After a heartbreaking loss Wednesday in Miami, Kevin Durant came out of the visitor’s locker room pointing each finger on both hands in the same direction.
Not at his teammates but at himself.
“I’ve got to be better at setting a tone ... just being aggressive downhill and creating stuff and maybe getting to the free-throw line early to slow the game down,” Durant told reporters at American Airlines Arena after yet another sluggish start by the Warriors. “I just think I need to be aggressive, and everybody feeds off that. I’ve got to be better to start the games.”
It doesn’t matter if Durant was sincere or if he was looking for words that fit the profile of a traditional team leader. He took accountability, and that matters.
It matters even more considering we’re just three days removed from Stephen Curry saying the Warriors must work their way out of their lull and that doing so would require “a full commitment from everybody.”
And we’re just four days removed from coach Steve Kerr saying, in the wake of a home loss to the Rockets, “We weren’t prepared to play, and I’m the coach, so that’s on me. I have to do a better job getting these guys ready to play.”
Now that we’ve established the Warriors all are “on the same page,” all taking responsibility, what’s left to determine is the path toward a solution.
That should not be the easiest part of all.
It’s called effort. With a team as talented as these Warriors, that usually translates to production, which begets success. That talent, along with effort and mindfulness, explains why they have gone 32-6 over the past two postseasons.
When the Warriors really want to crush an opponent, that poor team is reduced to broken hopes and splinters.
Crush mode, however, has been absent over the past couple weeks, during which the Warriors have lost three of five. They spotted the Rockets a 15-0 lead last Saturday, let the Hornets hang around Monday before subduing them in Charlotte, and let the Heat go up 10 in the first quarter and 24 eight minutes into the second.
The Warriors came back, with a vengeance, even taking a lead into the final minute. But the 126-125 loss should be pinned on the early indifference.
“We didn’t lose the game at the end,” Kerr said. “We lost it in the first half.”
They lost by fouling too much and defending way too little, and also by missing too many shots (36.4 percent from the field in the opening quarter). Aside from Klay Thompson (21 points on 9-of-12 shooting in the first half), not much was working.
Most glaring, though, was the difference in determination between the teams. Only the Heat consistently played as if the game meant something.
“We have to start games with a little bit more intensity, just a little bit more, not passion, but more energy to bust the game open early,” Durant said. "We’re easing our way into it, trying to see how teams are going to play us. But we’ve got to put our foot on the gas early.”
Nail, meet hammer. The Warriors are going through too many first halves with the pace and desire of team practicing for season-ticket holders.
“We’re better when everybody is in attack mode,” Curry said. “Sometimes we try to ... maybe overthink it a little bit early and maybe be a little bit more choreographed, if you will, in terms of play calls and sets.”
Nice breakdown, and maybe there's something to it. There have been plenty of stilted moments on offense early in recent games. They’re trying too hard to feed DeMarcus Cousins. They tried Wednesday to manufacture something and didn’t find a rhythm until the second half.
It very nearly was enough for the Warriors to win another game they deserved to lose. They’ve had a couple of those recently, including a 120-118 win over Miami 17 days ago in Oakland.
The Warriors have the solution. They’re speaking it. That doesn’t help nearly as much as doing it.