After 73 games, the progress is evident. The Warriors bring effort, show no fear, defend solidly, generally shoot well enough, use speed as a legitimate weapon and have two All-Stars who can find ways to punish opponents.
With Stephen Curry as likely to devastate opposing defenses as Draymond Green is to demolish opposing offenses, there is no blueprint specific to a Golden State victory. This bunch can find it in a variety of ways.
There is, however, a blueprint that shoves the Warriors directly toward defeat, particularly in close games, and it was on full display Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
Reckless fouls and live-ball turnovers are their toxins. Even now, in the sixth month of the season. When the Warriors go skidding down that path, they invite failure.
“Our guys really, really battled and competed,” coach Steve Kerr said after a 103-100 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in the play-in game Wednesday. “I couldn’t be prouder of this team, what they’ve become over the last couple months.
“But this is a bitter pill to swallow. This was our game, and we couldn’t get it done.”
Bitter because the Warriors led most of the game. Until they reached for the toxins. Five fouls in less than three minutes to open second half. Fifteen second-half turnovers, giving Los Angeles 20 unearned points.
This led to the collapse that cost the Warriors the No. 7 seed in the Western Conference. And it’s likely to be the issue that sends them into summer, as soon as Friday night -- improbably -- with the No. 8 seed at stake against Memphis, or after being ousted from the playoffs.
The Warriors have evolved well enough this season that beating them will, for most opponents, require their assistance.
Like the help the Lakers received and exploited.
“They got life,” Stephen Curry said.
The Warriors knocked down the defending champions but then provided a helping hand.
Oh, sure, LeBron James’ miracle shot, a desperation 34-footer with the clock running down, was the final blow and will be celebrated for the next few days. That hurt, as did Golden State’s inability to get a bucket inside the final three minutes or grab a rebound inside the final two.
But nothing hurt quite like the Warriors self-sabotage act, which is not new. It has appeared in five of their six losses since April 9.
Fourth quarter, April 17 at Boston: Tied 89-89 after three. Foul the Celtics into 10 free throws while shooting only three. Lose points-off-turnovers battle 7-0. Lose the quarter 30-25, lose the game 119-114.
Fourth quarter, April 21 at Washington: Both teams committing turnovers in bunches, but Warriors up seven after three. Send the Wizards to the line for 13 free throws, while shooting only two. Lose the quarter by 11, lose the game 118-114.
Fourth quarter, April 29 at Minnesota: Up two after three quarters. Foul the Timberwolves into 12 free throws while shooting only two. Lose the quarter by 14, lose the game 126-114.
Fourth quarter, May 4 at New Orleans: Up nine with 8:10 remaining. Foul the Pelicans into 10 free throws while shooting only one. Commit four turnovers in the final 4:13. For good measure, lose overall points-off-turnovers battle 19-7. Lose the quarter 33-24, lose the game 108-103.
And there it was again Wednesday night, in a game of profound consequence, the Warriors losing the fourth quarter points-off-turnovers battle by six and the scoreboard by five. And, in the end, the game by three.
“There’s going to be ebbs and flow, but we’re a good team right now that knows how to compete,” Curry said. “Carry that same identity into Friday and come out swinging.”
The two-time MVP and, a candidate for a third, was speaking facts. The Warriors play hard and have evolved into a very good team. So good that, at this stage, the surest way to beat them is with their help.