Warriors must bring extra energy each night to counter depleted roster

Warriors must bring extra energy each night to counter depleted roster

Hours before his team's 99-84 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Warriors coach Steve Kerr had an epiphany about his young battered unit's energy level. 

"I’m a little worried about that," he admitted. "It just feels like a sleepy day."

By the end of the night, his team followed suit, getting outscored by 15 points through the first 12 minutes, a stretch that would haunt them the rest of the evening. For the last five seasons, the Warriors -- armed with Hall of Fame-level talent -- could afford such lapses. Now, with most of its impact players displaced or injured, similar lapses won't be erased as easily.

"Every game we have to have to come out with a sense of urgency,"  Warriors guard Damion Lee admitted Thursday evening. "And a sense of fight." 

Lee's statement didn't resonate for the first 12 minutes in Minnesota. In the first quarter, the Warriors were outscored 34-19, as the Wolves shot 50 percent from the field, forcing four turnovers. Minnesota guard Shabazz Napier scored 11 of his 20 points in the period, carving through the Warriors' drowsy defense along the way. Even without team leaders Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves outscored Golden State 42-38 in the paint, holding the Warriors to 15 percent shooting from beyond the arc. 

"We just got out to a slow start," Warriors forward Glenn Robinson III said. "We've been coming out with some energy. That's on us, that's on the starting group."

In past seasons, Thursday's start wouldn't have been a cause for concern. With a roster centered around a core of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, come-from-behind victories were routine.

Last season, the Warriors had nine victories in games in which they were down by 10 or more points. Seven months ago, in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors erased an 18-point deficit over the last 16 minutes to beat to the Portland Trailblazers.

Two nights later, they beat the Blazers again in overtime after erasing a 17-point lead, clinching their fifth-straight NBA Finals appearance. 

Despite playing with just 10 players Thursday, the depleted Warriors almost evoked the spirit of playoff past, using a 17-3 run to cut Minnesota's lead to eight after a thunderous dunk from big man Omari Spellman.

Following the slow start, the Warriors outscored Minnesota 43-41 over the final 24 minutes, before Minnesota coasted to victory, evoking a similar critique. 

"We’ve got to be ready to go from the tip," Robinson said. "I thought our flow was a little bit off."

The loss comes at a peculiar time for the team. Last week, Golden State wrapped up a 4-1 homestand, including a win over the Houston Rockets. Six days later, they forced overtime in a game against the Spurs, leading Kerr to express joy in coaching the current group, a joy that seemed noticeably absent in Thursday's effort. 

"They competed harder than we did," Kerr said. "It was disappointing because we had a good stretch of basketball in the last few weeks." 

[RELATED: What we learned as Warriors open 2020 with loss to Wolves]

In a season marked by transition, wins aren't expected with the consistency as they were in years past. But as a confident Kerr said on the way out of Minnesota, the team's effort must be steadier than ever.  

"This feels like the exception rather than the rule," Kerr said. "But we have to prove that." 

How Steph Curry played in back-to-back vs. Rockets, Spurs in NBA 2K sim

How Steph Curry played in back-to-back vs. Rockets, Spurs in NBA 2K sim

Editor’s note: With the NBA season halted over coronavirus concerns, Warriors fans have unanswered questions about the team and how it’s building toward the future. To provide answers, NBC Sports Bay Area will simulate some previously scheduled Warriors games through NBA 2K, mixing video-game results with real-life insights for our coverage team.

A number of tests needed to be passed for Steph Curry to be fully integrated back into the Warriors' lineup. Among them was how Curry would play on the road during a back-to-back.

In the virtual world of NBA 2K20, he flourished under the circumstance, leading the Warriors in blowout victories over the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs.

Over the two-game stretch, Curry accumulated 71 points while shooting 60 percent from the field. During the first game of the Texas Two-Step, Curry exploded for 45 points against the Rockets, including 18 in the third quarter, helping the Warriors beat Houston 110-93. A night later, he added 26 points, as the Warriors handily beat the Spurs 108-100.

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Curry's digital outburst came during a unique time for the guard. After missing three months with a broken hand, the former MVP played his first game back from injury March 5. As Curry approached his return, Warriors coach Steve Kerr expressed caution when asked how he'd bring his star guard back into the fold, making the virtual back-to-back uncertain. However, Curry pushed back on the notion of sitting out games down the stretch.

In any case, Curry's digital availability worked out for his newest teammate Andrew Wiggins. Alongside Curry, Wiggins scored 36 points against the Spurs, including 18 points in the first quarter. Nearly two months ago, Wiggins was acquired in large part due to his perceived fit alongside Curry. In their lone real-world experience playing together, the duo combined for 62 points. If virtual play is any indication, Curry and Wiggins are adjusting well to each other's games.

[RELATED: Remembering Warriors' five most memorable playoff moments]

While the two-game stretch was promising, it might not be realistic. Entering league suspension, the Warriors were the worst team in the league, even with Curry on the active roster. While Curry's 2K play was encouraging, he'd still be playing without Klay Thompson, who was going to miss the rest of the season rehabbing a surgically repaired left knee. Additionally, Wiggins' propensity of inconsistent play could hinder a team trying to find rhythm heading into next season.

But as we've found out over the years, Curry makes any team he's on better, whether in actual or virtual reality.

Watch Warriors' Steph Curry surprise random person on Instagram Live

Watch Warriors' Steph Curry surprise random person on Instagram Live

Steph Curry is using his time while the NBA season is indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic to make this unprecedented situation a little bit easier on everyone.

Earlier this week, he held a live Q&A with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to help spread the word to thousands of people as to how to help flatten the curve of the pandemic.

Curry has also provided some laughs through his comedic commentary on other player's workouts, as well as through his own child's personal evaluation of him as a substitute teacher.

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On Saturday, Curry added to the smiles when he surprisingly joined someone's Instagram Live.

As you can see -- and hear -- it was quite the pleasant surprise.

[RELATED: Riley called Steph 'three-star' teacher in home schooling]

Curry told the hosts that he had been watching them all day. With so much additional time on his hands, he has to fill it somehow, but it's great to see that he continues to use it to brighten others' days.