OAKLAND -- How does an NBA team lose a game in which it has a rebounding advantage and shoots nearly 11 percentage points higher than its opponent?
By treating the basketball as if it were an empty snack bag. By throwing it away.
That’s what the Warriors did Sunday night. That’s how they fell 115-107 to the Detroit Pistons at Oracle Arena, and it’s why they richly deserved to indulge in round of collective masochism afterward.
“We are throwing the ball all over the place,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Even some passes are just hitting guys in the shoes even if they are not turnovers. It’s focus and execution.
“Our guys are lacking in energy, focus and discipline and that’s coaching,” he added. “I have to find a way to get the right combination of guys out there and execute the right stuff. Maybe we are running too many different plays, I don’t know but I got to do a better job.”
The poor ball security has yet to chip away at one of this team’s hallmarks, its competitive arrogance. The Warriors at their best play on the edge of confidence and disdain, if not disregard, for the opponent. They believe they’re going to win, and they usually do.
But this is not how consistent winning works. Their arrogance can’t afford to breathe, much less thrive, in an environment where they can’t find their best stuff.
“We had great intentions but passes were just not on target,” said Kevin Durant, whose three turnovers were the fewest among the starters. “We're jumping and making passes. We tried to make plays but we're just a little out of rhythm. So when we make that many turnovers, they're biting us.”
Though it’s only seven games into the season, October has been a month of gift-giving for the Warriors, and they topped themselves on Sunday, committing a season-high 26 turnovers, giving Detroit 33 points, which was more than enough for the Pistons to wipe out disadvantages in shooting (57.1 percent to 46.2 percent) and rebounding (40-37).
“I’m responsible for five in (26),” Stephen Curry said of the giveaways. “It’s not a good look when you’re trying to win an NBA game.”
Curry’s mother, Sonya, still fines him for turnovers, with the fee set years ago at $100 per. With 18 turnovers this season he’s well on the way to buying her a new winter wardrobe.
The one statistic that has bedeviled the Warriors in every game, even more consistently than mediocre defense, has been turnovers. They’ve had at least 16 in all seven games. As of tipoff Sunday, only three teams averaged more than their 17.0.
“At some point, the ball just has to matter,” Kerr said. “The game has to matter enough for us to win. Teams are coming after us every single night and we know that. We are getting everybody’s best shot and if you don’t match that type of energy and play with some intelligence and some discipline you are not going to win.”
As if 17 turnovers per game were not ghastly enough, the number now rises to 18.3, putting the Warriors at No. 1 in a category they’d rather avoid.
"We care about the game,” Durant said. “We were making boneheaded plays as far as trying to squeeze a basket in there that's not there on a pass, or not switching it up on the shooter and they're knocking down a 3.”
The Pistons won the 3-ball battle, shooting 44.4 percent (12-of-27) to 37 percent for the Warriors (10-of-27). That’s not where this game was won, and the Warriors know it. This was a textbook example of self-immolation.
Curry referred to “careless situations where we were catching with one hand, telegraphing passes, trying to thread the needle, just trying to force things.” Which is how this game became a half-ton gift basket rolled into Detroit’s victory column.
The Warriors have two choices. They can dial back some of the arrogance and become more conservative, or they can keep letting opponents get busy.
Meanwhile, there is no arrogance to be found in a 4-3 record. The record will improve and the arrogance will seem fitting, but there’s no knowing when.