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Warriors didn't show improvement Steve Kerr desired in loss to Rockets

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USATSI

Warriors didn't show improvement Steve Kerr desired in loss to Rockets

SAN FRANCISCO -- Just before the Warriors departed for the All-Star break, coach Steve Kerr outlined in detail what he wanted to see from his team during Golden State's final 27 games of the season. 

"I want to see an awareness of the mistakes that we're making and the wherewithal to correct them," Kerr said before the break. "We've got to stop fouling jump shooters, we've got to stop turning the ball over." 

The season's final months offer the Warriors a genuine chance to improve. Armed with Steph Curry's inevitable return and the growth of their rookies, the goal seemed within reach heading into the break.

Eight days later, Kerr's urging fell on deaf ears against the Houston Rockets. The Warriors habitually fouled and threw the ball away, culminating in a 135-105 loss Thursday night.

"Yeah, they took it to us," Kerr admitted after the loss Thursday. "They were great tonight from the beginning." 

The Warriors' troubles started early Thursday. Golden State turned the ball over nine times in curious fashion during the first quarter. 

Russell Westbrook stole Draymond Green's errant pass to Marquese Chriss 90 seconds into the game, leading to a Houston 3-pointer. Rookie Jordan Poole lazily threw a pass intended for Damion Lee out of bounds fewer than two minutes later. Fellow rookie Eric Paschall dribbled the ball off his foot and out of bounds seven minutes after that with the Warriors down 24 points. 

By the end of the night, the Warriors turned the ball over 21 times. 

When the Warriors weren't physically giving the ball to the Rockets, they were providing free points to Houston. Worse, they fouled James Harden -- the Rockets' best scorer -- an inordinate amount behind the 3-point line.

One notable mishap occurred midway through the third quarter when Damion Lee stepped into Harden's landing area as he contested the All-Star's attempt. He was called for a foul, and Harden hit all three free throws to give the Rockets a 24-point lead. 

The Warriors held Harden to just one free throw in a blowout win on Christmas Day. He made 14-of-15 from the stripe Thursday. 

"The other game was more of an exception," Kerr said. "This was more of the rule. He's usually going to get to the line. You try to keep him under double figures and I think we fouled him three three-point shots. That's nine free throws right there. We were undisciplined."

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The Warriors' latest loss comes at a unique time in their season. Curry's status is expected to be updated in less than a week, allowing him a late-season return for a lottery-bound team. 

Kerr expected the Warriors to fight in the interim, but their response was lacking Thursday. 

"I thought we looked young tonight," Kerr said. "We looked inexperienced and made a lot of mistakes at both ends, but I thought Houston had a lot to do with that. They were terrific." 

Warriors' historic 2017 greatness punctuated by Game 2 Finals win vs. Cavs

Warriors' historic 2017 greatness punctuated by Game 2 Finals win vs. Cavs

Programming note: Relive Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals when NBC Sports Bay Area re-airs the Warriors' win over the Cavaliers on Saturday, March 28 at 8 p.m. PT.

Their mission began three months before they convened in Oakland for late-September training camp. Winning alone was not going to be enough, not for these Warriors, not for this season. They wanted to exact revenge for all the negative noise.

All the chatter surrounding Kevin Durant upon his July 4th decision to leave Oklahoma City to join the team that defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western ConferencefFinals five weeks earlier.

At the start of the 2017 playoffs, the Warriors turned punitive. The goal was to leave opponents face-down at midcourt, twitching from head to toe. They swept the first three rounds, psychologically dominating the Trail Blazers, Utah Jazz and Spurs before throttling them with offense and burying them with defense to stand with the greatest machines in sports history.

One series, The Finals, against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, remained between the Warriors and their second championship in three seasons -- and avenging the events of the 2016 Finals.

After Game 1, in which the Warriors rolled to a 113-91 blowout, Game 2 –- which NBC Sports Bay Area is re-airing Saturday night at 8 p.m. -- came with a subplot that lent curiosity.

Coach Steve Kerr was back.

Kerr had stepped away six weeks earlier, before Game 3 of the first round in Portland, to give his body a break from the pain and misery stalking him after two back surgeries in the summer of 2015. Lead assistant Mike Brown had stepped in as interim head coach and gone 10-0.

Kerr’s return, to a rousing ovation at Oracle Arena, was a new wrinkle for a streaking squad. Would it inspire? Would it disrupt? Well, the Warriors opened Game 2 in a slumber, trailing by five less than two minutes into the game.

“I heard when I got to the arena that he was doing his press conference,” Steph Curry said of Kerr’s return, which was announced less than two hours before tipoff.

The Warriors committed eight turnovers in the first quarter -- each starter gifted one within the first eight minutes -- but refocused and reeled off a 22-7 run, taking a 40-34 lead into the second quarter.

The Cavs, however, would not give up. Down as much as 12 early in the second quarter, they cut it to one before going into halftime trailing 67-64.

The Warriors then remembered their mission. To squash without remorse. Curry and Durant combined for 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from distance, after intermission. Durant submitted game-highs in points (33) and rebounds (13) rebounds. Curry totaled 32 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds to achieve the first postseason triple-double of his career in the Warriors' 132-113 win.

"It seemed like it's personal for both of them,” Draymond Green said of Curry and Durant. "And you’re talking about two of the greatest players that we got in this world locked in the way they are? That's why we're up 2-0."

No doubt it was. Curry surely remembered the final seconds of Game 7 of the 2016 Finals, when his snug defense on Kyrie Irving could not prevent the Cavs guard from draining the game- and title-winning shot at Oracle, forcing the Warriors to live with being the only team to blow a 3-1 lead in The Finals in NBA history.

Durant was, for his part, acutely aware that this series was, in the eye of many, about he and James. The loser would face a long summer, the winner would own bragging rights while also punching a hole through the perception of the loser.

Going up 2-0, Curry and Durant were halfway to the sweep they so fervently desired.

“It's been a great run,” Kerr said, assessing the team’s 14th consecutive postseason win. “But none of that matters unless we can finish the job with this series. "Trust me, we know. It was 2-0 last year. We lost."

They didn’t lose this time. After winning Game 3 in Cleveland three days later, the Warriors fell 137-116 in Game 4 and returned home to take Game 5 and settle for the “gentleman’s sweep.”

[RELATED: The night Klay earned his reputation as a bonafide flamethrower]

They are the only team in NBA postseason history to finish with a 16-1 record (the 2001 Lakers went 15-1). Twelve of the wins were by double digits, five by at least 20 points.

“You cannot simulate what they bring to the table, no matter how many days you have to prepare,” said James, practically reaching for a white flag to raise. “I’ve seen a lot of great teams, and they rank right up there.”

The Game 2 victory eased minds of those concerned about whether Kerr’s return would be an issue. Moreover, it was one of 16 postseason messages sent by the Warriors to the rest of the NBA and all those who had been critical of KD and the franchise.

Why Dwyane Wade thinks Steph Curry's greatest strength isn't shooting

Why Dwyane Wade thinks Steph Curry's greatest strength isn't shooting

If you ask most fans, they would say Steph Curry's greatest strength is his shooting ability.

After all, the Warriors' point guard owns the single-season NBA record for 3-pointers made. He's a few years away from owning the all-time record for most made triples.

But for future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade, Curry's greatest strength comes when he actually doesn't have the basketball in his hands.

During an Instagram Live chat, Wade and his wife Gabrielle Union-Wade were asked to comment on current NBA players. When they got to Curry, Union started.

"So everybody talks about, obviously Steph can shoot," Union said. "I mean, Steph is ... Steph Curry is one of those people, everything you imagine Steph Curry is, he actually is in real life."

Wade continued that thought and then offered his analysis of Curry.

"He is the nicest person in the world," Wade said. "But one of Steph's greatest strengths that a lot of people ... some people, but a lot of people don't because they talk about all the threes and ball-handling is Steph never stops moving off the ball. You guys see when Steph gives the ball up, that's when he's his most dangerous. And that's crazy to think, right? Because when he has the ball, he's unguardable.

"But when he does not have the ball, forget about it. He's like Rip Hamilton and Ray Allen, those guys when it comes to conditioning and shape that he's in and the way he's able to run. That's when he gets scary, when he gives the ball up."

Here's some evidence in case you need a reminder of Curry's ability to move without the basketball:

After Wade's final game against the Warriors in the Bay Area on Feb. 10, 2019, he swapped jerseys with Curry.

[RELATED: Steph, NBA facing harsh reality]

But in his last game ever against the Warriors, on Feb. 27, 2019, Wade broke Curry's heart with a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.