Warriors

Warriors now have to cheat powerful reaper: A 3-1 deficit

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Warriors now have to cheat powerful reaper: A 3-1 deficit

The book deals you know the Golden State Warriors were in line for this summer are evaporating to a precious few, and they all will have the same theme.

The folly of believing in pre-ordination.

With Tuesday’s 118-94 loss to the Oklahoma City Spoiler Alerts, the Warriors must win three must-win games, at a time when they have never looked more vulnerable, less confident, or less like themselves. And being invulnerable, supremely confident and utterly sold on who and what they are are the three attributes that served them best these past two seasons.

Their defense has been shredded. Their shooting touch has betrayed them. They are utterly swagger-free. They are on the verge of being the 45th team in NBA history to go home to an old trophy, and this was not the plan.

It never is, of course. The plan for every champion is to spark a new Celtic-like dynasty, winning year after year after year and viewing the world with impunity bordering on disdain.

But these Warriors were going to reinvent basketball for the analytics generation. They were changing the paradigm for good, because their roster was seamless, their coaching staff was kissed on the forehead by the ghost of Red Auerbach, and Stephen Curry’s picture was going to go on the $100 bill.

Front and back.

[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors lose Game 4 in OKC, fall into 3-1 hole]

Now they have to cheat one of the sport’s most powerful reapers – the 3-1 deficit. What is more, they have to do it under the realization that they not only have lost two successive games (not a big deal, historically speaking) but lost them by 20-plus points (a very big deal, ass-kickingly speaking).

They are the 233rd team in league history to be faced with three elimination games against the same team, and only nine of them escaped. None of those nine, however, had to deal with successive body-and-soul dismantlings to get to 1-3. Houston lost the first two games to Phoenix in the ’95 Western semifinals by 22 and 24, but won the third by 23, and rendered the rest of the series too weird to explain except for two things.

Hakeem, and Olajuwon.

The Warriors have an Olajuwon of their own in Stephen Curry, but he has been nothing of the sort in this series. Maybe his knee and ankle are still embittered by their rude treatment in earlier series, but he has not been the advertised and anticipated force against Oklahoma City, Draymond Green has been at his worst, but this is not an individual breakdown.

The defense has been horrific, and film study can’t say it the same way that successive 72-point first halves can. Telestrators don’t do justice to raw statistics like “allowing 120.4 points per game in the last seven games.” Oklahoma City has created/been allowed a staggering number of uncontested shots, and only a few of those have been tactical decisions.

The offense has been arrhythmic and doubt-riddled, and nothing like the force of otherworldly nature it has been for the last two years. The ball isn’t cared for, the passes to nobody have returned as though it were 2013 again, and the Thunder are getting the disturbingly vast majority of loose balls and rebounds.

And now they must reverse all those things starting Thursday, and then do it again Saturday in Oklahoma City, and then thrice this coming Monday. They have to treat a team that owns them like they are owned, and make the Thunder believe what the Warriors believe now – that this may be too hard to do.

So never mind the narratives about energy expended getting the 73rd win, or this being a make-or-miss league, or getting Stephen Curry off Russell Westbrook at all costs, or any of the other hope-without-evidence bromides.

The Warriors have to deal with a brand new sensation – having to beat a team that at this moment is better than Golden State. The Warriors haven’t been the lesser team to anyone since the Los Angeles Clippers series two years ago, and they’ve come to love the sensation. Now they have to regain a taste for being the sandpapery underdog nobody believes in, and they have to remember the feeling again, and then again.

But the numbers say 223-9. In short, the Warriors have been pushed into a tar pit with a piano they have to push to dry land while the Thunder stands at the edge of the pit hurling blows at them all then while.

History awaits, good and ill. And to the Warriors, the Superman suddenly stuck on a planet with a red sun, best of luck with that. Pre-ordination only works for so long before the laws of physics intrude.

***

The following nine teams in NBA history have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven-game series:

1968 — Boston over Philadelphia, Eastern Conference Finals
1970 — Los Angeles Lakers over Phoenix, Western Conference Semifinals
1979 — Washington Bullets over San Antonio, Eastern Conference Finals
1981 — Boston over Philadelphia, Eastern Conference Finals
1995 — Houston over Phoenix, Western Conference Semifinals
1997 — Miami over New York, Eastern Conference Semifinals
2003 — Detroit over Orlando, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
2006 — Phoenix over Los Angeles Lakers, Western Conference Quarterfinals
2015 — Houston over Los Angeles Clippers, Western Conference Semifinals

*The winning team won the NBA Finals in 1968, 1979, 1981 and 1995

How Warriors gain flexibility in Willie Cauley-Stein trade to Mavs

How Warriors gain flexibility in Willie Cauley-Stein trade to Mavs

SAN FRANCISCO -- Willie Cauley-Stein walked out of shootaround, down a long corridor that leads to the Warriors' locker room in Chase Center late Friday morning in preparation for a game scheduled hours later against the Indiana Pacers. The trek marked the big man's last as a member of Golden State.

By Saturday morning, Cauley-Stein officially was traded to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for the Utah Jazz's second-round draft pick in 2020, ending his short tenure in the Bay Area. Along the way, the Warriors set themselves up for future flexibility. 

In the immediate aftermath, the Warriors shed Cauley-Stein's current $2.17 million salary and his $2.8 million player option for the 2020-21 season, while freeing up an open roster spot for this season and beyond. From a financial perspective, it sank Golden State $2.57 million below the hard cap, according to ESPN's Bobby Marks. Additionally, the Warriors have enough salary space to convert the two-way deals of either Ky Bowman or Marquese Chriss. 

Six months ago, Cauley-Stein came to Warriors in search of career revitalization. After four years in Sacramento, he demanded that the Kings rescind his qualifying offer to make him a free agent last summer. After garnering more lucrative offers from other teams, he chose to sign a one-year contract with Golden State, which included the player option. With a new contract, the center hoped to keep the Warriors' postseason streak alive while earning a payday next summer. 

However, those wishes didn't come to fruition. A week before training camp, Cauley-Stein sprained his foot, causing the center to miss the first month of the season. His injury, coupled with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevon Looney missing significant time, led to a lost season for the big man.

Nonetheless, Cauley-Stein expressed a desire to stay with the Warriors long term, citing his relationship with coach Steve Kerr. 

"He wants to build a relationship with you," Cauley-Stein told NBC Sports Bay Area last month. "I think, in the past I hadn't had a relationship with my coach. [Former Kings coach Dave] Joerger, me and him had a pretty good rapport, pretty good, like cordial, but we never had like in-depth conversations about life and stuff like that, and the first couple of conversations I had with coach Kerr was real-life stuff and that hit home with me like, 'Damn, he really tried to get to know me.' "

[RELATED: Draymond not rooting for 49ers]

Unfortunately for Cauley-Stein, he won't get to continue that relationship with Kerr.

Now, with Dallas in need of a center with the loss of Dwight Powell, his hope to find a similar relationship with Rick Carlisle will immediately start in a Mavericks uniform.

How Willie Cauley-Stein trade changes Warriors' frontcourt this season

How Willie Cauley-Stein trade changes Warriors' frontcourt this season

SAN FRANCISCO -- Willie Cauley-Stein crept into the Warriors' locker room about an hour after his soon-to-be former team's 129-118 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday, armed with a round of goodbyes. 

Walking near each stall at Chase Center, he said farewell to any staffer within an eyeshot, finishing with teammates Omari Spellman and Jordan Poole. As he towered over his former domain, his teammates were forced to reconcile a basketball life without the seven-footer around 12 hours before Golden State officially traded Cauley-Stein to the Dallas Mavericks. 

"It sucks," Warriors big man Marquese Chriss said. "It's hard when you're with somebody every day and you're playing games with them, and they're gone in a snap of a finger. I wish the best for him." 

Before Chriss and others bid adieu, the two-way center started for just the fourth time this season. Chriss scored 13 points, but he grabbed just three rebounds while Pacers big man Domantas Sabonis finished with 16 points and 10 boards. Along the way, Indiana outscored Golden State 56-28 in the paint, shedding light on the Warriors' frontcourt struggles.

Once Cauley-Stein officially is traded, Chriss and Omari Spellman are the only healthy big men on the Warriors' roster. While serviceable, both players routinely are playing out of position. At 6-foot-9, Spellman prefers to play on the wings, with a game more suitable for jump shots than post-ups. Meanwhile, Chriss has played much of his career as a power forward, providing a learning experience in his new role.

"Marquese was good tonight," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Every night is a learning experience for him. He's going to be a guy that shoots a high percentage from the field because of his athleticism.

"He's going to get good experience going forward, so we're just going to keep working with him and I know he will work hard."  

As Chriss adjusts to his new role, coach Kerr said he would be open to bringing up rookie Alen Smailagic from the G League for a unit in need of improvement. Over the last two games, the Warriors have been outrebounded 92-75, including a 56-37 disadvantage in Wednesday's loss to the Utah Jazz.

That, combined with Cauley-Stein's trade, is prompting a new approach moving forward.

"Marquese and Omari will get some experience out there and we'll let Draymond play some center," Kerr said, "and then it's a matter of helping with defense with all five guys on the screen and we have to communicate."

[RELATED: What we learned as Warriors fumble chance to beat Pacers]

Cauley-Stein's departure could be the first of many for the current roster. Last month, league sources told NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole that the team would be open to parting with Alec Burks in the coming weeks for the right deal.

But before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, Cauley-Stein's replacement says he's up for the challenge of filling the departing big man's shoes. 

"I've tried making a role off playing hard and doing the dirty work," Chriss said. "I'm not the guy who is going to shoot 20 shots and get you 40 points. I'm gonna try and be that guy that is down low and banging, getting rebounds and setting screens."