On March 14, the Philadelphia 76ers took on the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, a normally routine match and far from an interesting spectacle. The two franchises are in different strata with opposite goals in mind this season. The Warriors are the defending back-to-back Western Conference champions while the glum 76ers have hovered near the bottom of the league for nearly half a decade.
While the Warriors will be making a run at their third consecutive NBA Finals appearance, Philadelphia is vying for the top pick in the upcoming draft lottery. Most fans would not be faulted for changing the channel that night to a more exciting matchup.
Surprisingly, the resulting game between these contrasting organizations sheds some light on many important issues affecting one of the NBA’s best teams.
After three quarters of play, the Warriors were losing by double digits to a dismal team. During the fourth quarter, Golden State ended up mounting a comeback against the 76ers but reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry was not the orchestrator behind the victory. Instead, emotional defensive wizard Draymond Green had to carry his squad to the win with several key blocks late in the game.
Curry was nearly invisible throughout the game. It would be easy to dismiss all of this as just an off night for the home team, but the rough performance comes on the heels of a string of poor games. Heading into the game, Golden State lost three games in a row, a bad sign for the team that had the best regular season record in NBA history just a year ago. Since Kevin Durant’s injury, the team has struggled to return to its winning ways. Losses continue to pile up and Curry has descended into a troubling slump that has the entire league talking.
Just last year, Curry was named the first ever unanimous MVP in league history. His status across the basketball landscape was elevated to that of a legendary sharpshooter who could knock down shots from anywhere on the hardwood. Recently, however, he has failed to connect on wide open jump-shots. Against Philadelphia, Curry shot eight for 23 from the field and made just five of 13 attempted threes. In his past eight games, the All-Star guard has knocked down 26 of 89 from beyond the arc, uncharacteristically off-target for the two-time MVP.
The Warriors’ struggles against the 76ers prove that not only do they have trouble beating a good team without Durant, but they can barely beat a bad one. The Warriors live and die by the 3-pointer. Led by the “Splash Brothers,” Curry and Klay Thompson, they set a record in 3-pointers in the last two seasons and acquired former MVP Durant in the offseason to further increase their lethality from downtown. Up until this point in the season, though, their plan has not worked. Both Curry and Green have seen their 3-point percentages plummet this year, while Durant is missing significant time due to his injury. The Warriors are not sure when they will get him back and how impactful he will be after sitting out for so long. Their dependence on Curry, who led the team during the last couple of seasons, has been a losing bet thus far.
The reason for Curry’s slump is a topic of heated discussion. Some theorize that the addition of Durant has sapped his confidence, while others think that the issue is more mechanical. Regardless, the subtraction of Curry’s shooting capabilities hurt the Dubs just as much as Durant’s injury, if not more so. The Warriors’ game plan of going small and relying solely on triples is heavily compromised without Curry playing to his full potential. When his 3-point game vanishes, Curry becomes a much less impactful player.
Other superstars, like LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard, have multiple facets to their game that they can rely on when one aspect is not clicking. Curry is a player who is largely defined by his shooting and when that goes, so too does the Warriors’ dominance. To fully exemplify Curry’s downfall, one needs only to think about this: the same record-setting point guard who became the first ever unanimous MVP winner last season will most likely fail to receive a single vote this year.
For the Warriors, barely edging out a team that has essentially admitted to tanking over the last few years is a low point for any organization, let alone one with title aspirations. It is highly possible that this is just a rough stretch for Golden State and it will soon return to its old form. Curry could get hot at any moment, Durant could return at full health and they could start blowing teams out again like they did all of last season. But losing streaks, shooting slumps and the injury bug do not bode well for Dubs fans.
As Cleveland and San Antonio continue their dominance from beyond the arc, the Warriors have reason to be concerned. A near loss to the inferior 76ers serves as an eye-opener for the the fans, the league and the players; this team may not be good enough to sit atop the Western Conference, let alone win the Finals. Despite the reasons for concern, Curry and the Warriors remain a talented and experienced team that can quickly turn it fortune and make a significant run at the playoffs; still, the sooner this change of pace occurs, the better.