The Warriors spent five seasons building an image that made the rest of the NBA more than a little salty. They won over 75 percent of their games by dazzling on offense, locking down on defense and had tons of fun in the process.
They were Team Joy, and two-time MVP Steph Curry was the ever cheeky and cheerful master of ceremonies. The Warriors kept things loose, and video review, a staple of every team, was as much comedy as instruction.
Look at them now. One season beyond the gap year that couldn’t be avoided, they’re 23-26. The last time Curry was healthy (generally) and the Warriors were so far under .500 was 2011 and Vladimir Radmanovic was in the rotation.
This season has been one long fight to escape the quicksand steadily creeping toward their collective nose, and it got much closer Friday night when the Warriors were on the blunt end of the biggest blowout in the NBA this season.
There is not a moment of joy in a 130-77 loss to the Toronto Raptors, one that featured the Warriors at their docile worst. They didn’t quite curl into the fetal position, but there were times when everything about body language suggested they were considering it.
“Humiliating," coach Steve Kerr said. "For everybody involved."
“We didn’t show our identity, we didn’t show who we were as basketball players, and we didn’t show who we are as people,” Kevon Looney said. “We’re a much better team than that.”
They surely should be, even with Draymond Green (sprained finger) and Curry (bruised tailbone) watching from the bench.
But they were not. The Warriors trailed by as much as 61, scored 51 points over the final three quarters, during which they shot 26.7 percent from the field. They were outscored 24-0 on fast-break points. The second half, when they shot 25.6 percent, gave up 15 points on turnovers and were out-rebounded 33-17 was a crime against the game.
Toronto was the opponent, but Golden State’s performance was negligent enough to welcome defeat against any team in the NBA.
“That’s our job, to come out and compete and fight,” Kerr said. “We obviously did not do that.”
Again. So many of their 49 games exhibited a lack of determination that it has become a pattern occasionally broken.
No matter how hard Curry summons his natural ebullience, even he is struggling with the real-time transformation from Super Warriors to sub-mediocre team clinging to playoff possibilities by a single finger.
Moreover, we’ve heard Curry express confidence that things will get appreciably better, while acknowledging he might be saying the same thing a few weeks later. That’s at best a concession to reality, at worst a vote of “no confidence” in the Warriors taking flight.
One night after hearing Curry, after scoring 36 points in a loss against the Miami Heat, cite the need to get “gritty,” here came Kent Bazemore with the same plea.
“One thing you have to have as a team in the NBA is grit and some cojones, my coach used to call them,” he said. “When the game is starting to get out of hand, you’ve got to man up and try to take the fight to them, regardless if the ball is falling or not.”
That’s not happening nearly enough. It’s not a lost season, not yet, but the Warriors have provided no evidence that they are consistently tenacious enough to save it. They’ll study video again on Saturday and see miscues and brain cramps that look familiar. Because they’ve happened before, maybe multiple times.
Will the video crew find humor?
“We still do that,” Kerr said. “Probably not tomorrow. There’s not a whole lot to laugh about after this game.”
No, there is not. The same, at this moment, applies to this season.