Steph Curry and Draymond Green, with occasional help from several others, spent a full five months pushing and pulling and dragging the rest of the Warriors to the doorstep of the playoffs, only to stumble Friday night and fall off the porch.
Curry and Green were weary, lacking the necessary zest to avoid the numerous mortal moments that undid them in both play-in games.
Curry couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge it, but coach Steve Kerr mentioned it.
“Fatigue was a factor tonight,” he said following Golden State's season-ending 117-112 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies at Chase Center.
“Sometimes fatigue makes you play a little bit beyond what you should be doing, and so the turnovers, some wild possessions in the middle of the game, I thought that's what really hurt us because we had plenty of time to get back in it, as we showed.”
Leave it to Draymond, as refreshingly explicit as he is consistently blunt, to shout the obvious into a megaphone.
“The mental fatigue added up as well as the physical fatigue,” he said. “Did it play a role down the stretch? I’m never one to make excuses, but absolutely. I know I was f--king exhausted this whole game. But you just try to gut through it.”
There was not enough fortitude to get the Warriors through the young and irrepressible Memphis Grizzlies, who sent them toward summer with a stirring overtime loss in the play-in tournament finale at Chase Center.
The Warriors, who trailed most of the evening, committed 21 turnovers, giving the Grizzlies 22 points. This came two nights after Golden State pinned the Los Angeles Lakers against a wall and then let them come off by giving them 29 points of 20 giveaways in play-in game No. 1.
Giving two teams on a similar competitive level 51 points over the two most consequential games of the season is outright self-sabotage -- or, more likely, a desperate search for vitality that simply was not there.
The Warriors, after all, rode a minuscule roster -- by height and depth -- to a marvelous 15-5 regular-season finish. That eight-man roster, all forwards and guards, went and went and went until their collective reservoir was empty.
Particularly those of vets Curry and Green, who committed most the miscues that undid Golden State’s playoff hopes. They combined for 12 turnovers against the Lakers and 13 against the Grizzlies, with the latter game requiring a season-high 47 minutes from Curry and a season-high 45 from Green.
“I never talk about fatigue as a player,” Curry said, calmly ignoring the fact that endurance has its limits even among well-conditioned athletes.
He did not deny the damage caused by the turnovers.
“There were some pivotal turnovers that bit us a little bit,” Curry said. “But the intentions were right and we were trying to make the right play and sometimes it doesn't go your way. [Turnovers] are something to nitpick for sure. It's a part of the game, that you have to have solid possessions and get solid shots.
“But I loved our aggressiveness and intentions, and a couple of those plays go our way, we connect on some of those passes or whatever the case is, shore up some of those handles, we keep a little momentum or gain some momentum but it didn't go our way.”
That applies, from the start, to much of the season. Five-time All-Star Klay Thompson ruptures an Achilles tendon two weeks before training camp opens. The front office springs into action, trading for Kelly Oubre Jr., the available player whose skills come closest to approximating those of Thompson.
Along comes training camp. Neither Green nor rookie center James Wiseman is available. Wiseman gets healthy, misses more time, gets healthy again and sustains a season-ending injury April 10. Oubre misses the final three weeks and both play-in games.
All along, Kerr is patching together starting lineups and shuffling rotations, all of which leads the Warriors about as far as they could go. Close enough to sniff the playoffs, but not good enough to taste them.
My goodness did they demonstrate valor along the way.
They went about as far as reasonable with a 6-foot-9 starting “center,” Kevon Looney, who is at his best playing 15 to 18 minutes per game.
With Kent Bazemore, a free agent who signed for the veteran minimum, starting alongside Curry.
With Jordan Poole, who spent February in the G League.
With Juan Toscano-Anderson, who opened the season on a two-way contract before playing his way into a standard one.
With Mychal Mulder, who entered the season with seven NBA games on his résumé.
“We fought as hard as we could," Bazemore said. “We're human at the end of the day. A lot of tonight was just ... I think guys are just worn out. We called a play; we ran a totally different play. I think we called 'horns down' but we ran 'horns out,' every guy on the court.
“So, you know, that's just a play that kind of sticks out to me just kind of where we were, you know, mentally.”
Missing the playoffs is going to sting. Has to when you come so close, losing two games, when a win in either would have been sufficient, by a combined eight points.
But stings don’t hurt as deeply or as long when mind and body have nothing left to give.