HOUSTON -- Throughout their dynastic run, the Warriors used occasional regular-season games as a battle against themselves.
On some nights, the team would catch itself in a lull, fall into a manageable double-digit deficit and use its superior talent to dig its way out.
Now, with much of its star-studded cast either gone or injured long-term, Golden State's latest iteration got an important lesson in Wednesday's 129-112 loss to the Rockets: The force should never wane regardless of the score.
"A big part of this league is just fighting," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the defeat. "Keeping your energy and your spirit up all the time. Whether you're having a good night or a bad night, it can't be dependent on your own success."
The origin of Golden State's lesson came as the team was finding success. Following an and-1 in the second half over Rockets guard James Harden, rookie forward Eric Paschall walked to Golden State's bench and yelled, "He's food!" before making the ensuing free throw. A Paschall dunk on his next possession put Golden State up 46-42 midway through the second quarter.
Then, Harden and the Rockets responded with a 23-8 run to close the half, outscoring the Warriors 33-23 in the second quarter. By halftime, Harden had scored 20 of his game-high 36 points. Along the way, Golden State's field-goal percentage dwindled to 37 percent in a performance that went away from the team's motion offense to one mimicking Houston's isolation style.
"I didn't like our shot selection as a team tonight," Kerr said. "I didn't think we played for each other. I thought we were driving to try to score instead of driving to try and move the ball to someone on your team who can make the next play."
"I think we got away from playing for each other. Just playing a little selfish at times," forward Omari Spellman added. "Driving for the iso instead of driving for somebody else."
Golden State's search for consistent force comes as most of its team isn't on the floor. In the last 10 days, five players have missed games due to injury, including star guards Klay Thompson and Steph Curry, who will both be re-evaluated in February. Additionally, Draymond Green didn't travel with the team on the current road trip to treat a torn ligament in his right index finger. Of the nine active players for the Warriors on Wednesday night, just seven were on guaranteed contracts.
The energy, the spirit ... everything has to be there to be a consistent player in this league. You have to recognize and understand you're going to have some tough nights, and on those tough nights you're still going to have to bring life and energy.
Even in the face of injuries, the battered Warriors have maintained a baseline energy level for relative success. On Saturday, Golden State held the Charlotte Hornets -- the league's best 3-point shooting team -- to just 17 percent from beyond the arc, and took a brief lead with just over a minute left in regulation. Two nights later, the Warriors beat the Portland Trail Blazers, limiting guard CJ McCollum to just 37 percent from the field.
Last season, with a roster featuring Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, large deficits were always met with the threat of a comeback. In 82 games, the Warriors came back from deficits of at least 10 points nine separate times. Now, the team is relegated to following its coach's final statement of the night.
"You got to keep fighting," Kerr urged. "I was disappointed in those lulls we had. We've got a young team and they've got a lot to learn."