It’s a natural question, we all wonder why the Warriors fare so poorly on some nights and yet look completely dominant and untouchable on another: what’s going on with those off nights?
For a team that has spent the past three seasons chasing accolades and breaking records, watching them sleep walk through first quarters (much less entire games) can be jarring. And so fans and media have been clamoring for answers - is the team complacent, too old, lazy, or what?
The truth is - as is often the case - somewhat more murky than any one answer. It’s a combination of all the reasons I’ve listed above and more; but the end result is incontrovertible, we kind of suck in the first quarter this year:
The Warriors in first quarters this season: -2— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 9, 2018
The Warriors in third quarters this season: +269
“Teams are getting better. Teams know what we do.“
Following last night’s game, I was watching the post game interviews with one eye and ear while playing with my phone, when I heard the unmistakable sound of sincerity in Kevin Durant’s voice. What followed was a compelling monologue on expectations and performance that went on for nearly two minutes. You should definitely listen to the entire speech.
It started with a reporter (I’m not sure who, as they were off camera) asking about the team getting hot in the second half against the Dallas Mavericks and looking “more like the team we are used to seeing.” Yet as Durant elucidates in his response, this is only partially because of the Warriors malaise:
“It’s not going to be that way all the time. Teams are getting better, teams know what we do. They’re not just going to let us get out in transition, shoot a bunch of 3s or get dunks off our cuts.
“They’re going to be a little physical with us. They’re going try to shoot good shots in their hands so we won’t get out in transition and run. When you don’t see that - it’s not a problem - it’s just we’re going to have to shift how we play and change how we play.
What he’s getting at is that we all need to accept the fact that this is not the same team that went out to set a record for the best regular season; not the same team stinging from a lost opportunity at a championship (of the best regular season in the history of the NBA) - and that’s OK.
It’s also not the same league. Teams are beginning to copy some of our plays, and they are getting better at finding counters that work (like getting physical with Steph Curry). If I’ve watched enough Warriors ball to predict where a pass is going to go, you can rest assured that the professionals attempting to beat this team can do so as well. It changes how games look because our initial action doesn’t always work, and the counter moves can look ham-fisted and clunky because it just isn’t as natural.
We all like to talk about a Dynasty as if it is some big, monolithic form with a static structure. You get our core players, and keep them; and then boom! dynasty. But the reality is that there’s personnel change — and, no, I’m not just talking about roster moves.
Nothing to prove
This team doesn’t have anything left to prove.
Without any external pressure, the Warriors are seemingly content to do juuuuuust enough to win games. Meanwhile, our competitors are hungry, they do have something to prove in the regular season: they are heavily invested in proving that they can be as good as the Warriors.
The Warriors don’t need anything out of the regular season besides the #1 seed, and health.
Kevin Durant with an extended answer about why the Warriors can't just play beautiful basketball all the time pic.twitter.com/dLMmf6Ltv7— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) February 9, 2018
These two realities are crashing together right now, and probably will be through the All Star break next week. Hopefully a little bit of understanding can help all of us watching understand that while the Warriors certainly care about winning, they are winning enough right now to let a game or two slip through the cracks - even to some of our closest competitors - without their being some fatal flaw in the team.
As Durant says towards the end: “I think we can pivot throughout a game, throughout a season, throughout a stretch where we might have to slow down a bit...”
No, it is not comfortable watching this team play below their capabilities, but this is an inherent part of a championship team maturing and growing. They may lose some of the fight in the first quarters, but as long as they can win the war in the second half, it’s going to be OK.