If you were wondering what the Golden State Warriors would look like without Kevin Durant, the answer came Thursday night. In a word: worse. (Shocker!)
The Warriors’ first game without their All-Star forward, who suffered a Grade 2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee on Tuesday and is out for at least the next four weeks, went about as poorly as the team could have feared. Golden State struggled to generate offense all night long, watching shot after shot rim in and out as their remaining All-Stars and role players tried but failed to pick up Durant’s slack. The Chicago Bulls took advantage of the Warriors’ woes, outscoring Steve Kerr’s club 32-22 in the third quarter and coming up with one last closing kick in the final three minutes to knock off the Dubs, 94-87>, at United Center on Thursday night.
Jimmy Butler had 22 points on 6-for-14 shooting and a perfect 10-for-10 mark at the foul line to go with six assists, five rebounds, four steals and a block in 35 1/2 minutes of work in the win, which improved the Bulls to 31-30 on the season. The victory moved Chicago ahead of the division rival Indiana Pacers into the No. 6 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and continued a somewhat remarkable streak:
That’s 18 straight wins for the Bulls on Thursday night TNT home games. Just unbelievable.
— Nick Friedell (@NickFriedell) March 3, 2017
The Warriors, on the other hand, saw their own remarkable streak snapped:
GSW hadn’t lost consecutive regular season games since April 2015 (the title season) — 146-game streak is over after losses to WAS & CHI
— Michael Lee (@MrMichaelLee) March 3, 2017
That’s right: Golden State hadn’t lost consecutive regular-season games since April 5 and 7, 2015. That 146-game run was the longest stretch in NBA history; now, thanks to Tuesday’s loss to the Washington Wizards and Thursday’s defeat in Chicago, it is over.
Note: “regular season.” No, we are not allowing anything to distract us from the fact that the 73-win Warriors with the NBA’s first-ever unanimous Most Valuable Player blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Yes, we all remember.
This night, though, is one the Warriors would probably rather forget. Golden State managed only 87 points and shot just 38.6 percent from the field as a team, both season lows, with the bulk of the red ink on the shot chart coming from the all-time All-Star shooting backcourt of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
The “Splash Brothers” have gone ice cold on this road trip, starting with Curry’s 0-for-11 outing from long distance against the Philadelphia 76ers and continuing through Thursday:
Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson have shot a combined 11 for 64 on 3-pointers over the past three games. That’s 17.2%.
— Albert Nahmad (@AlbertRandom1) March 3, 2017
Tonight was the #Warriors’ third consecutive game in shooting in the twenties from three.
20.7% @ PHI
28.6% @ WAS
20.0% @ CHI
— Danny Leroux (@DannyLeroux) March 3, 2017
Stephen Curry is in the worst 3-game stretch of his career from beyond the arc. He is 4-of-31 (13%) from 3 in that time span. pic.twitter.com/PsHgk7v0Bw
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) March 3, 2017
Time and again on Thursday, Curry and Thompson stepped into good, clean, open looks from the perimeter created by off-ball movement. Time and again, their shots seemed to go halfway down before bouncing out, as the two snipers combined to shoot just 3-for-22 from beyond the arc.
“I do [like the shots we’ve been getting], especially tonight,” said Thompson, who finished with 13 points on 5-for-22 shooting. “There was a lot of shots that were on line, just long, didn’t go in. But it’s nothing to worry about. Just two bad shooting games. Just move on.”
Even amid their frigid shooting, the Warriors held an 85-84 lead with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, as Curry worked his way into the paint for baskets and an aggressive defense helmed by veterans Andre Iguodala, David West and Shaun Livingston limited Chicago to just five points on 2-for-10 shooting during the first seven minutes of the frame. The tables turned from there, though.
The Warriors just could not buy a bucket down the stretch, going 1-for-11 as a team over the final five minutes of the fourth, with Curry and Thompson combining to go 0-for-8 in the brutal stretch. That opened the door for the Bulls, who got just enough offense — Butler getting himself to the line for four freebies, a fadeaway jumper by Wade with 2:19 to go, and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by rookie Paul Zipser to push the lead to six with 1:41 left …
… to knock off the defending Western Conference champs.
“The ones down the stretch were decent looks,” said Curry, who finished with 23 points on 10-for-27 shooting to go with six rebounds, five assists and five steals in 35 1/2 minutes. “Obviously, I didn’t have anything going from the outside, and you try to kind of will yourself into making some. It just was kind of another one of those nights — we’ve had a couple of them in a row — where shots we normally make don’t fall. But that’s not the reason we lost.”
Kerr sung a similar tune after the game, saying that the Warriors’ issues weren’t about “making and missing shots,” but about “the details in between” — competing for loose balls and long rebounds, fighting for every extra possession, etc. At one point during the Bulls’ third-quarter run, Kerr got so angry at his team’s lack of fight that he shattered a clipboard — yes, another one — before a huddle:
Carelessness with the ball (the Warriors committed 15 turnovers leading to 14 Chicago points) and intermittent effort have long been two of Kerr’s primary complaints about his star-studded squad. Patches of both, combined with arctic conditions on the perimeter, led the Warriors to squander a 10-point first-half lead, and dealt them their 11th defeat of the season.
Now, all of a sudden, the surging San Antonio Spurs are just two games behind Golden State in the loss column and three back overall in the race for the No. 1 seed in the West. And while they’ve won five straight games, the Warriors have lost two in a row for the first time in nearly two years, and find themselves having to adjust to a new normal in which rookie Patrick McCaw (11 points on 4-for-5 shooting, four rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block in 29 minutes starting in Durant’s stead) and just-signed Matt Barnes (two points in 12 minutes of work, including some crunch-time minutes as a small-ball power forward) are trying to fill the gap left by a former MVP and four-time scoring champion.
“We’ve just got to understand, early in games when we have new rotations and things, we can’t take our foot off the gas pedal at all,” Curry said after the game. “Because every possession’s important for us to pick up a new rhythm without KD.”
Until they find it, and until Steph and Klay rediscover their shooting stroke, the Warriors could continue to look more vulnerable than they have all season long.