Over the last two seasons, the Golden State Warriors have been the greatest show in basketball; the “must have” ticket if you are in the Bay Area. With their fast-paced play on the court, unselfish and team-oriented demeanor, and level of success that the NBA hasn’t seen in decades, no one is accustomed to seeing the team get utterly dismantled. But this was the case before Sunday night, at least, as the Oklahoma City Thunder took it to the defending champs in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.
While the Warriors lost by 28 points to fall 2-1 in the series, it really didn’t even feel that close. The loss in Game 3 certainly has the Warriors on the ropes. They don’t have the home-court advantage any longer, which happened when they lost Game 1 in Oakland. Oklahoma City is playing some of its best basketball of the season — maybe even of the Durant–Westbrook era.
The mountain that the Warriors now have to climb in order to return to the NBA Finals — and keep their dream of a repeat championship season alive — is steep and treacherous. Despite all that, though, it still feels too early to have a panic attack if you’re a Warriors fan. To provide hope to the Golden State faithful in this moment of despair, here are three reasons why the Warriors will find a way past the Thunder and win the Western Conference — just like they were supposed to all along.
3. Bouncing back from a loss
During their historic 73-win regular-season campaign. the Warriors didn’t lose many games. However, every time they lost, they bounced back with a strong performance the next time they took the floor. With a 9-0 record following a loss, they became the only team in NBA history to go an entire season without suffering back-to-back defeats. This stat is a tribute to their mental fortitude and talent; they did not let a loss determine the course of their season.
Here in the playoffs, the trend of responding well to losses continues for the Warriors, who are 3-0 this postseason following a defeat. If you think that such a large blowout loss will have a different effect on the team, think again. Several of the Warriors’ losses this season (five to be exact) came by double-digits, but in the next respective games, they bounced back with impressive performances.
This was also true when they lost by a wide margin to the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Semifinals. In short, this team isn’t afraid of being challenged. The Thunder have delivered a serious blow, but in Game 4, we can expect Golden State to bounce back — even if the game is on the road.
2. It can’t get much worse
Game 3 against the Thunder was probably, in many ways, the Warriors’ worst game of the season. They looked awful in almost every phase of the game. Golden State shot just 41% from the field, 30% from three-point range, and made just 76% of free-throws — numbers that are well below their regular-season averages.
Golden State also managed just 19 assists on the night, an area of the game that they usually excel at, with over 26 per night in the playoffs. While their offensive performance was uncharacteristic for the Warriors (105 points for the game was also low for them), the struggle occurred all over the court.
Oklahoma City out-rebounded the Warriors by 14 on Sunday, which is key to the Thunder being a dominant team. They also outshot the Warriors by a significant margin, scored way more points in the fast break and in the paint, and had fewer turnovers than their opponent. The Thunder also managed to own a clear advantage on the free-throw line with 14 more points from the charity stripe than the Warriors.
When you get outperformed in every statistical category, the result is usually an embarrassing blowout. That’s what happened to Golden State, but it would be foolish to think that things will continue this way for this brilliant team.
The Warriors are too well-coached by Steve Kerr and his staff. They have too many talented, competitive players to not come back strong in Game 4 and throughout the rest of the series. While the Thunder played extremely well and deserve all the credit in the world, Sunday’s game can be somewhat attributed to a bad performance from the Warriors.
1. Playoff experience
Thanks to a championship run a season ago, this Warriors team knows what it’s like to face the adversity of a playoff series. At multiple times during the postseason in 2015, it looked like the team would succumb to the pressure of bringing a title to a franchise that hadn’t seen one in decades.
Instead, every time things got tough, Golden State showed their poise and proved worthy of the trophy last June. In last season’s conference semifinals, the Grizzlies had the Warriors down 2-1 following a Game-3 win on their home court. Everybody thought that Memphis was in control of the series, but the Warriors came back with an impressive Game 4 and went on to win the series in six games.
The same thing happened in the Finals against the Cavs as Golden State bounced back from that 2-1 deficit to win the title. Now, here in the conference finals, the situation is similar for the team against the Thunder. People are sort of jumping off the Warriors bandwagon prior to Game 4 and expecting the Thunder to pull off the upset in the series. The “underdog” role could be the perfect formula for the Warriors to bounce back and reach the Finals once again.
With a team full of guys who have been doubted in the past, Golden State isn’t afraid to succeed. In fact, the weight of this challenge is something they might prefer. So, even though things look grim at the moment with the Thunder playing so well, there is no reason to give up on this historically good Warriors team. At least, not yet.
Statistics courtesy of ESPN.com.