Should the Warriors tumble into the play-in tournament, or worse, the pre-playoff diagnosis will be simple and brief and profoundly ominous.
Lousy defense, beginning with drowsy first quarters, on the road.
Another forgettable start on the road Tuesday night set another dreadful tone and the failure to recover punched another hole in the Warriors’ hopes of sending a fearsome late-season message to the rest of the NBA.
A 137-128 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City dropped them to 0-16 this season when they trail after one quarter on the road.
For the 25th time in 32 road games, the Warriors trudged into the visitor’s locker room wearing defeat, searching not for answers but for reasons.
“I wish I knew,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at Paycom Center. “If I knew, I would obviously tell the team what was happening. But the slow starts have been really consistent. We changed the starting lineup tonight and it didn’t make any difference. We still fell way behind right away.”
It took a little more than three minutes for OKC to take a 13-2 lead, and a 9-0 run in the final minute of the first quarter built a 40-30 lead. The Warriors scrambled back into the game but never really slowed the Thunder’s assault.
“We executed very well; we shot 53 percent from the field,” Klay Thompson. “Our defense was not very good at all.”
And, yes, once again, defense – or lack of it – deserves most of the blame. Golden State, whose road defense is rated ahead of only the Spurs and Rockets, watched OKC shoot 53.2 percent from the field, including 45.9 percent from deep.
Can’t send a threatening message without posing a threat in road arenas, particularly when that’s where Golden State will play most of its remaining games.
The Warriors are down to their final 16 games, seven at Chase Center and nine elsewhere. As defending champs trying to breathe life into a wheezing dynasty, the task has been much more difficult than they might have imagined.
“I don’t care what you’ve done in the past or what type of talent you have, there are certain more momentum swings that make it even more difficult,” said Stephen Curry, whose 40-point barrage went for naught. “And we haven’t proven that we can overcome those with raw talent. We have to continue to stay accountable to those moments where you give the other team life, whether that’s a turnover or a missed box-out or not running back in transition.”
There were turnovers, 21. There were missed box-outs, a factor in the Thunder’s 44-33 rebounding advantage. And there was poor transition defense, which this season has become a staple.
All these liabilities will be exposed during video review, just as they have been exposed in previous sessions. The problem is not failure to see the problems but failure to consistently solve them on the road.
The Warriors are the NBA’s third-best defensive team (108.1 rating) at home, the league’s 28th-best (119.0) on the road. Thus, the 27-7 record at Chase Center, the 7-25 record away from the nest.
Back-to-back road losses to teams – the Lakers on Sunday in LA – sitting below them in the Western Conference standings dropped the Warriors from fifth place to sixth – the lowest possible guaranteed postseason berth.
And now they’re headed for Memphis, where on Thursday Golden State faces the Grizzlies, who had a tenuous grip on second place but own the league’s second-best record (26-5) at home.
“We’ve got some things to clean up if we want to turn this around on Thursday,” Thompson said.
“I’m always confident. That’s why we show up,” Curry said. “But you’d like to have something to show for it at some point.”
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That’s just it. The Warriors have discussed these problems ad nauseam. They know poor defense is the root cause. They also realize, 66 games into the season, that they have found no solution.
They are 0-2 on the road since shifting into playoff mode last week. That causes no fear among opponents, and such shoddy road performance will be their downfall, whether it’s before or during the postseason.