On a damp Thursday in Memphis, the truth confronted the Warriors and swept them into cold, hard reality. Their latest efforts to summon championship-quality basketball were, once again, in vain.
All their assets and liabilities were on display in a 131-110 loss to the Grizzlies at FedEx Forum. There were at various times dawdling and desperate hustle, with near equal amounts of quit and grit. The defense alternated between nonexistent and commendable, and the same applied to the offensive execution.
“They just played much better, and we played much worse,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Memphis. “It’s as simple as that.”
This is factual, and could be said of losses to the Thunder on Tuesday in Oklahoma City and to the Lakers last Sunday in Los Angeles. The Lakers were without LeBron James and D’Angelo Russell. The Thunder is the youngest team in the league. The Grizzlies were without Ja Morant.
The Warriors, coming off a five-game win streak and getting Stephen Curry back in the lineup, couldn’t take advantage. The 0-3 road trip, with so much at stake, was a vivid illustration of a proud team’s desire to impose its will exceeding its ability to accomplish it.
And it didn’t take long to be reminded of that. Facing the prospect of another winless road trip, the Warriors came out with the best intentions – only to give up a wide-open dunk on the first Memphis possession and 48 points in the first quarter.
“We started the game off soft defensively,” Draymond Green said. “If you let a team get into a rhythm, it’s tough to break it, especially at home.”
This was only the third time in franchise history that Golden State allowed 48 points in the opening quarter, the last time coming in 1983, when the Denver Nuggets hung 48.
The defensive miscues were so broad and blatant that TNT analyst Jamal Crawford spent a portion of halftime on them.
“That shouldn’t happen when you’re a championship-level team – especially a team that’s been there,” Crawford said. “They know how important defense is.”
The Warriors absolutely know how important defense is, but this is a season in which the knowledge has meant nothing on the road, where the defending champs have lost eight in a row and have a 7-26 record.
“There were plays right away where we didn’t get into the ball,” Kerr said. “We were really soft on the ball and not being the aggressor. We had a couple miscommunications that led to wide-open layups.
“It’s disappointing that we weren’t connected, and that’s been the story on the road all year.”
Yet the greatest indictment of Golden State’s performance are the numerous instances in which the Grizzlies, who began the contest five games ahead in the standings, brought more hustle and better execution.
There was Klay Thompson jogging after a loose ball and Dillon Brooks racing ahead to grab and turn it into a layup. Ty Jerome getting lost in traffic and giving Brooks an easy midrange jumper. Jordan Poole guarding no one in particular, handing Luke Kennard a wide-open 3-ball. Botching a 3-on-2 fast-break that would have trimmed the deficit to six in the third quarter. Curry inbounding a pass to Klay, whose back is turned.
“We just weren’t locked in,” Jerome said. “Even some of the 3s they missed . . . the fourth quarter, they’re taking a side out of bounds, and we give up a wide-open corner 3.
“We just weren’t really locked in for 48 minutes. Too many open shots. Too many miscommunications. Throwing the ball all over the place. We just weren’t locked in for 48 minutes.”
They were at times fully locked in, chopping a 20-point deficit to six in the first five minutes of the second quarter and trimming it to four a couple minutes later – only to have the Grizzlies close with a 20-6 burst.
When the Warriors got within six after three quarters, Memphis pushed the margin to 15 four minutes into the fourth.
“We fought back a couple times,” Green said. “When you fight back, you’ve got to keep it going. You can’t allow a team to make another run.”
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The Warriors left Chase Center last Saturday with a five-win streak and the belief they had shifted into playoff mode for the stretch run. This road trip, then, would be the one in which they would not be denied. They were ready to show the league and themselves that it was time to be taken seriously.
Instead, they were caught in the grip of reality.
They are caught in the grip of reality.
Finding their best selves over the final month of the season, particularly on the road, would seem to require something miraculous, as this might be the best they can do.