When the Warriors started the season 24-0, national pundits pointed to a Christmas Day matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers as the true test. Golden State won by six that night.
There was also talk about the third week in January, a week featuring away games against Cleveland and the Chicago Bulls and home games against the Indiana Pacers as well as the San Antonio Spurs. It was supposed to be a stretch in which the Warriors were proven mortal.
Instead, the league’s best team and reigning champions won all four games, by a combined 107 points — almost 27 per game.
So who can beat the 41-4 Warriors? Or, perhaps a better question, can anyone play with them?
Sure, over the course of a long regular season, there will be falters. In 82 games there will be the occasional loss to a Milwaukee Bucks or Detroit Pistons. But does anyone have a hope in a seven-game series?
If their last four games is any clue, the answer is a resounding no.
Not only did they erode the morale of the reigning Eastern Conference Champions, they swiped the job from under Cleveland head coach David Blatt‘s feet. Just three days after a 132-98 win over the Cavs, Blatt was relieved of his duties. After a 120-90 victory over the association’s second-best team to end the week, Spurs head coach and future Hall of Famer Gregg Popovich referenced Blatt when speaking to his own team’s loss:
“I’m just glad my general manager wasn’t in the locker room, because (Monday’s loss) might have gotten me fired. … We’ve got a long way to go to play with those guys… It was men and boys in almost every facet of the game.”
The Warriors have now played 14 of 15 playoff front runners, suffering only two losses — to the Dallas Mavericks and Detroit Pistons — both on the road.
The only playoff contender the Warriors have yet to challenge is the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed, the Oklahoma City Thunder, whom they will host on Feb. 6.
One month later, Golden State will take on the next great test: winning in San Antonio for the first time in 32 regular season attempts. The Warriors haven’t won a regular season game in San Antonio since reigning MVP and Warrior point Guard Stephen Curry, 27, was eight years old, the year before head coach Steve Kerr became a Spurs player for the first time.
While no one, especially Kerr, expected Monday’s game to go the way it did, his comments immediately after the game indicated he felt it shouldn’t have been much of a surprise:
“It’s been a good stretch since the Detroit loss when we just didn’t have our edge. I think that loss is just what we needed to wake us up because we really hadn’t played that well the previous few weeks before that game.”
They have had a definite edge since.
Every time the Warriors are faced with what is supposed to be a challenge, they rise to the occasion. Every presumed opponent’s advantage has been exploited by Curry and his squad. Every time they display a moment of mortality, they respond in dominant fashion, thanks in large part to the NBA’s biggest matchup problem — Draymond Green.
Perhaps there is a team that holds an exploitable matchup problem. Maybe the Thunder, who will send out two of the game’s 10 best players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, that do pose a legitimate threat to the Warriors’ repeat chances.
But if Golden State’s recent week-long run facing four of the league’s best teams holds any bearing, OKC can only hope to stay in the game and force the Dubs’ starting five to finish it.
And given the league’s inability to beat the Warriors on their home floor, where they have yet to lose this season (21-0), no one stands a chance in a game seven at Oracle Arena.