In saying goodbye to their impressive road win streak and a chance to make franchise history, the Warriors also experienced an awakening that should linger somewhere in their minds for months to come.
The new and improved Houston Rockets are a serious threat to the defending champs having a parade in downtown Oakland for the second consecutive June.
That threat likely can’t be realized, however, unless the Warriors put the worst of themselves on full display, as they did Saturday night at Toyota Center in a 116-108 loss to the Rockets.
“In the first quarter, every time we made our push, we gave up easy baskets,” Draymond Green told reporters in Houston. “In the second quarter, we put them on the line the entire quarter, which slowed down our pace and let them control the tempo of the game. In the third quarter, we fought back to kind of get there but not get over the hump. And then we finally did, but we just didn’t have the right amount of focus it takes to win a game like that.”
Indeed, the Warriors were guilty of questionable shot selection at various points. They were largely allergic to rebounding, taking a 46-33 drubbing in that category. And far too often they were impatient and therefore utterly careless with their passing, resulting in 19 turnovers that led directly to 23 Houston points.
“It seemed like we kept making one silly play after another,” coach Steve Kerr said.
Sounds familiar, eh? The Warriors know their greatest weaknesses and hear about them ad nauseam from the coaching staff, yet still struggle to consistently address them.
Stephen Curry, who committed a team-worst six turnovers, lamented two possessions in particular. On one, he missed Kevin Durant “butt-naked at the top of the key,” and on another he had Durant open for a dunk but flipped it to Klay Thompson for a 3-pointer that missed.
“I made two of the worst plays of the season on those two possessions,” Curry conceded. “It’s kind of one of those nights when I personally didn’t have the right vision on the floor I’ve got to take responsibility for that.”
This is why the Warriors deserved to lose this game, which gave the Rockets a 2-1 victory in the season series and the homecourt tiebreaker should the two teams finish with identical records.
The Warriors took a 122-121 loss to Houston at Oracle Arena on opening night, then went to Houston on Jan. 4 and claimed a 124-114 victory.
This is enough to prove the Rockets are capable of beating the Warriors. We also note that in the other loss, Warriors’ turnovers gifted 21 points to Houston.
“We know the recipe against this team,” Curry said. “They’re going to shoot a lot of 3s. They’re going to make some tough shots. But if you turn the ball over and if you foul, which we did both in the first half, then that plays right into their hands. It’s just a lack of focus on the game plan.”
That lack of focus is something that has nagged the Warriors numerous times over the course of the season.
Here’s Houston’s problem: The postseason Warriors tend to be a bit sharper than the regular season Warriors.
And the Rockets, well, remain a postseason mystery. Chris Paul, who was so magnificent Saturday night, has an inglorious postseason history, complete with multiple collapses. MVP candidate James Harden also has dubious postseason resume, with epic pratfalls against the Warriors and the Spurs.
So the events of Saturday night, and the three games in the regular season, serve as reminders that if the Warriors play smart and tough and are fully engaged, they’re still the better team. Despite the chance to set a franchise record with a 15th consecutive road victory, the Warriors were less than fully engaged.
There’s a better than even chance of them being fully engaged in the postseason, should these teams meet again.
“We always talk about hitting singles,” Kerr said. “Well, we were trying to hit home runs all night, and you can’t do that against these guys.
“On the bright side, we know we can play a lot better. And we will.”