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Warriors Choke, Fall 91-90 to Memphis Grizzlies

GAME STORY FOR  TOMORROW’S PAPER

OAKLAND — Monday’s game showed exactly why coach Mark Jackson still believes the Warriors are a playoff team, as they dominated a legit contender in Memphis.

Monday’s game also showed why some think Jackson is crazy for such belief. Golden State squandered a 20-point lead in an epic collapse, losing 91-90.

“First thing that comes to mind,” forward Dorell Wright said, “is unacceptable.”

 The loss was more than just the Warriors’ third straight at home, extending the team’s losing streak to three games. It was an indictment on their proclaimed progress and a serious blow to the lofty predictions made by Jackson and the ownership.

After all, this was the latest chance to silence their critics and show their worth. Instead, Golden State– now 0-6 against the Western Conference — did everything it could to lose to Memphis, including turning it over 24 times. Guard Monta Ellis had a game-high seven turnovers to go with 20 points and five assists.

The Warriors have now lost seven games in which they led, tied or were within five points to start the fourth quarter.

“We controlled the game for 36 minutes,” point guard Stephen Curry said after totaling 18 points, six rebounds, five assists and five turnovers. “The turnovers and rebounds killed us. It was poor decisions by the guys who are supposed to be running the offense. … We had control of the game and they started to make a run and we kind of tightened up. No excuses. We needed to win that game.”

Memphis scored 39 points in the fourth quarter – 16 of those came on fast breaks, which were prompted by nine Golden State turnovers.

Smelling blood,Memphis– who won its league-high seventh straight and now own the fourth-best record in the conference – attacked the Warriors on both ends. That explains why the Grizzlies scored 20 points in the paint and 12 from the free throw line.

Meanwhile, Golden State settled for jumpers. The Warriors took just six shots in the paint over the final 12 minutes. They took eight 3-pointers, making three.

“In the fourth quarter,” Memphis guard Tony Allen said, “those long balls turn into low-percentage shots.”

Golden State appeared to be cruising to a comfortable win. A dunk by Brandon Rush, off a pretty pass from Dorell Wright, put the Warriors ahead 63-43 with 3:32 left in the third quarter. Memphis called a timeout, Oracle Arena was rocking and the Warriors were feeling good having their largest lead of the season.

The Warriors entered the fourth quarter up 68-52. That’s the lowest Golden State has held a team through 36 minutes since they held the Los Angeles Clippers to 51 points on Feb. 2, 2000.

But before you even noticed, their advantage was trimmed to 78-64 inside of seven minutes left after a thunderous dunk by Memphis forward Rudy Gay, who finished with 23 points and nine rebounds.

Before long, Golden State’s lead was down to 78-72 after guard O.J. Mayo capped an 11-0 Grizzlies run with a three-point play at the 4:52 mark.

“You think its over and you begin to freestyle and ad-lib and, all of a sudden, you give a team hope and life,”Jackson said. “When we started that fourth quarter, we could’ve knocked them out and they would’ve been ready to play their bench guys and surrender. But we didn’t when we had the chance to.” Golden State led 85-82 after Curry’s jumper was followed by a pair of free throws from Memphis point guard Mike Conley. Then a Curry turnover produced a Tony Allen layup.

Golden State’s lead was down to 85-84.

The exuberance had morphed into nervous energy as certain victory took on the scent of a demoralizing loss. The Warriors looked almost powerless to stop the determined Grizzlies, who were playing their third game in four nights.

Another Warriors turnover, this time by Rush, led to another Memphis lay-up, this time by Conley. The Warriors were actually trailing, 86-85, with 1:23 left.

Of course, this was an opportunity for the Warriors to practice at closing games. Six times this season the Warriors have lost after entering the fourth quarter tied or within five points. Now, they were down and needing to make some winning plays.

They couldn’t do it.

The Warriors took and missed three straight jumpers, and Gay responded by drilling a fade-away to put Memphis ahead 88-85 with 22.6 seconds left. Then Ellis squandered the next possession by forcing a contested 3-pointer.

“It’s disappointing because we area  team that needed a win,”Jackson said. “We have to realize you have to play every possession. … We’ve got to learn to keep our foot on the gas pedal at all times.”

* The Warriors’ second-unit – the Dub-Stitutes – once again put together an effective outing. The quintet – guards Nate Robinson and Klay Thompson, forwards Brandon Rush and Dominic McGuire, and big man Ekpe Udoh – started the second quarter together. Golden State led 21-13.

By the time they checked out, with 3:12 remaining, the lead had grown to 15 points. Thompson scored seven straight at one point. Rush knocked down another 3-pointer, his fourth straight over three games. And their defense held Memphis scoreless for a three-minute-plus stretch.

Golden State led 40-25 when the starters checked back in. The Warriors’ bench outscoredMemphis’ reserves 31-11.

Marcus Thompson