Dubs' bungled loss to Wolves could haunt them into playoffs


SAN FRANCISCO – The fourth-quarter comeback at Chase Center, a staple of this wildly uneven Warriors season, was in their hands, a package neatly delivered by Gary Payton II.

And Payton’s teammates disregarded the most important instruction – “handle with care.”

The Warriors dropped the ball and lost a game that will hurt well into Monday morning and perhaps two full days. And if they don’t recover by Tuesday, the staggeringly bungled finish of a 99-96 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves could haunt them into April and beyond.

“Tough one to walk off the court with nothing to show for it,” Stephen Curry said.

“We just didn’t execute down the stretch,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “We didn’t deserve to win. They outplayed us. They made the plays down the stretch that they needed to make, and we didn’t.”

Given three possessions inside the final minute to put the Timberwolves on ice, the Warriors responded by summoning their most self-defeating offensive tendencies.

The zero-pass possession: Leading 96-94 with 54.5 seconds remaining, Jordan Poole rebounds a Kyle Anderson miss, dribbles past midcourt, and – with nine seconds on the shot clock – jacks up a 28-foot step-back 3-pointer that misses. A “shot turnover,” in hoops lingo, that leads to a free throw by Rudy Gobert.

The killer turnover: Leading 96-95 with 14.5 seconds left, Draymond Green tries zipping a pass intended for Klay Thompson that Anderson easily swipes. He flips it to Karl-Anthony Towns, who drains a transition 3-ball for a 98-96 lead.

The overkill turnover: Coming out of a Warriors timeout with 9.9 seconds left, Poole’s pass goes out of bounds with 4.4 remaining.

“I don’t need to rank them – they all hurt,” Kerr said.

Thompson intentionally fouls Jaden McDaniels, who makes one of two free throws, leaving the Warriors 2.4 seconds to tie the game. Curry’s desperation heave, under pressure, misses.

With precisely half of Minnesota’s 22 fourth-quarter points coming off Golden State turnovers, the sellout crowd (18,064) filed out in stunned silence, allowing their beloved team time and space for the ritual falling on swords.

“I missed a layup in transition with a 3-on-1,” Curry said.

“I didn't take very good shots to start the second half,” Thompson said.

“We’ve got to close the game and execute down the stretch,” Kerr said. “I’ve got to do a better job myself in helping them execute.”

The Warriors brought the effort but thwarted it with turnovers and curious shot selection. The second-half offense, which managed 41 points, was a mess unbecoming of any defending champion, certainly in the final weeks of the season.

Of Minnesota’s 46 second-half points, 20 came off turnovers, while the Warriors scored 41 points, shooting 39.5 percent from the field. 

“A lot of quick, bad shots,” Kerr said. “Didn’t move the ball. There were a ton of 18-foot fadeaway shots with somebody wide open. We didn’t make the defense move an extra rotation, two extra rotations.

“They’re a good defensive team. They’ve got size at every position and if you don’t move them around, it’s going to be tough. And we didn’t move them around. We were trying to do it on our own out there.”

Yet they had their chances.

After a third quarter that looked more like bumper cars than NBA basketball, the Warriors quickly fell behind by nine, 86-77, when Payton brought enough brilliance to light a path to victory.

A Payton 3-pointer pulled the Warriors within six. He followed that by drawing an offensive foul on Towns, which preceded a jumper by Poole to get within four and force a Minnesota timeout with 8:28 remaining. By the time Payton was subbed out with 4:22 to go, the Warriors trailed 91-90.

Momentum was with them, pushing them to a 96-94 lead on Poole’s 3-pointer with 1:28 remaining. The Warriors never scored again, coming up empty and ugly on their final four possessions.

“There were a couple possessions where we got a little rushed for no reason,” Curry said. “It’s one of those situations where it wasn’t pretty. But if you find a way to just finish those last 45 seconds, it’s just a different feeling.

“And that’s just the way the league goes. You’ve got to take that pill and swallow it, just because we lost, and try to learn from it knowing that’s kind of a playoff-type situation where it can swing a series if you can grind out a win, however ugly it is, and no matter how many turnovers you have.”

RELATED: What we learned as Warriors throw game away, lose to Wolves

With a chance to move ahead of the Clippers and into fifth place in the Western Conference, the Warriors instead remain in sixth place, one-half game behind the Timberwolves.

There is time for the Warriors, who are back at Chase Center on Tuesday to face the New Orleans Pelicans, to get over this one. That, however, was of no comfort as they wandered into the night.

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