There are moments when you sit agape with wonder, pondering whether anything is impossible for Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors.
As Curry pulls up from 26 feet and swishes another jumper, you wonder whether he's actually the best player in the league now and for years to come. Whether he's better than LeBron, better than Durant, better than Davis. As the Warriors toy with yet another good opponent and win again, you wonder whether 73-9 is possible. As Golden State bludgeons its first four opponents by a combined 100 points and ends the Clippers' undefeated start, you wonder whether this is already a young dynasty getting fitted for a fistful of rings.
It's impossible to keep perspective on Curry and the Warriors while you're watching them because nothing seems impossible. Curry sitting for the bulk of the first quarter due to foul trouble seemed like a jape, like Luke Walton turned the difficulty level from "normal" to "hard." L.A. effectively attacked Curry with Chris Paul and screening action, and it served its purpose early. But it just delayed the inevitable. Any victory over this team only delays the inevitable. Ask the Grizzlies, Rockets and Cavaliers about last spring. You do exactly what you set out to do, you succeed and they erase your victory with a snap of their fingers.
The Warriors have flaws. Curry is an improved defender, but he's still relatively thin and can be backed down. CP3 took advantage of that early. The Clippers forced doubles to work Curry, and CP3 finished the first half with 20 points. The Warriors found a way around it. (Notably, by attacking the short Paul and getting him into third quarter foul trouble. That prevented Paul from keeping the pressure on Curry and foul trouble was no longer an issue for Steph.)
Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes can be erratic, and both Curry and Klay Thompson can take wild shots. Some of Walton's substitution decisions were head-scratchers, understandable given his inexperience. But Golden State is otherwise so damn efficient on both ends that it's all of little concern in the macro view.Their advantages elsewhere are so great as to nearly always make those flaws irrelevant.
The Clippers appear at times uniquely suited to topple the Warriors. In CP3 they have one of the point guards best poised to punish Curry on one end and disrupt him on the other. In Blake Griffin they have one of the few power forwards in the West who can keep Draymond Green on his heels. In DeAndre Jordan they have a center who can control the boards on both ends if the Warriors go small, and who can finish cleanly when help defenders abandon him to chase Paul. (In theory, he's also agile enough to switch out and challenge those Curry jumpers. It didn't happen on Wednesday: he guarded against the drive, which is the opposite of what you want to do against Steph.) L.A. has a coach who masterfully works the referees, and they have a gunner in J.J. Redick who could challenge Curry in an empty-gym shooting contest. The pieces are there.
But then you see the Warriors swallow the Clippers' confidence alive in the closing minutes of a November game and that thought slips away.
L.A. can build on this defeat to better challenge Golden State the next time around. It has the comfort of knowing it was the last team to beat the Warriors in a playoff series. There will be chances back at home, although Doc Rivers still needs to discover how best to use Lance Stephenson and Paul Pierce in the fourth quarter. (Notably, Rivers ran with his son in crunch time until Austin fouled out. His defense was good, and he made some nice cuts to get free, but you have to believe there's more upside in having Pierce or Stephenson out there. Coach Rivers has earned the benefit of the doubt, but these are tricky waters, especially with someone as notoriously immature as Lance.)
You also wonder if at some point the Warriors will have an injury that actually hurts the team. As David Lee's malady allowed Green to blossom into a star last season, Andrew Bogut's prolonged absence due to a concussion has given Festus Ezeli time to shine. The Warriors might be better with Ezeli than Bogut. (In fact, Walton may have to think twice about re-inserting Bogut into the starting lineup once he's healthy.)
While Golden State's brilliant depth gives them options everywhere, their famous health has posed few real rotational challenges that seemingly ever other contender deals with constantly. We haven't actually seen the Warriors respond to the "hard" difficulty setting yet. We don't know how well they'll do when everything isn't perfect.
This is all after-the-fact rationalization, of course. We want to keep perspective and not fall head-over-heels for this squad lest we bump our domes and tumble. We'll search out the flaws, however trivial they are. Only when removed from watching their magic can we justify doubt.
And yet, Curry and the Warriors seem incapable of disappointing us, of falling short of whatever insane expectations we list. Golden State quarters no skepticism in its play, and meets every challenge thrown in its path. That's all the Warriors can do, really. If we don't believe in their infallibility now, there's nothing but time that will change our minds. Not when they play like this.
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SB Nation video archives: The Warriors' plan to build a champion