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.
Omari just threw down on Jordan Bell 😲 pic.twitter.com/V2tVdqxrCG— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) January 3, 2020
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."
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."