OAKLAND -- For nearly two months now we’ve heard emergency sirens coming from a segment of folks loyal to all things Warriors.
I get it.
They’ve seen the apathetic first quarters and the long stretches of casual defense. They’ve seen Elfrid Payton make his first seven shots, Russell Westbrook hang 21 points in a quarter and Lou Williams go for 50 in a game.
They watched, for crying out loud, the Warriors lose by 20 to the Thunder and by 30 to the Jazz.
And they’re as uncomfortable as they’ve been at any time since the 2014-15 season rewarded their allegiance with the prize they dared allow themselves to imagine. That championship season raised expectations that have since scaled even higher.
There were, however, three separate reasons why the Warriors were so incredible in each of the last three seasons. The problem is that none of those reasons apply to 2017-18, and there aren’t any new ones to stir up anger.
“The motivating factor is not slapping us in the face,” assistant coach Ron Adams said on the Warriors Insider Podcast. “So we have to dig down in a different way.”
This contrasts with the organic motivations in each of the past three seasons.
2014-15: Under a new coach that unlocked their offensive potential, the young Warriors were young and frisky and new to the thrill of consistent winning. Discovering the joy of prosperity is a wonderful thing, addictive in its own way, and they wanted to experience this natural high again and again and again.
This was their honeymoon season and it ended with a parade in downtown Oakland.
2015-16: Coming off the franchise’s first championship in 40 years, the Warriors were subjected to whispers and shouting from NBA folks questioning their legitimacy. They didn’t go through the Spurs. They didn’t have to play the Clippers. They caught a break in The Finals because the Cavaliers were injured.
Annoyed by the chatter, the Warriors opened the season with an edge rarely sustained in any sport, winning their first 24 games en route to a 73-9 record that stands as the best in league history. This was a response to the doubters: Shut up.
2016-17: They entered the season after a summer as a punch line, the first team to blow a 3-1 lead in The Finals. Two of their three consecutive losses were at Oracle Arena, where they had been practically invincible. Then, to the consternation and skepticism of the peanut gallery, they added four-time scoring champ Kevin Durant. Would there be enough balls?
There is no cleansing of such an inglorious finish to the NBA Finals, but the Warriors did all they could to test that theory. They went about annihilating opponents, spending most of the season with the best points differential in league history before settling in at 11.6, No. 4 all-time.
“There was clear-cut motivation,” Adams said.
They followed that up with the most impressive postseason in NBA history, a 16-1 record -- and a 13.5 points differential.
Though other factors, such as the mental fatigue that comes with consecutive extended seasons, come into play it’s also apparent that the powerful forces that previously drove them to such heights are not part of the equation this season.
Sure, the Warriors want to repeat. That’s something the Spurs, the model franchise of the era, have not done. That’s something only six franchises have done.
That’s statistical. That’s an achievement. That’s not something that sits in the gut or puts a chip on the shoulder. There is no chorus claiming the Warriors can’t repeat -- though that could change if the Rockets continue their rampage -- so there is no actual provocation.
The team that has thrived on knocks isn’t being knocked. There is no anger.
“Each individual on the team, both offensively and defensively, we just have to dig down and want it,” Adams said. “And will it.”
This is where Steve Kerr’s experience and belief are a factor. As a member of the great Bulls teams that won three consecutive championships (1996-98), he acknowledges that each year becomes more challenging than the previous. The Warriors have had three seasons of historical greatness, and this is Year 4.
“I don’t think people who haven’t gone through this really understand how hard it is,’ Kerr said in a recent conversation. “I don’t think fans or media really understand. Bringing your best game, physically and emotionally, for four straight years is not realistic. Having been through it as a player, I understand what we’re dealing with.”
It’s a new experience for Adams, so he defers to the head coach.
“Steve is the pacesetter in all of this; he analyzes things well,” he said. “I’m old school, so I look at things maybe through a little bit different lens. But Steve is pretty spot-on in his analysis.”