Payback is, well, you know what they say…. But so is not getting a chance at it.
Make no mistake: Every team not named the Golden State Warriors is thrilled that the league’s latest dynasty is no more, that on any given night this season, there will be no trace of their championship core now that two-time MVP Steph Curry has a broken left hand and 2016-17 Defensive Player of the Year Draymond Green is nursing a finger injury. It’s just that they actually looked forward to facing Curry and Green without their championship brethren by their side, what with the shimmying Curry and bicep-flexing Green having had the most fun waving the Warriors’ five-year dominance in everyone’s face.
That was apparently far more annoying than opponents let on while it was happening, and a host of players, executives and scouts were looking forward to showing Curry and Green just how much they resented it.
“It got old with the antics,” one Pacific Division player says. “Now that they’ve come back to reality, you want to beat the hell out of them and see Steph with that towel over his head in the fourth [quarter]. … But the team now isn’t the Warriors. [You’re not going to punish] Glenn Robinson III and D’Angelo Russell. This is about Steph and Draymond.”
The absence of All-Star guard Klay Thompson (torn ACL), All-Star forward Kevin Durant (now a Brooklyn Net), sixth man Andre Iguodala (now a Memphis Grizzly) and super sub Shaun Livingston (retired) assured that the Warriors’ run of terrorizing the NBA was over. Opponents wasted no time making them painfully aware of their new reality.
The Los Angeles Clippers christened the Warriors’ new home in San Francisco, the glitzy Chase Center, with a thorough and humiliating 141-122 victory in Golden State’s season opener. At one point, a Warriors source says, Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley told Curry, “The last five years were yours. The next five are mine!”
Curry responded by laughing and pointing out that Beverley was 31 years old, making it highly unlikely that he had five quality years in the league left.
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The Oklahoma City Thunder, the subject of almost as much frustration at the hands of the Warriors, were equally merciless with a 120-92 thrashing three nights later. The Warriors’ pride and the New Orleans Pelicans‘ injury-related struggles combined for a brief reprieve, but the comeuppance continued two nights later at the Chase Center against the Phoenix Suns, who at one point led 50-19.
Golden State was still down by 29 in the third quarter when Curry broke his left hand after colliding with Suns center Aron Baynes and getting his hand caught under the big man.
That left Green as the last man standing from the team’s championship core to face the San Antonio Spurs, who also sent much of the Chase Center crowd home early with 127-110 win. Green had a muted version of his typically multifaceted impact: six points, eight rebounds and seven assists. Spurs forward Rudy Gay took satisfaction from all of it.
“You think anybody in the league has any empathy for Draymond Green?” Gay says. “No, hell no. He’s a good dude and everything, but everybody has their time and everybody has their day, and it’s time for another team to step up. They took full advantage of their time at the top. And not just them—the fans, too. This is the real NBA, man. You don’t have some of the best players in the league. You still have some great players, but those wins aren’t going to come as easy no more.”
How much Green subjects himself to playing with the current Warriors is a topic of debate among opponents. He is already dealing with an array of knee, back and finger injuries and has missed the Warriors’ last three games, a narrow loss to the Charlotte Hornets, an upset of the Portland Trail Blazers and a nationally televised loss to the Houston Rockets.
“It’s a long season,” the Pacific Division player says via text message. “Even if he misses 20 games, he’ll still have to play 50. Lol. And they’re losing 40 of them. Lol.”
Blazers forward Rodney Hood expects Green to be prudent about when, and how much, he plays.
“He definitely is not going to be out there by himself,” Hood says. “I don’t think he could take that. Not for a whole year.”
While Durant’s critics among the media and fans have portrayed him as someone who jumped on the Warriors’ championship bandwagon, those surveyed inside the league see him as the catalyst that turned them from one-time title winners into three-time champions. That made Curry and Green’s preening, while earned during the first two years, come off as presumptuous over the last three. Durant earned the right to revel, yet he seemed to do it the least.
“Adding KD made it the cheat code,” the Pacific Division player says. “We respect the Warriors and their previous accomplishments, but when they added KD, no one looked at them the same. Even KD knew it was unfair. I never saw him celebrate the same way. It added to those other guys’ legacy more than his.”
Hood shared the same perspective on Durant’s presence and now absence.
“Obviously, they were good before KD, but once they got him, they took it to another level,” he says. “But I know for a fact—particularly Draymond, who I have the utmost respect for—when they were on top, they let everybody know they were on top, and you felt their presence. But everything comes to an end at some point. Guys were looking forward to getting at them without that 7-foot monster [Durant], so now everybody feels it’s an even playing field. Everybody is excited about that.”
The reviews were mixed on which Warrior, Curry or Green, had inspired more desire for revenge with their animated celebrations.
“Steph,” an Eastern Conference vice president says. “Shimmies. The mouthguard. (Curry has it habitually hanging out of his mouth.) The list is endless.”
“Dray, because he’s not as good,” the Pacific Division rival says.
Ben Margot/Associated Press
Responses were equally mixed about which recent superteam was more obnoxious, the Warriors or the LeBron James-led Miami Heat.
“More the Warriors,” Hood says. “There wasn’t a lot of barking with the Heat. Seemed like they just had fun. It was different.”
An Eastern Conference scout disagreed. “Heat were more divas,” he says.
The Warriors have none of that now. Of the 15 players who suited up for them in last year’s playoffs, none were in uniform for the upset over the Blazers. That could continue to work in their favor, at least in terms of getting opponents to lay off the gas if they have the Warriors beat. Head coach Steve Kerr’s humility during the five-year run also could pay dividends for him now, an Eastern Conference pro personnel director says.
“Kerr always did things right,” he says. “Besides, they are like a wounded deer on the side of the road right now. No need to torture them; just put them out of their misery each game.”
Curry doesn’t have to worry about that misery now. His lengthy absence is not borne merely from being cautious with the franchise’s best player. A team source says the fracture was worse than originally thought, and it’s unlikely that he plays again this season. The silver lining, of course, is that he won’t have to endure countless shimmies, dangling mouthguards, 1-2-3 counts and other acts of reveling by opponents.
In other words, a broken bone could turn out to be a lucky break that allows Curry, the master of misdirection, to once more find a way to elude his opponents.
Ric Bucher covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @RicBucher.