The addition of Kevin Durant was never going to raise the Golden State Warriors' ceiling so much as it would seal up its floor. A team coming off a 73-9 season, after all, has precious little room for improvement, and at their best, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and company already played something resembling perfect basketball. What Durant provided this season, prior to the MCL sprain he suffered early Tuesday evening against the Washington Wizards, was the NBA's most luxurious failsafe. When the trademarked Warriors ball movement stalled or when the usually reliable threes missed their marks, KD could take the rock and put it in the basket, simple as that.
Thursday night in Chicago, Golden State played the first game of Durant's month-or-so absence, and in doing so reaffirmed what the new guy means. Had the Warriors run away with it, the game could have been reassuring; the focus on the Splash Brothers might even have set off some micro-nostalgia for the more innocent days of 2015-16. Instead, though, the Bulls won a disjointed, brick-heavy contest—just the sort that Durant could have willed in the other direction.
The relevant stats are all pretty grim, if you're a Golden State fan. "They missed a lot of shots," Jimmy Butler said of his opponents, correctly, in his postgame interview. Curry and Thompson combined for 36 points on just 3 of 22 from behind the arc, and of all the Warriors, only Curry scored more than 13. The loss, which gave the Dubs their first set of back-to-back defeats since April 2015, was a reminder of the risk-reward calculation inherent in their approach. Triples, even those hoisted by the best shooters in the world, miss the mark sometimes.
It was hard not to imagine, watching Thursday's clank-fest, what the inclusion of a 7-foot bucket-getter with a point guard's handle and access to every shot in the book might have meant. Down the stretch, the Warriors kept playing the percentages, and those percentages kept letting them down. Curry and Thompson missed all 8 of their fourth-quarter three-point attempts; under more pleasant circumstances, a few of those might have become the 18-foot pull-ups Durant drains as easily as most of us zip our jackets, and a troublesome loss might have turned into a forgettable win.
As it stands, the Warriors now sit just two games ahead of the San Antonio Spurs in the loss column, with 21 mostly or entirely Durant-less games left on their regular season schedule. They would surely take the two-seed in exchange for their star's return to full health come the playoffs, and they'll just as surely do some ship-righting in the meantime. Still, the Western entrant in the presumed Finals rematch has given the rest of its conference a little hope. Golden State might be great again, and soon, but until Durant gets back to full strength they won't be untouchable. They'll have bad nights, like anybody else.