If the Warriors Don’t Rally, the Judging May Be Harsh

Fifteen measly assists from a team celebrated for its ball movement, its sharing. Westbrook had almost as many on his own, 11, to go with his 36 points, 11 rebounds and 4 steals. Like the 67-victory San Antonio Spurs before them, the Warriors simply have not been able to handle Westbrook’s power and energy, his ability to switch gears and tirelessly motor wherever he needs to get in order to, as he likes to say, “create some havoc.”


Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who shot 6 for 20, watched the final seconds of Game 4.

Larry W. Smith/European Pressphoto Agency

His penetration, the attention he demanded, made bonus scoring contributors Tuesday night of his backcourt mate Andre Roberson, supposedly a player to leave alone and allow open looks. Roberson scored 17 points and Serge Ibaka had 15 of his 17 in the first half, which was a near replica of Game 3, minus the Draymond Green groin kick of Steven Adams.

Curry, the two-time league most valuable player, paled in comparison to Westbrook, missing 14 of his 20 shots, turning the ball over six times, weaving little of the magic that had made him a global sensation, biting on a mouth guard as he chewed up opposing defenses.

“He’s not injured,” Warriors Coach Steve Kerr said to an obvious question looming over the series. “He’s coming back from the knee, but he’s not injured.”

“No, I’m fine,” Curry concurred. “I’ve just got to play better.”

And what of Green, who had said, after being spared a suspension for the wincing attack on Adams, that he would — in the manner of his team, which hadn’t lost consecutive games all season — make amends for his maladroit play on Sunday night.

Instead, he shot 1 for 7 and, like Curry, was responsible for six of his team’s 21 turnovers, a ruinous breakdown against the explosive transition game of the Thunder.

“This is the first time in my life that I didn’t respond to critics,” Green said.

Facing elimination at home in Oakland on Thursday night, the Warriors could also soon be looking at a critical dissection of their collective achievements, from last season through this one.

In the build-them-up-and-tear-them-down culture that passes for talk show and Twitter disseminated entertainment, you just know that some people will be champing to reconsider the Warriors’ 2015 playoff run, when New Orleans, Memphis, Houston and most obviously Cleveland were operating with postseason manpower shortages.

There will be the predictable chortling from the Old Guy network, all the way back to Oscar Robertson, who revels in dissing the contemporary game in comparison to the classic one, and especially from loyal defenders of the Michael Jordan generation.

Following up their franchise’s first title since 1975, the Warriors had the audacity to better the record 72 regular-season victories claimed by Jordan’s Chicago Bulls in 1995-96. Then Curry was unanimously voted M.V.P., a show of perfection Jordan was never afforded.

To a generation of his peers and fans, Jordan is the godfather of all that is historically great, and Curry — fabulous shotmaker that he is — has also been the beneficiary of a sport gone soft. With all due respect, they say, he couldn’t do what he has done in the era of hand-checking.

Earlier this season, Isiah Thomas said, “Right now, perimeter defense in the N.B.A. is kind of the worst I’ve ever seen, an absolute joke.” More recently, Gary Payton wondered how it was possible that Curry could be a unanimous M.V.P. when Jordan never was.

Charles Barkley, Jordan’s inept golfing partner, weighed in by saying: “People think us old guys hate when we talk about it. It has nothing to do with the Warriors’ greatness, LeBron’s greatness, but I’ve never seen the N.B.A. as bad as it is, and I’ve been saying it the last three or four years.”

Of course, that becomes an indirect indictment of the Warriors’ 73 victories, a commentary on the quality of their competition, as if the Jordan era N.B.A. didn’t have teams, a good deal of them, not worth watching.

Yet the inalterable truth is that the 72-victory Bulls did punctuate their historic regular season by winning a championship over Payton’s Seattle SuperSonics. Kerr knows all about it; he was a contributing member of that Bulls team, and the one a year later, when he made the title-clinching shot, and the last one, too, when Jordan buried that era-ending jumper and the Jazz in Utah.

Better than most, Kerr knows the harsh standards by which the Warriors will be judged if they do not rally, even if it was his contractual duty to dismiss the carry-over weight of the 73 wins.

“To me, they are separate issues,” he said. “We had a tremendous regular season. Our guys competed every single night and did something nobody’s ever done before, and we’re proud of that.”

He added, “In the playoffs, everybody starts 0-0.”

And now it is 3-1 for the Thunder, who arguably have the two best players remaining in the playoffs, a field that includes Cleveland’s LeBron James, and at least this version of Curry, the reigning M.V.P.

“Long, long way to go,” Curry said.

They go back to Oakland for Game 5 on Thursday night, to play for another trip here, to a house of horrors they departed Tuesday night wearing their first consecutive defeats by the combined, astounding sum of 52 points.

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