OAKLAND – The Warriors on Tuesday night stepped into Oracle Arena, the most imposing home court in the NBA, and did something they hadn’t done in 115 games.
They blew a 17-point lead.
They coughed up the ball, gave away the previously insurmountable advantage and gifted the game to the utterly defective but exceedingly frisky Minnesota Timberwolves.
In losing 124-117 in overtime, the Warriors were exposed as a team in search of the best of itself. It’s missing. It has been absent for much of the second half of the season, even while continuing to win games at a record pace.
“Right now, we’re just at a point where, it’s human nature, where it’s like, we’re kind of ready for the regular season to end,” Draymond Green summarized. “You’re talking 82 games. You get bored with that after a while. That’s no excuse. I’m going to always give it to y’all real, and that’s about as real as I can be. It’s at a point now where we’re ready for the regular season to be over.
“Now in saying that, we’ve got to be a veteran enough ballclub to continue to try and get better with these games and go into the playoffs the right way, not stumbling into the playoffs. That’s something we have to focus on.”
The Warriors raced out to a 27-12 lead in the first quarter, yet the Timberwolves pulled within three in the second quarter.
And when the Warriors regrouped and went up 17 (71-54) in the third quarter, Minnesota charged back within eight to open the fourth, within one three minutes later and, from there, the Timberwolves pretty much had it their way.
The Warriors in the process relinquished their one-game lead on the pace of the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, whose 72-10 record is the best campaign in league history. At 69-9, they have precisely the same record as Chicago through 78 games.
“The shame of it was that we were really rolling early,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We had such a good start to the game. We were taking care of the ball, we were defending and we had them on their heels. It we continued to be solid, we would have been fine.
“But we got totally away from ourselves and after that, it was bad all around. Bad coaching, bad playing, bad everything.”
The Warriors committed three turnovers in the first 9:23, and then committed three more over the last 2:37 of the first quarter. They ended up with 24 turnovers, leading to 31 Minnesota points.
“A lot of that falls on my shoulders,” Green said, “because I turned the ball over way too many times, in some key moments as well. We’ve got to be better.”
Then Green, whose six turnovers led the Warriors, paused and took his frank analysis to another level.
“Turnovers were a huge key to what happened tonight and, really, focus,” he said. “Focus is the No. 1 thing. We lost our focus and once you lose your focus, that’s when turnovers happen, that’s when bad defense happens, that’s when fouling happens.”
The Warriors were outhustled by a team that, frankly, is younger and has superior athletes. The Timberwolves, with three starters 21 or younger, flashed their potential, and it is vast. They weren’t always careful but they never stopped coming, which is why they shot 36 free throws to eight for the Warriors.
And the Warriors simply couldn’t pull it together well enough to win yet another game that could have gone either way.
The combined offensive efforts of Harrison Barnes (20 points, 8-of-11 shooting), Shaun Livingston (14, 6-of-6) and Andrew Bogut (10, 5-of-7, with 15 rebounds) were not enough to offset the giveaways, the free-throw disparity and the fact that reigning MVP Stephen Curry was 7-of-25 from the field and 4-of-14 from deep.
“It was a pretty bad night all around after the first six minutes,” Kerr said.
So now the quest for 73 is in peril. The Warriors would need to win all four games. They believe they can do that, but not with such performances as that against the Timberwolves.
Is it worth it, after losing two of three at home after starting out 36-0 at Oracle, to continue the chase?
“It’s more worth it to get on the right track, to get playing well,” Green said. “If we get playing well, all that stuff will take care of itself. But we’re not playing well.”