Nine games into the season, the young Warriors are starting to turn proclivities into patterns. One of the most damaging, and most easily corrected, habits cost them a game Friday night.
They were, for the third time this season, clobbered on the glass.
They lost all three games, the first two of them decisively. The third one, against the Minnesota Timberwolves, simply got away.
Outrebounded 59-49 by the Timberwolves, who rank 21st in the NBA in that category, the Warriors left Target Center brooding over a 125-119 overtime loss that ought to stick in their collective gut until they take the floor Saturday night in Oklahoma City.
And, honestly, should be in the back of their minds as they approach every game this season.
The Warriors were as competitive as they were – including having a four-point lead with 29 seconds remaining in regulation – mostly because D’Angelo Russell, returning after a three-game absence, was sensational on offense, scoring a career-high 52 points, including 21 of the 33 points the team scored in the fourth quarter and OT.
Russell, however, might have provided the best illustration of the Warriors’ rebounding sins.
About 25 seconds after burying a 3-pointer that pulled the Warriors into a 116-116 tie with 3:03 remaining in OT, Russell was standing flat-footed as a Karl-Anthony Towns jumper bounced off the rim. As D-Lo was standing and staring, Timberwolves guard Josh Okogie sprinted around him and tipped the ball in for the bucket.
In a game with 20 lead changes and 13 ties, the Warriors were done. The tip-in initiated a 9-3 run that kept Minnesota in front until the final horn.
“We had control of the game and we just let it slip away,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Minneapolis.
“It’s unfortunate. Our guys played really hard, played well enough to win. But give Minnesota credit. They made big plays down the stretch. They got some offensive boards that we’d like to . . . see better box-outs."
All D-Lo could do after seeing Okogie’s tip-in was grab his head with both hands. He’s veteran enough to know he was at fault. His fundamentals did not exist, and he had been outhustled.
To be fair, Russell wasn’t the only Warrior in the paint as the shot went up. Indeed, all five Warriors were in the paint, and the other four advanced toward the rim from other directions. And, still, Okogie – the only Minnesota player inside the 3-point arc – got the tip-in.
That was typical on a night when the Timberwolves snagged 20 offensive rebounds, which led directly to 35-13 thumping on second-chance points.
The first time the Warriors were beaten so soundly on the glass came on Oct. 27 at OKC, when the Thunder rode a 50-39 advantage to a 28-point win that left the Warriors embarrassed. The second time came on Nov. 1 at Chase Center, where they were outrebounded 52-39 by the Spurs. There’s your pattern.
In the other six games, the Warriors were either competitive or posted a rebounding edge. In their two wins, against the Pelicans and Trail Blazers, the Warriors combined for a plus-23 on the glass.
Their best rebounding game came right after being humiliated by the Thunder. They went to New Orleans the very next night and pulled a season-high 61, to 41 for the Pelicans.
It so happens that this also was the first of a back-to-back road set. If the Warriors attack the glass with similarly smarts and aggression, against a team that punished them two weeks ago, they can claim a measure of revenge.
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The great Pat Riley, when he was head coach of the Showtime Lakers, had a simple four-word saying that holds true 30 years later: No rebounds, no rings.
In the case of the young Warriors crawling their way through this season, the phrase needs only slight alteration.
No rebounds, no victory.