OAKLAND, Calif. -- In two quarters, the Golden State Warriors went from up 14 on the Oklahoma City Thunder to their season being under threat. That's how long it took the Warriors to go from heavy series favorites to, according to Nate Silver's projection model at FiveThirtyEight, a 44 percent chance of advancing from the Western Conference finals.
After the game, steady veteran point guard Shaun Livingston reminded attending media, "It's not supposed to be easy." It seems a 73-win season does not inoculate a team from the doubt-filled playoff crucible. It only guarantees the home-court advantage, which Russell Westbrook and the Thunder wrenched away in those two quarters.
Perhaps the Warriors are not desperate, but times are certainly urgent. As head coach Steve Kerr dryly put it Monday evening, "We'd like to win Game 2."
It's only one game, but this isn't like being down 1-2 to the plodding Memphis Grizzlies or depleted Cleveland Cavaliers, as the Warriors were during last season's playoff run. The Thunder are more dangerous and they just beat Golden State under suboptimal conditions. Oklahoma City was less rested and won despite Kevin Durant and Westbrook shooting a combined 17-of-51 from the field, and despite the Thunder going 1-of-8 in NBA-defined crunch time.
When the Warriors lose, awful 3-point shooting usually factors into that result. This time, Golden State went an acceptable 11-for-30 from deep, and the final two misses were contested desperation shots. The Thunder's length bedeviled the Warriors, and their heavy switching strategy largely worked.
With Andrew Bogut nursing a strained adductor muscle, this was set up to be the series for Festus Ezeli, whose athleticism seemed a good fit. Ezeli started off well, but, amid Draymond Green's loud scolding, had a terrible third quarter in which he appeared to be in the wrong place on offensive sets. This could have implications going forward, because Golden State coaches tend to give Ezeli a short leash. Bogut wasn't much better, going scoreless in 17 minutes.
In short, the Warriors' bigs were badly outplayed by the tall triumvirate of Steven Adams, Serge Ibaka and Enes Kanter. Maybe this dynamic will change as the series continues, but would anyone be shocked if it didn't? Bogut has struggled against the Thunder this season, and Ezeli has been inconsistent since his knee surgery.
Is Stephen Curry himself?
At times, he certainly is. The 3-point shooting was there (Curry would have gone 6-of-12 from deep, but for the aforementioned desperation misses at the end), but other indicators point to a player who is either ailing or out of rhythm. He hasn't quite demonstrated his early season burst, on or off the ball. Though he returned with an emphatic 17-point overtime in Portland on May 9, Curry has yet to declare his knee 100 percent since. Soreness remains an issue, to say nothing of how impacted Curry is from playing basketball so sporadically this month.
Perhaps the knee factored into his questionable decision-making in Game 1. Over the years, Curry has gotten himself into trouble with high hook passes. It's a frustrating tendency that we've seen less of over these past two MVP seasons. Though the occasional hook pass is understandable, it's not wise against this massive Thunder team. Curry threw two possessions away with vintage Keith Smart-era hopeless hooks.
Those weren't the worst of his seven turnovers, though. Down three, with about 2:30 remaining, Golden State had a ridiculously easy opportunity as Oklahoma City forgot about Andre Iguodala in transition. Though Iguodala was lurking behind the entire back line of the Thunder defense, Curry couldn't find him in time. When he finally did pass to Iguodala, it was a wild pitch out of bounds.
Where is Iguodala?
As poor as that turnover was from Curry, Iguodala could have probably made himself more available. After a fantastic first round against Houston, he has receded from many possessions and hasn't attacked of late. When he's playing well, the Warriors are unstoppable. Right now, however, he looks gassed.
Is Green himself? Are the Warriors in general?
Green plays a physical, animated style that can test the body. He's nursing an ankle sprain and that's likely just the malady we actually know about. On Monday night, he was rushed and off-kilter offensively, forcing shots as though trying to will his way through current limitations.
Perhaps that's a small-sample-size overreaction, but it seems to apply to the Warriors right now. Little cracks have been forming of late, slight fissures, as Golden State attempts to maintain basketball's winningest season ever.
"Desperation" might not be the proper word after one bad game, but another one like this, and Golden State will be beyond a desperation point. Going into Monday, they were the indomitable, worry-free Warriors. On Wednesday, they must win or be an inch from the brink. It's a "long series," as quite a few players referenced Monday night, but a long series can shift with incredible speed.
Kerr has shown a willingness to make dramatic adjustments when tested like this. With the bigs faltering, it might be time for Golden State to start a game with small ball, a la the 2015 Finals. Though their small-ball "death lineup" couldn't gain an advantage in the second half of Monday's game, it's probably their best shot at salvation.
Again, their opponent isn't the Grizzlies or the hobbled Cavs of last postseason. The Warriors can't afford to play offense like this for long. Paradoxically, the team that was guilty of "rushing" so many shots on Monday must change and change quickly. The season depends on it.