Steph Curry

Season of despair taking its toll on Warriors as new lineup falters

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No sooner than the Warriors catch a wisp of optimism, something good enough to believe they’ll escape this season of despair, their hopes are dashed by yet another miserable development.

Golden State’s new starting lineup, which over two-plus games showed such immense promise, fell completely apart Saturday night in Atlanta and the result was a 141-134 overtime loss to the Hawks.

Andrew Wiggins, who was showing signs of burying a sub-mediocre three months, left in the second quarter with an injury to his left foot and did not return. There was no prognosis postgame, but foot injuries rarely heal in a day or two.

Jonathan Kuminga, splendid the past few weeks, relapsed into some old, bad habits. Shortly after finding a hint of rhythm on offense in the second half, he was whistled for three fouls in a span of less than six minutes in the fourth quarter and fouled out with 1:05 remaining in regulation.

Though both teams were playing on their second consecutive night, the odds quickly tipped toward the Hawks to such degree that even Stephen Curry’s nuclear scoring binge – 60 points, 41 after halftime – could not overcome the inevitable collapse.

The Hawks opened OT with an 11-0 burst. Curry was the only Warrior with the juice to respond, and he was not enough.

“Everybody is fatigued on a back-to-back down the stretch,” Draymond Green told reporters at State Farm Arena. “Losing Wiggs for the second half and then losing JK down the stretch was tough. Those two guys are our main point-of-attack defenders. So, losing those two guys made it tougher and the fatigue showed a little bit more.”

It would be understandable if the Warriors were mentally and emotionally fatigued even before overtime. This season has been one giant slog, with no respite in sight.

This was Golden State’s NBA-high 33rd “clutch” game, defined as within five points inside the final five minutes of regulation. Three rotation players – Chris Paul, Gary Payton II, Dario Sarić – were unavailable. Players have been lost to injuries and suspension. And, for crying out loud, the Warriors are trying to cope with the worst kind of grief in the wake of the sudden death, 18 days ago, of beloved assistant coach Dejan “Deki” Milojević.

It's heavy. And getting heavier. This season is, more than anything else, a test of character and resilience.

“It's tough,” Curry said, “because we've had so many guys out, it’s kind of a revolving door.”

On a night when Green is average by his recent standard and Klay Thompson is trapped in his fourth consecutive game with abysmal shooting and puzzling shot selection, Curry at one point was sharing the floor with rookies Trayce Jackson-Davis and Brandin Podziemski, along with two-way guard Lester Quiñones and Gui Santos, who entered the game with 46 minutes of NBA experience.

“I'm pretty sure if anybody asked would you be out there with those four guys at some point in the regular season, you probably have said no,” Curry said. “But we still had a chance to win.

“That's the challenge of this year. It was an entirely different five-man unit that we've never seen all season. So, you're trying to adapt and allow that youthful energy to help us try to get over the hump.”

Coach Steve Kerr has spent most of the season experimenting in hopes of finding effective lineups and rotations.

“It's been the nature of our season all year," Kerr said. "What it was supposed to look like hasn't really materialized for consistent stretches. But you can only be in the present.”

The rotations remain fluid and not until the 16th different starting lineup was there one that seems to work: Curry, Thompson (or Podziemski, if Klay is not available), Wiggins, Kuminga and Green.

Of those six players, only Podziemski was good on this night and only Curry was exceptional – which, unfortunately for this team, this season, is all too common.

The Warriors (21-25) will spend Sunday recovering and relaxing before reentering the grind with three games in four nights, beginning Monday in Brooklyn against the Nets.

Can the Warriors pull it together enough for a winning road trip? To get back to .500 and beyond?

“That's the challenge that we have to make this season salvageable,” Curry said. “We're still four games under .500. I'm still motivated. Just got to stick with it.”

Which is easily said, but very difficult to do when the hits keep coming and every rumor of momentum has such a short shelf life.

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