OAKLAND -- The Golden State Warriors will take some solace in knowing they did not start the last 20 percent of their season with a ghastly home loss to the Philadelphia-Seventy-For-God’s-Sake-Sixers.
In fact, as part of their never-mind-what-you-see-just-listen-to-what-we-tell-you campaign that they have employed over the past two weeks, they postulated that Tuesday’s 106-104 victory over the Not-Nearly-As-Bad-As-They-Used-To-Bes was just the thing they needed to recalibrate themselves for the final 15 games of their Durantless season.
You can buy it if you want to, but that sound of Steve Kerr retching into the trunk of his car is unmistakable.
For three quarters they were as listless as they were aimless, defending without commitment, rebounding only intermittently, taking a laissez-faire approach to loose balls and shooting more out of hope than purpose. They trailed the Sixers by 16 points with 1:55 left in the third quarter, and they deserved every bit of the distance.
But because they are the Warriors, they can do the thing all coaches hate to see because of what it typically says about their team – they can make themselves invincible at a moment’s warning, to the point where they almost come to take its existence as an endlessly renewable resource.
Which is rich, given the fact that they had lost five of their previous seven games playing just as they had Tuesday. Yet the fact is that they still can do it, as Klay Thompson said with typical subsonic blandness.
“We’re gonna find our groove,” he said. “We’re not concerned at all. We’re gonna be all right.”
And because he doesn’t like wasting energy telling meaningless fibs, you tend to believe him when he says it. They are the Warriors. They eat souls when food is not available.
Which brings us to Draymond Green, whose pointed second quarter lecture to the other enlisted men about how hard it is to break out of a rut took on an almost singular ferocity in the fourth quarter. He scored seven points, which isn’t that noteworthy, but they came with four rebounds, three blocks and a brilliant tactical foul on Dario Saric with 2.6 seconds left and a 106-103 lead.
He was, in short, the spur (no pun intended) in the Warriors’ exposed flanks that caused them to stop, at least for the moment, their barrel-roll into Ordinary Flats.
“I just reminded the guys that we’ve been in a little bit of a rut,” he said, “and that the only way to change that is to grind yourself out, grind your way out of it . . . you don’t go into a rut and then come out and hit 20 threes. It just don’t work like that. Once we started to defend, everything else started to go our way.”
Oh, there were other hints that they weren’t that far from their A-games. Stephen Curry, in the midst of his worst shooting slump since he was playing for free, broke out a 12-point fourth quarter to mask the 4-for-17 he offered before that. Thompson was solid throughout en route to a 28-point, five-trey night, and Andre Iguodala was more intrepid offensively in his 33 minutes of play.
Still, it’s home, it’s the Sixers, and it’s a game they led for barely 10 minutes. By the rules of run of play, they should have lost discordantly, and comprehensively.
But because they are who they are, as we have covered, they typically run the run of play because they remain at their essence the most combustible team in the game, at both ends of the floor and in the tunnel on their way to and from the game. They find the pilot light and turn it into a bonfire when they need to – almost when they feel like it.
They have to feel like it a lot now, however. The final 15 games of the regular season, which should have been a turgid countdown toward winning the top seed in the West while waiting for Durant’s knee to stop misbehaving, are now a measure of what the Warriors can do with a bit of desperation in their bellies. It is hard to imagine Kerr so toeing the Popovichian party line on the meaninglessness of seeding that he would rather the Warriors open the postseason with Memphis or Oklahoma City than Denver or Portland.
Indeed, with an eye toward breaking out of their blah, he tweaked his rotations to find better minutes for Shaun Livingston, more minutes for Ian Clark, better shots for Curry, some four-time from Matt Barnes and some sign of ignitions from big men Zaza Pachulia and JaVale McGee. He will tweak more as the Warriors try to relocate their swagger, or at least pimp their grinding so it looks a little more like swagger and a little less like hotplate panic.
And in the end, he got Green’s most ornery leadership, a few late shots from Curry after three quarters of awful (4-for-17, and a near full-on case of the yips), the defense that made the Warriors the Warriors, and a lesson he can use until they regain their routine equilibrium.
If it were only that simple . . . no, wait. Apparently, the Warriors are hell-bent on proving that it can be just that.