Settle down: Warriors have best record while still in experimental phase

Settle down: Warriors have best record while still in experimental phase

OAKLAND -- Waiting for the Warriors to achieve perfection is not easy. Not when the roster is so mesmerizing and the games are a nightly spectacle. Not when the there is a glaring mistake here, an inexplicable meltdown there.

And it’s certainly hard to remain calm when there is a glaring error there, an inexplicable meltdown here and suddenly the Twittersphere is abuzz, inciting widespread anxiety, if not sheer panic.

That’s all it took for clueless keyboard CEOs to call for the head of coach Steve Kerr after recent losses to the Cavaliers and the Grizzlies.

How about taking a breath and remembering that these Warriors were not assembled to impress throughout the regular season but to excel in the postseason? The addition of a superstar like Kevin Durant means there will be growing pains. It also means the only bar that matters can’t be cleared or even clearly visible until the NBA Finals.

Meanwhile, every game and every practice is a preparatory exercise toward that. The Warriors are using the first 50 or 60 or 70 games as their laboratory. That they are an NBA-best 33-6 means little except to hint maybe they are on schedule.

“We’re still experimenting, that’s the best thing about it,” Durant said late Tuesday night, after the win over Miami. “We’re still winning at a high rate and we’re still trying to figure ourselves out.”

Durant was referring specifically to rotation tweaks Kerr made Tuesday night in the absence of Klay Thompson but also as part of an ongoing quest to discover which groups are the strongest as a unit.

Each game brings a little something different. JaVale McGee always is the first big man off the bench, unless he’s not. Shaun Livingston and David West always enter and leave together, unless they don’t. Starters Stephen Curry and Durant always stagger their minutes in the second, third and fourth quarters. Unless, that is, Kerr decides to try something else.

What was consistent last season, that Draymond Green would share the floor with Curry 99 percent on the time, is less consistent this season. When a roster is turned over by a third, coaches and players need time to discern what works best and why.

This is never more evident than in the final minutes of a close game. That they don’t have many makes it exceedingly difficult to accelerate the process.

“You can simulate the game plan when it comes to just being confident in what sets you’re going to run, the timing and spacing,” Curry said. “You can’t simulate the adrenaline rush, the environment of the fourth quarter, down the stretch, until you get into it. Practice is the only time you get a chance to work on it. You make adjustments from game to game if you have to.

“Every basketball team in history has had to figure that out as you go along through the season and get ready for the playoffs.”

These Warriors don’t get a grace period, which sets them apart from every basketball team in history. They entered the season on a massive vessel of overheated hype as the greatest collection of talent ever assembled, All-Stars stacked atop All-Stars, hands extended for the fitting of rings.

But reality has a way of delivering reminders that the work is ongoing and can’t be cheated. There are no shortcuts. If you think there are the fourth quarter will set you straight.

“We’re figuring out what things to go to when we need to stop a run,” Green said. “What sets do we need to run in order to get a good shot? You can’t guarantee a bucket, but if you get a good shot that’s all you can ask for.

“And we’re starting to figure those things out as we continue to go, continue to play together. That’s good. Because there’s going to be times like that throughout the rest of this season and, of course, in the playoffs where a team goes on a run and we’ve got to go to something to stop that run.”

Musicians go into the studio until they are satisfied. Contractors demolish and clean out before digging and drilling and hammering until they are satisfied. The greatest chefs can’t serve a meal until they’ve had time to prepare it.

We won’t know what the Warriors will look like until the playoffs. Until then, they are unfinished and bound to make the occasional mess.

That’s OK, for as they approach the halfway point of the season at 33-6, they are not chasing the championship of the regular season. They won that “title” last April.

Warriors' promised focus yet to arrive as bad habits linger in playoffs

Warriors' promised focus yet to arrive as bad habits linger in playoffs

OAKLAND -- They shrugged off those spasms of regular-season lethargy resulting in several puzzling losses, usually at Oracle Arena, with the same message, sometimes literally, other times implicitly.

We know what’s important to win, and it’s not the regular season. We’ll be fine.

The playoffs. Yes, the playoffs. That’s what matters, they said, vowing to be better.

The playoffs arrived 12 days ago. The Warriors, however, are still in transit.

And Oracle does not provide the shift into overdrive it once did.

That much was abundantly evident Wednesday night, when the defending NBA champs took the floor at Oracle for Game 5 with a chance to oust the Los Angeles Clippers and got precisely what their half-hearted effort earned, a 129-121 loss that extends the first-round series to Game 6 on Friday in LA.

This falls squarely on the defense, which all too often was a collective yawn. The Warriors gave up 37 points in the first quarter, 34 more in the second and spent the rest of the evening trying to use offense to catch up. They did, ever so briefly, though LA never really stopped scoring, shooting 56.0 percent in the first half and 51.4 in the second.

“It’s very disappointing, and that falls on me,” Draymond Green said. “If I bring the intensity from the start, everybody else usually falls in line on that side of the ball. That’s my fault. I’ve got to do better.”

Well, actually, there was plenty of fault to go around. Aside from Kevin Durant’s sizzling 45-point night, not much else went well for the Warriors.

Asked if he put some of the responsibility on himself, Stephen Curry said, “For sure.”

Klay Thompson also pointed at himself, conceding that he was looking past the Clippers to the next series, with the Warriors learning before tipoff that the Houston Rockets will be waiting.

[RELATED: Rockets' Capela declares he wants Warriors in second round]

“Start with me. I was,” he said. “I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn’t go as planned.”

That also applies to this postseason, in which the Warriors, hard as this is to believe, have stumbled into by losing two of three to the No. 8 seed in the building that has been such an advantage in recent postseasons. In their first four postseasons under coach Steve Kerr, they were 39-6 at Oracle.

They’re now 40-8, which still is impressive, but the losses have come in back-to-back games, the first with the Warriors blowing a 31-point third-quarter lead and the second with them watching a parade of Clippers blow by them to the basket.

“I just think we let our guard down,” Kerr said. “I didn’t have them ready to fight, obviously, because we didn’t fight.”

Only once before under Kerr have the Warriors lost back-to-back playoff games at home. That was in the 2016 Finals, which ended with LeBron James orchestrating a championship parade through the streets of Cleveland.

This is different, though. Those Warriors were hungry but hampered by the suspension of Green. These Warriors seem more, well, comfortable. They most certainly are not as hungry as the Clippers, who are driven as much by desire as talent.

“Everything we did in LA, we did not do tonight,” Kerr said, referring to victories in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center. “We sort of seemed to take it for granted that we were going to be OK. But I said it before the game, that this Clippers team has been scrapping and clawing all year.”

There was a time when the Warriors scratched and clawed, when it was a part of their identity. It was visible last postseason, never more than in the Finals, when they swept the Cavaliers, with three of the four wins by double digits.

The Warriors say they still have that in them. They’re confident they’ll respond Friday. And maybe they will.

But after so many uneven performances, this one in the playoffs, nothing is certain anymore.

Warriors' identity is their defense, and it abandoned them in Game 5 loss

Warriors' identity is their defense, and it abandoned them in Game 5 loss

OAKLAND - Minutes after his team blew Game 5 to the Clippers at Oracle Arena on Wednesday night, Warriors coach Steve Kerr walked into his league-mandated press conference seething, holding back anger at another subpar defensive performance from the champs. 

"Not good," Kerr said following the 129-121 loss

Since training camp opened in September, Golden State's quest for a third straight title has been marred by inconsistency, uncertainty and a promise that a championship switch could be flipped. After two image-restoring wins in Los Angeles, the Warriors had a chance to rectify their consistency problems, but like much of the regular season, they failed to finish the job. 

In a game the Warriors needed superior energy, they came out flat, allowing the Clippers to shoot 54.1 percent from the field. Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell combined for 83 points. 

The performance was reminiscent of the sleepwalking act Golden State displayed in the second half of Game 2, when the Warriors were outscored 85-58, squandering a 31-point lead. In Game 5, they were outscored 34-22 in the second quarter, and falling behind by as many as 15 points in the second half.  

Wednesday's performance seemed curious considering the Warriors dominated the Clippers in Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles, holding Williams to 28 percent from the field over that stretch. On Sunday, they even overcame a Clippers' third-quarter burst to take control of the series. 

"Everything we did in L.A. we did not do tonight," Kerr said. "We sort of seemed to take it for granted that we were going to be OK. But I said it before the game, this Clipper team has been scrapping and clawing all year. And you knew they weren't going to go down without a fight."

Seeds of Wednesday's performance have been sprinkled throughout the season. Following a 10-1 start, they finished the month of November 7-7. After the All-Star break, they stumbled again, with curious home losses to the Boston Celtics and Phoenix Suns, who finished their season with the worst record in the league. Each curious loss was met with the promise the Warriors will turn it around, that a switch could be flipped, that they've done this before and turned out OK. 

But Wednesday again proved that the Warriors, while great, aren't invincible.

"When we get a nice lead, we just tend to relax a little bit," said Kevin Durant, who finished with 45 points, six rebounds and six assists. "I said it before, teams are looking for something just to get them back into the game. If we foul a 3-point shooter or turn the rock over or we shoot a few bad shots in a row, teams get going, they'll build some confidence." 

Prior to the game, a television tucked away inside the Warriors training room had the channel turned to Game 5 of the Rockets-Jazz first-round series with a number of players watching intently. For much of the season, the Rockets and Warriors have been destined to collide in the postseason. The Warriors know this and, while not outright admitting it, have looked ahead to the potential second-round matchup. 

"Yup, start with me, I was," Warriors guard Klay Thompson admitted. "I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn't go as planned. We're still in a great position with hopefully only 48 minutes left to close these guys out."

But before a second-round series can commence, the Warriors have to find a consistent focus that has eluded them this season. Just before Kerr walked off the podium late Wednesday night, he was asked by a reporter what the identity of his team is going into Game 6. Kerr, almost taken aback, let out the frustration he'd been holding for much of the session. 

"What's the identity of our club?" Kerr asked back. "Back-to-back champions.

[RELATED: Bad habits linger in the playoffs]

"Like, we're really good. I mean, we're hanging banners. What's our identity? We play fast. We play defense. I don't know. Maybe we should do an instructional video later and we'll send it to you."

With the Warriors now on the ropes, it's time for Kerr and his team to follow their own credo.