SAN ANTONIO -- The Warriors were comfortable going into the first round of the playoffs without Stephen Curry. Logic dictated they would prevail with relative ease against a Spurs team without Kawhi Leonard.
And after winning each of the first three games by double digits, a sweep seemed probable as the Warriors approached Game 4 on Sunday.
But they were out of sorts from the start, undoing their cause with a cascade of turnovers and uncharacteristically poor shooting. They did a lot wrong in in a 103-90 loss, but much of it could have been righted by the presence of Curry.
The potential closeout game was the first time in the series that Curry was missed in a massive way. He’s still a week or more away from returning, but the Warriors are smart enough to know their margin for error shrinks considerably when he’s not on the court.
It was profoundly evident, once again, on Sunday that when Curry is out, the game becomes harder for his teammates, and the Warriors could not fill the scoring void.
Kevin Durant made a valiant effort, scoring a game-high 34 points, but was 12-of-28 from the field. The 28 attempts are more than he has had in all but two of 151 games since he joined the Warriors.
“They did a good job of being physical with us on our movement and taking us out of some of our actions,” Durant said.
Klay Thompson, incredible through the first three games, was contained as much by the shortcomings of the Warriors’ offense -- too many possessions with poor ball movement and too few transition opportunities -- as a more tenacious San Antonio defense. Under the added pressure, he was 4-of-16 from the field.
“When we don’t execute, it’s harder for Klay to get open looks,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Where do you take 16 shots? I only remember two or three of them open. When we play the way we normally do, when we defend with a purpose, when the ball moves, Klay tends to get more open looks.”
Thompson also gets more open looks when Curry is on the floor drawing opposing defenses like a magnet. Multiple defenders routinely cheat toward him, and the result is an open look for a teammate.
Without him, and with the Spurs boosting their physicality, the Warriors struggled to score. In the 66 postseason games since Kerr arrived, only twice have the Warriors failed to crack 90 points, most recently in losing Game 7 of The Finals in 2016.
Game 4 on Sunday represents the first time in 21 postseason games, since Durant’s arrival, that the Warriors did not reach 100 points.
Draymond Green was 4-of-14 from the field. Andre Iguodala was 0-of-3. The starting lineup shot 34.3 percent (23 of 67) and the team as a whole was at 37.8 percent, its lowest since the 2016 Finals.
“They definitely pressured a lot at the start of the game,” Draymond Green said. “But we eventually got through that.
“But you got to give them a lot of credit. They came out and they probably played with more intensity this game than they did the entire series and they were able to get a win.”
This was only one game, one loss in a game they surely wanted to win. But it put a spotlight on the vulnerability of the Warriors without Curry.
If the Spurs, even for one game, can lock up the Warriors -- with help from the Warriors, of course -- the Pelicans, with defensive aces Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday, surely long for a couple shots at the champs without Curry, whose status for the next round is in question.
The Warriors are a great team, a championship team. The Curry effect, however, is necessary for the Warriors to win it all this season. This loss is a stinging rebuttal to the argument that they don’t need him to do so.