It was only 10 days ago that Stephen Curry, simmering in his own fury, delivered a profound and pointed message to himself and his Warriors teammates.
“We have to develop a winning attitude every single night,” Curry said after a 31-point loss to a diminished Los Angeles Lakers team on March 16. “And honestly, we've got to get sick of getting blown out, because that's embarrassing. We have to have some pride about how we're playing. You can lose games – that's going to happen – but not like that.”
That message resonated for eight days. The Warriors heard it and heeded it, splitting four games but fairly consistently exhibiting a discernable level of competitive spirit.
They’ve since tuned it out. There was no sign of it in either of their last two games. Some of the sorriest defense of this slumbering season, played in a 141-119 loss to the Kings on Thursday in Sacramento, evidently wasn’t wretched enough.
So, the Warriors repeated the abomination Friday night.
In a timid performance that, were 18,000 fans inside Chase Center, would have sent boos cascading down from the nosebleed seats, the Warriors welcomed every blow in a 124-108 blasting by the revivified Atlanta Hawks.
Curry, sidelined with a bruised tailbone, was reduced to watching and wondering – before walking into the locker room to try his hand once more, speaking directly to his teammates in the aftermath of successive humiliating losses.
“When you go through tough times like this, everybody has to look themselves in the mirror,” Kevon Looney said. “Steph gave us some good words in the locker room.”
Curry’s message, according to Looney, was for everybody to check themselves, their dedication, their determination, their effort. In short, probe for the heartbeat.
“It’s been a lot of ups and downs this year,” Looney said, “so he’s done a lot more talking than in years in the past. It’s good to hear his voice because he’s a calming factor for us on the court. He hasn’t been there to give us that direction.”
The Warriors were a mess on defense Thursday night, with the Kings shooting 60.6 percent through the first three quarters, the only ones that mattered, and leading by as much as 24. It was no better on Friday, with Atlanta shooting 65 percent in the first half, the only half that mattered, and building leads as large as, yes, 24.
Like the Kings one night earlier, the Hawks were laughing their way through the fourth quarter, perhaps because they were comfortable in the belief that no one would make much of an effort to stop them.
Different team, same story.
“We're going to have to climb out of the hole and the only way you do that is by fighting,” coach Steve Kerr said. “They've got to have a little more confidence as a group. And they're going to have to fight their way out of it together. But I'm confident that that will happen.”
Of course, he’s the coach. He has to be the last man to lose faith.
But there is reason for his belief. The Warriors of late last week, after the tongue-lashing administered by Curry, were active and engaged and full of chatter on the court. They won in Houston with Curry, split two games in Memphis without him and lost – but represented – to the potent 76ers on Tuesday.
The Warriors of Thursday and Friday were indifferent on defense. Flat-footed. Watching instead of acting. Standing instead of moving. Being outhustled, outsmarted and outfought. There was an outbreak of lazy fundamentals, mental gaffes and detail lapses.
“I think that we are falling into a little hole of not competing,” rookie reserve guard Nico Mannion said.
The losing streak is up to four, tying their longest of the season. Curry is not expected to suit up when the Warriors return to the court on Monday, so it’ll be up to those who heard his words.
“We’ve got to find it within ourselves to find ourselves and win some games,” Wiggins said. “Steph being out is huge. You can’t replace Steph. No matter what you do, you can’t replace him.
“But we still have enough talent on this team to win, and at least compete.”
That’s true, even if there was almost no evidence of it the last two nights.