I know what you're going to say: What about last season when they were down 3-2 to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals? Or in 2016, when they were down 3-1 to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference finals? Or in the 2016 NBA Finals, the only playoff series the Warriors have lost since 2014, but a series that essentially turned on a fluke (Draymond's flagrant) and a supernova (LeBron playing out of his mind)?
Here's why this series is, at this point, more concerning than any other series the Warriors have been through.
It's not rocket science: The Warriors were a thin team to start this season. That was part of the devil's bargain they made when they signed Kevin Durant three years ago: Sacrifice depth to add one of the best basketball players on Earth to what was already the best basketball team on Earth. It's a move you make every time, and yet it comes with risks. Those risks that have been exposed these playoffs.
In Game 3, the Warriors were again without Durant, who hasn't played in nearly a month since his calf injury. They were without Klay Thompson, out with a hamstring injury suffered in Game 2. And they were without Kevon Looney, out for the series with a chest injury suffered in Game 2. Their game plan seemed to be to give Steph Curry the ball and have him do things. Curry certainly did things – he scored 47 points, nearly equaling LeBron James' record for most points in a Finals loss – but the Warriors barely had a chance even with Curry's herculean effort. As Raptors head coach Nick Nurse said afterward, "My dad used to tell me the stats don't matter, just the final score."
The final score was what it was – Raptors 123, Warriors 109 – because the Warriors' defense stumbled in a major way. "Defense wins in the playoffs, especially in the Finals," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. "We missed (Klay Thompson's) defense, but again that doesn't matter. The guy's hurt, doesn't play, then you play the next guy." But the next guys for the Warriors couldn't get nearly the production needed to compete with this tough, physical, disciplined Raptors team. The Warriors played hard. It was a good effort, truly. But at no point during the game could you have thought the Warriors were the better team in this game.
In fact, there have only been about six minutes during this series – the six minutes at the beginning of the third quarter of Game 2, when the Warriors ripped off an 18-0 run – that the Warriors looked like the clear better team over these upstart Raptors.
What the Warriors are facing now is quite simply the biggest challenge during their dynasty: Down 2-1 to the best defensive team they've ever faced, without home-court advantage, and with the health of Durant and Thompson completely up in the air. I'm not asking you to feel sorry for them. As Draymond Green said after Game 3, "No one cares if guys are hurt. Everybody wants to see us lose. So I'm sure people are happy they're hurt."
Injuries happen to everyone, and the Warriors have certainly had their share of lucky breaks during their run of three titles in the past four seasons. I'm only asking that you recognize exactly how fraught their situation is.
But out of dire situations can come legacy-defining opportunities.
That's what the Warriors face right now during the playoffs that could mark the end of their dynasty, depending on how free agency plays out this offseason. That's what Steve Kerr faces, as a guy whose brilliance has sometimes been overlooked because…well, how much does a coach really need to coach when they have one of the finest collections of basketball players ever assembled?
Most of all, that's what Kevin Durant might be facing, should he be able to get back on the court from his calf injury.
If you can allow me a bit of dreaming, here's the best possible outcome for this wild rollercoaster of a season for the Warriors: That the Warriors lose Game 4 without Durant. That they fly back to Toronto down 3-1 in the series, with the talking heads blaring headlines for days about THE END OF A DYNASTY.
And that Kevin Durant then returns for Game 5.
And Durant goes supernova, like LeBron in 2016. He scores 40-plus points in each of the final three games of the series. It's the mirror image of the Warriors' biggest failure in blowing that 3-1 lead to LeBron's Cavaliers in 2016. Durant would be the hero, the first Finals MVP to only play in three games. The idea that this title was destined to be the Warriors' title from the beginning of the season would go out the window. There would be the feeling that they earned this title in a different way than their other two titles with Durant. (It would also, by the way, be pretty hard for Durant to leave warm feelings behind in free agency to pursue a new narrative for his career.)
If the Warriors can come back from this, it might just be the crowning achievement of their five-year reign atop the NBA.