The idea that the Golden State Warriors might not actually be inevitable not only is too new to embrace but maybe too weird as well. Too many people have invested too much in the theory that the Warriors have at least one more table to run before time expires atop Mount Olympus.
But after being Texas Punished for the first time in forever, and hearing the phrase “five losses in seven games” for the first time in half forever, the Warriors suddenly look ... well, kind of angsty.
I mean, when Steve Kerr says in essence that the Warriors are now just another really good team, there’s a message in that.
That joy is on hold until further notice. There is grinding to be done.
“We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons,” Kerr said. “So, yeah, of course, this is the toughest stretch we’ve been in. This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream. Now we’re faced with real adversity and we have to get out of it ourselves.”
That means he is acknowledging the team that always runs the table is now just sitting at it, and waiting for Stephen Curry’s groin muscle and Draymond Green’s toe to heal isn’t a sufficiently comprehensive strategy.
True, without Curry and Green, the team has stopped dead in its tracks offensively. The Warriors’ current run of awful three-point shooting (18 of 77) is their second-worst three-game stretch in the championship era, and because teams don’t have to commit to Curry in civilian clothes, they can double-down on Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, and both end up shooting too early in the possession as a result.
In other words, they have done all these dire things in the past, so even tossing in the Green-Durant drama of the last week, there is still the overarching sense that they will right the raft before they hit the rapids. The NBA is still nothing but a giant log flume for the kids, folks think, and nothing is more depressing than investing worry in something that doesn't warrant the emotional expense.
Still, losing to San Antonio on Sunday night, 104-92, after the 112-109 defeat in Dallas and the 107-86 hammering in Houston before that was one more reminder that Kerr might have been more right last year when he talked about the grind than he is now emphasizing the joy.
And it makes old timers wonder how the Bill Russell Celtics did this nine consecutive times.
But it will take more than this to see a bad end of this season for them, as much as the idea will fuel the chat shows between now and when they break out of their current malaise. At least that’s the way this reads now. Curry will return, Green will return, the offense will return, the haughty dominance will return. It always has worked this way, and too many plans have been constructed based on these tenets.
Thus, nobody really has the nerve to suggest that maybe it won’t. After all, this is not an unprecedented bad patch for the Warriors, and if we heed the words of David West from June, they also have been through these internal issues as well. In essence, we’ve also seen this movie before.
It is useful to remember this because recalibration will take some time. The days when the Warriors could turn their success on and off like a toggle switch might not be over, but the switch is harder to budge. The plan to take joy in the journey has been deferred as the journey gets more gravelly and jagged. The Warriors showed a year ago that they could grind, and now they have to prove that they still can. The short odds say they will.
But the short odds once said the Warriors do joy better than any other team, and that does not seem to be the case now. In this past week, the Warriors have figured out that their days of grind are not yet over, and might well be the new normal for them.
They have regressed to full-fledged members of the NBA, and if that seems like an odd place for them to be, it’s because it is. It’s like the casino whose money they have been playing with all this time is finally getting some of its back, and if we know anything about casinos, eventually they win.
The question is whether “eventually” is finally here, or whether Kerr is just sending up a flare to remind them all that the grind is still important.