Steph Curry

Warriors' tough loss to Mavs is reminder of challenges ahead

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Going into the locker room Friday night with a two-point halftime lead over the Dallas Mavericks, Warriors guard Brandin Podziemski was hopeful enough to express optimism about the future.

Make that extreme optimism.

“We’re just playing with desperation,” Podziemski said during his halftime interview with the NBC Sports Bay Area broadcast team. “We know our season is on the line. We’re trying to get up to that six seed, being only three games back.”

The six seed? OK. The 10th-place Warriors had, after all, found their defensive mojo. They’d won six consecutive games and, after wiping out an early 16-point deficit, were halfway to extending the streak to seven. That would lift them closer to that coveted but still remote position in the Western Conference standings.

The Warriors could get a full game nearer if Draymond Green could muster another superhuman performance and if Stephen Curry could overcome the Mavericks coming at him with every tool in their garage.

Or if their late-game defense could hold up.

Draymond could not. Steph could not, though he came close. And the late-game defense was one stop away from at least sending the game into overtime. The result was a 108-106 loss in Dallas that is a reminder of the challenges still ahead for Golden State.

With the Warriors four games behind the sixth-place Phoenix Suns, with five games remaining, the No. 6 seed is a few miracles away. And those have been exceedingly rare this season.

This was Golden State’s 45th “clutch” game. There will be more, whether during the remaining five regular-season games or any game beyond. The Warriors’ 2023-24 record in those games defines their season. Too many close games have gone to their opponent.

They had reason to believe this one could go their way. When Curry swished a step-back jumper to tie the game 106-106 with 13 seconds remaining, Dallas called a timeout to set up a play against a Golden State’s defense that has been terrific during its win streak.

The Mavericks were without franchise player Luka Dončić but still have the fabulous Kyrie Irving. No problem.

Dallas inbounded to Irving. Immediately double-teamed by Gary Payton II and Green, Irving passed to Tim Hardaway Jr., defended by Klay Thompson. Thompson made one false move, and Hardaway took advantage, blowing past him toward the rim, forcing Trayce Jackson-Davis to rotate off P.J. Washington. Hardaway lofted a pass to a cutting Washington, who made the game-winning layup with 4.5 seconds remaining.

Thompson’s 3-point shot at the buzzer was not a clean look and bounced off the rim. Game over. Streak ended.

“I liked our defensive possession,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at American Airlines Center. “Getting the ball out of Kyrie's hands, we had the possession and a decent place. And Tim Hardaway made a hell of a pass, just getting it over the outstretched hands of a couple guys. Trayce was there first and then Draymond was right behind it. He was probably an inch away from deflecting the pass out of bounds.”

The defense was in trouble the moment Hardaway beat Thompson. That would not have happened five years ago, when Klay was an elite defender. But in 2024, it happened in the final seconds of a tie game.

Rarely is a game decided by a single possession, and this one was not. But it’s evident Golden State’s late-game rotations remain a work in progress. Part of the challenge is related to injuries, and part of it is finding a lineup consistently solid enough that Green won’t have to bail it out with spectacular plays.

The Warriors were without both Jonathan Kuminga (knee) and Andrew Wiggins (ankle), two lengthy wing defenders. At least one of them – maybe both – would have been in the game for that final Dallas possession.

“Probably just came down to more possessions,” Payton said, summarizing the empty evening. “We’ve got to get to some 50-50 balls. That’s probably what it is. Came down to possessions. Just got to get stops.”

The Warriors opened the game with their 25th starting lineup of the season, as Moses Moody joined Curry, Thompson, Green and Jackson-Davis. They started poorly but were rescued when the second unit closed the first quarter with a 19-2 run to make it competitive.

By the fourth quarter, Golden State appeared to be dragging. The younger Mavericks, also playing on a back-to-back, seemed bouncier. They shot 52.6 percent in the quarter and, moreover, got the last bucket.

The Warriors need only one win to clinch a berth in the NBA play-in tournament, which, unlike the No. 6 seed, comes without a guaranteed playoff berth. It’s not what they want, but it’s what they’ve earned.

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