Steph injury looms large as Warriors struggle to close games

Andrew Wiggins guarding Tyrese Maxey

As the Warriors stormed back from what was once a 24-point deficit against the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday, it felt like one of the euphoric comeback wins the "We Believe" Warriors used to put together.

But in the fourth quarter, the 2020-21 Warriors looked like themselves rather than their predecessors. They took their foot off the gas, failing to hit shots down the stretch and allowing the 76ers to make the run they needed to hand the Warriors a 108-98 loss

Closing out close games has been an issue for the Warriors this season. And with Steph Curry out at least another week, it's only going to be harder. 

"We're not good enough to do it," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of finishing close games in his postgame video conference. "We're 22-22 for a reason. I think we are about .500 in close games -- games that are single digits. We're not good enough execution-wise. That's what we've got to continue to work on ... I've got to get us more organized, and we've got to find better shots down the stretch."

After an awfully slow start, Golden State had the game in its palms after going on a 38-15 run between the two-minute mark in the second quarter and midway point in the third to take the lead. In all, the Warriors scored 40 points in the third. It was a level of resilience the Warriors hadn't quite displayed yet this season. 


Kelly Oubre Jr. got going and scored 22 of his 24 in the second and third quarters, while Jordan Poole scored 17 of his 19 points during that same stretch.

But then, as Kerr alluded to, the Warriors' shots stopped falling. They scored just 11 points in the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter and just two in the remaining two minutes. Meanwhile, Philadelphia scored 28 points in the period, 11 of which were scored off Golden State's turnovers.

"It's understanding time and score, when we need a stop, guys rallying together and continuing to give each other that confidence," Damion Lee said. "At the end of the day, basketball is a game of runs and the good thing is we went on that run in the third quarter and the score was tied. Then in that fourth quarter, they really imposed their will on the defensive end and that allowed them to score."

Both Lee and Kerr said the Warriors' execution down the stretch that has hindered them during close games. If that's the case, it makes addressing and changing it that much harder because it's not something that will be fixed solely by Kerr drawing up plays or running certain drills in practice. 

There's a mental component, too. And if they haven't adjusted the mental side of their game by this point, when will they?

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The other aspect of finding success in close games is having a dependable closing lineup, which the Warriors have struggled to put together. Frankly, they really haven't been able to put together any kind of consistent rotation throughout the game because of injuries and players being put in the NBA's coronavirus health and safety protocols.

"We've had a lot of different rotations, we haven't had much practice, and I think it shows," Kerr said. "We need to take advantage of the practice times that we do have and learn to execute and I think these last 28 games we've got to find combinations that we're really comfortable with."

But with Curry missing the next three games, at least, finding that comfort will be postponed. And in the meantime, while the Warriors sit in ninth place in the Western Conference with a .500 record, they will have to figure out how to get on without their superstar.

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