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Voisene: What happened to the Warriors?

Remember the Warriors? Those were not the Warriors. Nah. The team that plays beautiful basketball when the minds and bodies are right, that soars like a symphony when following the game plan, performed a fine opening act, but then hit all the wrong notes.
The passing, the movement, the execution. The poise that characterized their playoff runs these past four seasons, took a nosedive right into the dirt. In a poorly-timed identity lapse, the Warriors tried to match the Houston Rockets iso for iso, stopped cutting and squaring up for clean looks, turned the ball over and paid the price at the other end.
Twelve points in the meltdown of a fourth quarter. Three field goals on 18 attempts over the final 12 minutes. Nary a three-pointer in six tries.
So, no, those were not the Warriors.
“You look at how the game went,” Steph Curry said after the 95-92 loss evened the Western Conference finals at 2-2, with the series shifting to Houston for Game 5 Thursday. “We were in pretty good shape for 44 minutes with a chance to win and take control of the series, but it didn’t happen. It’s not going to be easy against a great team like Houston. We’re up for it though. We know how to correct and get back to who we are.”
That’s been the story these last few weeks and Curry is sticking to it. As the Warriors sprinted through the early rounds, stole the series opener last week in Houston, then cruised to their 16th consecutive home playoff victory — an NBA record — with a 41-point win two evenings earlier, the defending champs appeared to have regained both their swagger and their sense of style.
That regular-season malaise – a familiar bout of boredom that routinely afflicts NBA clubs that are clearly superior to the competition — seemed to be a thing of the past, with the challenge of capturing a third title in four seasons providing a surge of emotional energy.
If the Warriors needed additional motivation as they arrived at the arena Thursday, there was frequent mention of a timely historic component: Thirty years ago to the day, Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins engaged in the  fourth-quarter duel for the ages in Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference semifinals in Boston Garden.
Bird scored off lefty runners, stroked three’s, curled into the lane for jumpers, adding an occasional dunk to his 20-point fourth-quarter outburst. Wilkins, whose Atlanta Hawks would lose the heartbreaker by a field goal, was equally spectacular, scoring 14 points in the quarter on three’s, bank shots, breakout jams and resounding throwdowns.
Could this be the night that Curry, Kevin Durant or Klay Thompson finally elevated an altogether lackluster series with a duel for the ages against Chris Paul or James Harden?
Not even close. Never happened. The Warriors busted out to a 12-0 lead, and except for a 34-point third quarter, lost their way, and ultimately the game. They matched the Rockets’ physicality but too often became flustered by the constant switching, then stepped right into the visitors trap. Slow the pace. Dribble the shot clock down. Attempt to beat your man with a stepback three or a late attack at the basket.
Bird and Wilkins, by the way, would have been horrified. Warriors coach Steve Kerr later referred to the game as “trench warfare.”
It was just everybody grinding it out, lot of isolation. I guess this is the modern NBA,” he added, tongue in cheek. “It’s tough out there. I mean, they shot 39 percent, we shot 39 percent. It’s not like in a game that anybody was out there lighting it up. Chris Paul hit some big ones, obviously, in the fourth quarter. But we did some good things defensively. We’ve just got to do better offensively.”
Deep down, Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni probably hates his club’s style of play just as much as anyone. This is the same creative, unconventional coach who introduced the “seven seconds or less” offensive philosophy during his four seasons with Steve Nash and the pace-and-space Phoenix Suns.
But while he submits to the slower pace and isolation-heavy schemes that play to the strengths of All-Stars Harden and Paul – sort of a marriage of convenience – Kerr can hold his nose and shake his head, and preach a wildly appealing style that works for his Warriors and for his fans.
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 The fourth quarter featured very little of that, unfortunately. Owing somewhat to fatigue and a thin bench due to Andre Iguodala’s absence (knee), these Warriors were almost unrecognizable down the stretch. Kevin Durant rushed several shots and counted an airball among his 0-for-3 launches from beyond the arc. Shaun Livington committed two brutal turnovers. Even Curry, whose flurry in the third period thrust the Warriors into a 10-point lead entering the fourth, went 1-for-8 in the final period and counted an uncontested layup among his misses.
“I think we just got a little rushed,” he said afterward. “I think some of the mix-ups we had on defense affected our energy on the offensive end. I mean, credit to them. We know they’re doing a lot of switching and trying to force us into one-on-one type situations. But that’s no excuse not to get the ball moving. Trusting what we do best, and whether it’s the first quarter, second quarter or crunch time in the fourth, we’ve got to be us.”
Forget the symphony then for the moment. A little coaxing from Frank Sinatra (“I’ve Got to Be Me”) will suffice. Just be the Warriors. The Warriors are just fine.
 
 

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