SAN FRANCISCO – As the Warriors stack up losses unbecoming of a defending champion, a disturbing and potentially season-spoiling tendency keeps sabotaging their effort. And there it was once again on Sunday.
They lose their identity, the one they began building in 2014 and rode all the way to their first NBA Finals victory in 40 years.
The Warriors at their best utilize player movement – with peripatetic Stephen Curry as the catalyst – and crisp passing to dazzle opposing defenses. Their ideal possession is six or seven passes and an uncontested 3-ball.
In their 120-116 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, before a puzzled and dismayed sellout crowd at Chase Center, the Warriors were true to their identity in the first half but completely abandoned it in the second.
“It's not meeting the moment in the sense of execution,” Curry said. “It's a vague term but it means not missing a switch, not communicating, missing a box out, and fouling instead of making them take a tough contested jumper.
“Offensively, getting stagnant, little ‘hero ball.’ You can kind of put that on the list a little bit and it just seems to happen at all the wrong times. We put ourselves in a position, where again, we give other team life, and they take advantage of it.”
Golden State in the first half: 18 assists, three individual turnovers. With four players recording at least three turnovers and no one attempting more than eight shots, the Warriors took a 72-60 lead into the locker room.
Golden State is the second half: 10 assists, seven individual turnovers. Donte DiVincenzo and Draymond Green accounted for nine dimes, and Curry had the other. Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Andrew Wiggins, and Jonathan Kuminga failed to record even one assist in a combined 56 minutes.
Too many possessions consisted of one or even zero passes, with individuals taking turns getting into their “bags.”
It’s a leaden, low-IQ offensive approach that coach Steve Kerr despises.
“We played a pretty good first half, all-in-all, and they took it to us at the top of the third quarter,” Kerr said. “We turned it over a couple of times. We took some bad shots and then all of a sudden it was a game.”
It was as if the Warriors decided to dump the offense that fed them so well before halftime.
The 17-point lead they built in the first half was demolished mostly because the offense sputtered (44 points) and the defense wandered off script – Brooklyn shot 58.3 percent from deep.
“We weren’t executing as well as we could have,” Kevon Looney said. “We were getting a lot of bad shots. No, I wouldn't say bad (shots), but our offensive got real stagnant.”
Make no mistake. There were some bad shots, with Splash Brothers Curry and Thompson among the guilty. Kuminga shot 5-of-7 in the second half, while his teammates were 10-of-39. Golden State scored 44 points after halftime.
“You give teams the ability to go win the game in a possession here, possession there,” Curry said. “It’s the NBA and we've been on the wrong side of it where we’ve beaten ourselves in a certain portion of the game that gives the other team life, and that's what happens.”
This brings to seven the count of games this season in which the Warriors have squandered a double-digit lead. What makes this one is particularly painful is that they were relatively healthy, and it follows the shocking win on Friday in Cleveland that sent positive vibes running through the franchise.
If this feels familiar, it’s because this is the season in which encouraging wins have had a way of dissipating under maddening losses, often against struggling or physically compromised opponents. The Warriors (23-24) have fallen no lower than four games under .500 but risen no higher than two above it.
“I can’t put it just on one thing,” Looney said. “We just have a habit of playing a good 42 minutes or a good 40 minutes and we just lose our way, lose our focus, a little bit for stretches at a time. And in a league like this, it's definitely tough to do that, to win that way.”
That much was visible on Sunday, and not for the first or sixth time. If the Warriors don’t extend their season into June for the second straight year, the reasons will not be a mystery.