more breakaway alley-oops, no more coasting on either end. The Warriors are not themselves and the Memphis Grizzlies have everything to say about it. The locker room can talk about shots not going down, about remaining diligent in working more flow into their offense, but the postseason atmosphere has got them stuttering.
The step up isn't necessarily the same - if only because my analogies are trash - as middle school to high school but there's more pushing, more shoving, more pulling, and more Memphis. These Warriors have been through it, or at least some of this. They've played the Denver Nuggets, the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers, and the New Orleans Pelicans in the past 3 seasons. But these Grizzlies are not those teams. They might not be a better team but they are very much a badder team. Mike Conley Jr. cramped up yet again in addition to a broken face and sore foot and still made the clinching bucket falling down to this left. Zach Randolph has shamed Andrew Bogut repeatedly in the post while Marc Gasol and Tony Allen has spent a huge portion of their time bullying the inside and outside of the Golden State Warriors. There is pain seeping through the Grizzlies right now and they're exacting it on a Warriors bunch that's grown used to getting their way, reading whatever book that isn't the textbook, and ace-ing the test anyway.
Everything has avalanched into a whirlwind of trouble now. Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Steve Kerr remains confident and even smiley after Game 3, a departure from their Game 2 postgame shocked expressions. This charmed season, 67 wins and everything around and in between, is merely two games from crashing down like a gingerbread house made from a kindergartener. It's not time to panic, of course not, if you're a rational and biased fan. And that's the thing. Rational or biased, rational and biased, it's all coming together for fans that expect this team to do so much more than this, play harder than this, and remain as confident on the floor as much as they talk about off it.
And that's the difference between this Warriors team and every single one before it. They are supposed to beat these Grizzlies, perhaps even run them over. The NBA Finals were a couple stop lights away just a week ago. The questions were asked by the media and Stephen Curry did not hesitate to accept them head on. Now the weight of the MVP is bearing on him, the shock of losing a game at home coupled with again losing in the same wretched and grinding way against in Game 3 - all wearing down on the league's best.
The aggressiveness is gone. The confidence is askew. Klay Thompson shot well but punted balls away and dribbled tentatively around mirroring Stephen Curry in his pursuit to round the corner on Gasol or Randolph on pick-and-rolls. Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are throwing up prayers on offense, Draymond Green is out of control both physically and mentally, and Andrew Bogut resembled a turnstile for much of Game 3. The Warriors are here now and Steve Kerr knows this, appreciates it, and accepts it as the biggest moment of this Golden State season.
The Warriors want this challenge. That's step one towards overcoming the type of series that can tear your heart and limbs off piece by piece. It's how they rise up and beat it down that'll show us who these Warriors really are. Playing like Game 2 and 3 again, and remaining jovial after? That's a problem. But we aren't there yet and this group is good enough to remain in their style and slap the Grizzlies around the next three games.
Stephen Curry and the Warriors are the ones looking at those test questions, confident in the manner they've been all season. I'm not sure if they're in denial, referencing the simplicity of missed open shots as the end-all, be-all, or surging through rough patches with the kind of cockiness and flash that got them here. Either way, it's not showing up on the court right now, and if it doesn't one more time on Monday night, it'll be one hell of a season gone array - fair or not. And as for how I adjusted in high school? Ahh, nobody cares. Whatever this team does on its way out? That will be interesting.