Warriors no longer blow up a storm like Thunder
THE Golden State Warriors are fast becoming a pale shadow of the 73-win team who stormed through the regular season and there is no shortage of theories as to why the league's most dominant team are now on the verge of play-off elimination.
After Oklahoma City pummelled the Warriors 118-94 to take a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven Western Conference Finals series on Tuesday, questions poured in like Thunder fast-break points.
Is the team's talismanic MVP Stephen Curry healthy? Did Draymond Green buckle under the pressure of his near suspension? Are Golden State finally being crushed by the burden of fulfilling a record campaign?
"We had a tremendous season and did something no one has done before. We're proud of that. But in the play-offs, everyone starts 0-0 so there's no extra pressure," said Golden State coach Steve Kerr.
On the court, however, the fun-loving Warriors of the regular season appear to have been transformed into a struggling unit, devoid of form or fluidity against highly motivated opponents.
Curry buried half-court shots on command as he claimed a second consecutive MVP award but he has been outplayed by Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook in the conference finals, prompting inquiries about the right knee he sprained last month.
"I'm fine," said Curry, who has made just 13-of-37 shots in his last two games. "In our locker room, it's frustration and trying to figure out how we can get back to being ourselves."
The Game 4 spotlight was also shining on Green after he avoided a suspension despite kicking Thunder centre Steven Adams in the groin during Sunday's 133-105 loss.
The team's emotional leader, Green was subdued during a six-point, six-turnover night.
"That's the first time in my life I haven't responded to critics," he said of his disappointing display. "That's been my story. I haven't (responded) so I need to do that."
When the Warriors pushed past the historic 72 wins of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, it felt inevitable that they would cap that feat with a second straight title. Now, the odds are stacked against them and the reason for the turnaround in fortunes appears much simpler than the combined battle against pressure and health.
The Thunder are bigger, faster and, at this moment, better than Golden State and it does not require a deep investigation to uncover that.