In the end, after the worst of their bad habits surfaced to nullify their most productive first half of the season, the Warriors solemnly sought explanations for failing in the face of conditions they once welcomed.
A game with consequences beyond the routine. On the road. Time to show the world what the Warriors are about. And they did, for 23 glorious minutes immediately after tipoff.
Over the next 25 minutes, however, the Kings tapped the Warriors on their collective shoulder and told them they’d be pulling away from Sacramento with a 124-123 loss that left them with more exasperated sighs than sober acceptance.
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“It’s going to be tough to swallow just because we should have won that game,” Stephen Curry told reporters at Golden 1 Center.
The Warriors won the first half, with Andrew Wiggins and Klay Thompson, formerly the slump brothers, leading a withering offensive charge that produced a season-high 72 points and a 17-point lead in the first half. Golden State lost the second half, aka winning time, by 18 points.
“Stick with it,” Klay Thompson said after the game. “Not get discouraged by a bad night tonight and realize we’re going home with an opportunity to right the ship. I still have whole-hearted belief in this team, that we can do some special things. And I know we will.”
Golden State Warriors
Klay’s confidence is without structure. It defies logic because Golden State is sitting on an 8-10 record, 2-8 over the last 10 games. And, on this night, the Warriors were impolitely bounced from the NBA’s newest adventure, the In-Season Tournament.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow for sure,” Curry told reporters following Tuesday's loss. “Frustrating. We’ve all got to look ourselves in the mirror and figure what we individually can do better in the deciding moments of a game. Better decisions. Better discipline to not foul. All the little things that impact winning.”
If these lamentations and the unsaid destruction of turnovers sound familiar, it’s because they are. The Warriors expressed them last week. Last month. Last season.
“We made those two things the entire focal point at the start of camp,” Kerr expressed. “We haven’t made those improvements. So, we have to do it.”
Well, yes, this was supposed to be the season of redemption. Shed the mistake-prone youngsters and lean on the tested veterans. Bring in a new sage, the future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, to steer the second unit and then ride the guys who know the terrain and can embark on the expedition without a map.
For now, it’s those guys that have the Warriors where they are, 10th place in the Western Conference, and trying with all their might to keep believing all this losing is simply a temporary condition.
“We’re not in a free fall,” Kerr explained. “It’s the early part of the season, and we’re losing a bunch of close games. We can see it on tape every game. Fouling and turnovers. I can only say it so many times. Those two things have to improve. When they do, we’re going to be really good.”
To get “really good” in the NBA circa 2024, Kerr will have to make some tough decisions. His reliance on the veterans who have been with him for nearly a decade is loyal and commendable but needs reexamination.
The latest example came in the fourth quarter of Tuesday's loss to Sacramento. Moses Moody, whose minutes fluctuate from game to game, scored 11 points in seven minutes on 4-of-4 shooting, with each shot either taking or extending the lead. Golden State’s veterans were dragging, and he was pulling them toward the finish. Then, Wiggins came in for Moody.
“Moses was awesome tonight,” Kerr said. “We needed to get Wiggs on the floor for defense against Fox. We decided to go with Klay and our vets. We thought about keeping him out there, but we made the move that we made.”
Curious response. Wiggins was having his best overall game of the season. He deserved to return. The other vets, however, were bringing nothing. Warriors not named Moody shot 2-of-17 in the fourth quarter.
The Warriors are staring at Father Time, and he’s giving them all they can handle and more. Their worst habits, fouling, and turnovers, kept them away from a chance to earn $500,000.
Golden State's margin of error has never been slimmer. They have to know it, even if they’re not ready to accept it.