Three NBA teams that could terminate the Warriors’ three-peat

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Golden State Warriors are looking to three-peat — the first in the Association in 20 years. But NBA teams are priming themselves to end their golden reign.

The Big Picture: Despite a down year by their standards, the Warriors are looking to repeat as back-to-back-to-back NBA champions. But the Houston Rockets, Milwaukee Bucks and the Boston Celtics could have what it takes to rain on the Warriors three-peat parade.

State of the Warriors: Stephen Curry is still the linchpin.

One of the Warriors’ greatest strengths is the fact that two-time MVP Stephen Curry doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be effective. Curry’s ability to play off the ball allows him the freedom to roam the half court, searching for his shot.

Repeatedly, there have been numerous instances in which a defender falls asleep while on Curry and with his release being so quick and the fact that he shoots it at such a high percentage, it’s almost always a guaranteed basket.

Stats on Steph:

  • Although Curry only gets the ball in the corner about 10 percent of the time, he is hitting almost half of his attempts, at 49 percent.
  • 60 percent of his field goal attempts are from 3-point land, hitting 43 percent of them.
  • His 24.2 percent assist percentage is the lowest of his career, showing that he doesn’t need to dominate the ball.

Curry’s gravity alone opens up 3-point shots for Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins – though Cousins is only shooting 25 percent, and Klay Thompson, the other half of the famed “Splash Brothers”. With teams so focused Curry, it allows other players to get easier shots.

Warriors’ Golden Gate ready to be smashed: Not everything has gone right in the Golden State.

One of the dark clouds looming over the Bay is Durant’s impending free agency. With Durant not willing to give an answer about his offseason plans, rumors abound stating that he will be going to the New York Knicks in free agency, joining Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving.

Durant’s unwillingness to commit to the Warriors long term has caused Green to challenge Durant and was a focal point in a heated discussion earlier in the season. Both players downplayed the situation but nevertheless, that could cause some friction in the playoffs.

Other worries for the Warriors:

  • Green is averaging a nice 6.9 assists per game, but he is shooting an abysmal 27 percent from 3-point land.
  • That has led to teams intentionally leaving him wide open on 3-point attempts, knowing that he will miss the shot three out of four times.
  • Cousins is not as mobile as he once was. Teams like the Rockets have exploited that and put him on pick-and-roll situations that he cannot contain.

It’s also interesting to see how Cousins and the Warriors bench plays in the playoffs. Apart from Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala and Quinn Cook, the Warriors have many players that have little-to-no playoff experience, with Cousins being one of them.

Considering how the Warriors dominated before, it’s shocking to see Golden State appear human for the first time in five seasons.

Houston’s formula to Rocket past the Dubs: The Rockets seemingly have the Warriors’ number.

  • They took 3-of-4 games in the season series this year and almost eliminated them in the Western Conference Finals, using their hyper-switchy lineups.
  • With an offense that resolves entirely around James Harden’s isolation mastery and taking an absurd number of 3-pointers, the Rockets have a formula that complements their switch-happy lineups well.

Likewise, the Bucks and Celtics have tied the season series with the Warriors at one game apiece. That’s not surprising considering that both have long, lengthy players that follow the Rockets’ blueprint of shooting and switching.

Fear the deer: In the Bucks’ case, they have a multitude of players such as All-Star Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe next to Giannis Antetokounmpo that can slow down the Warriors’ high-powered offense.

  • Their league-leading 105.2 defensive efficiency rating is proof that the Bucks can stop any offense.
  • Additionally, former Coach of the Year winner Mike Budenholzer completely revamped the Bucks’ offense.
  • With a pace-and-space offense, Brook Lopez and Nikola Mirotic can stretch Golden State’s bigs to the 3-point line and take advantage of the slow-footed Kevon Looney and the aforementioned Cousins.

Boston’s lucky charms: The Celtics have lengthy players and an offense that revolves around heavy ball and player movement.

  • It’s not uncommon to see Al Horford initiate the offense and take a three, especially since he’s hitting 35 percent of them.
  • Irving is a magician with the ball, able to squeeze into the tightest of spaces in order to spin a ball into the hoop with just the right amount of touch for it to fall.
  • With the experience of beating the Warriors in 2016, he also knows what it takes to beat the greatest regular season team of all time.

Bottom Line: Unless there’s a catastrophic injury or a falling out between the four stars, it’s not crazy to think the Golden State Warriors will be NBA champions once again.

However, with legitimate MVP candidates in Harden, Antetokounmpo and Irving, expect the Rockets, Bucks and Celtics to give the Warriors their biggest challenge as they quest for a three-peat.