After the Richmond Tigers’ second premiership in three years, coach Damien Hardwick said he had used US sports teams the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Red Wings as examples to live by.
Last June, Stephen Curry waved goodbye to a sell-out crowd in Cleveland that had just witnessed the Golden State Warriors claim a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals, a lead which had never been overcome.
There was very little doubt among NBA enthusiasts that the Warriors would go on to repeat as champions, and that unanimous MVP Stephen Curry would claim his first Finals MVP award.
But from that moment, from when Steph Curry waved goodbye to the Quicken Loans Arena crowd, the Warriors have been vulnerable. They have fallen victim to their own confidence and swagger, that same attitude that saw them rise to the top of the NBA. And right now, they are as vulnerable as they have ever been under coach Steve Kerr.
The Warriors currently sit atop of the league with a record of 50-11, 2.5 games ahead of San Antonio in the western conference. For the whole of last season they only lost nine games, but it is not the wins and losses which are concerning, but the way they are playing.
The Warriors were recently defeated by Washington and Chicago in back-to-back games, making it the first time since 2015 that they had lost two consecutive games. Yes, Kevin Durant left early in the Washington game with an injury that could see him miss one month of basketball, but how Golden State played down the stretch in both games was concerning.
Klay Thompson and Steph Curry shot a combined 15-49 in the loss to Chicago, notably forcing up shots early in the shot clock in the fourth quarter, and looked visibly tired and frustrated. In the Washington loss, Curry missed a 30-foot three that would have given them the lead with seven seconds remaining.
The shots they are taking aren’t necessarily bad; after all it is the Splash Brothers we are talking about. But rewind to last season for a minute.
Stephen Curry launches a 38-foot three off the dribble to bury Oklahoma City at the death, and the typical Curry swagger is on show for all to see. Fast forward to the playoffs, and Klay Thompson single handily keeps the Warriors season alive against the Thunder with clutch shot after clutch shot down the stretch in game six of the conference finals, scoring 41 points on 11-18 three-point shooting.
In game seven of that series, Curry drains a long three in the final minutes early in the shot clock to send the Warriors back to the Finals.
Back to the present, and that swagger and clutch shooting is seemingly nonexistent. Draymond Green and Paul Pierce exchanged words, and JaVale McGee and Shaquille O’Neal went at each other on Twitter. The Warriors are not locked in right now. They are distracted, and unlike last season, don’t have the target of 73 wins to keep the regular season interesting.
On top of that, rivals Houston and Cleveland continue to improve through acquiring proven players to come off the bench, and the Spurs are one of the hottest teams in the NBA at the moment. Steph Curry is shooting a lower percentage from three than his brother Seth, and Klay Thompson is being out-shot by Jae Crowder.
There is no reason to panic just yet. There may be no reason to panic at all. Golden State could easily go on a ten-game winning streak and be the hottest team in the NBA come playoff time. But right now they are not the same team they were over the last two seasons.
The swagger and flare is a shadow of what it once was, and in fourth quarters their big three are struggling to make shots.
Maybe the lack of swagger is a sign of a more focused roster. Maybe blowing a 3-1 lead last season was the reality check they needed to be better prepared for the playoffs this season.
But maybe, just maybe, we are witnessing the steady downfall of the best regular season team in NBA history.