The mantra this season was aptly captured in @ZacharyBenau’s hashtag #WeBelong. The Warriors have spent the better part of this year proclaiming their culture is changed and they deserve mention among the league’s good teams. In many ways, they’ve proven that to be true.
But Sunday showed they perhaps aren’t as far along as they thought. They had a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win. At home. Against a bad road team. On a day of rest.
And they couldn’t do it. The 97-90 loss to Utah merely postponed what seems inevitable. (The Warriors will make the playoffs). But it underscores a growing concern as Golden State prepares for the postseason: they may not be ready for playoff basketball.
STEPHEN CURRY: “I think if you look at it, they played a little harder. And that’s not when we’re going to be successful—when a team plays harder than us.”
When Utah really needed a basket, it got one. Whether it was Mo Williams creating shots. Al Jefferson going to work inside. Or the Jazz executing their offense and using crisp ball movement to create open shots for each other.
The same couldn’t be said for the Warriors, who managed just 42 points in the second half against one of the worst road teams in the NBA.
Multiple scoring droughts prevented the Warriors from gaining any serious momentum. They went five-and-a-half minutes in the second quarter without a field goal, totaling 3 points from the line.
In the third quarter, after cutting the lead to 65-64, Golden State squandered a chance to take control of the game by failing to score on six straight possessions, allowing an 8-0 Utah run to re-take control of the game.
A night of scoring droughts was capped by the Warriors scoring just two points over the last 2:34.
The Warriors managed just two points over five-plus minute stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter. Then capped the night by getting one bucket in the final 2:34.
With 14.3 seconds left, Mo Williams drilled a dagger 3, giving him a game-high 25 points and postponing the Warriors’ celebration.
DAVID LEE: “I’ve been waiting eight years for a night like tonight, to have a chance to clinch and make the playoffs. It’s going to happen another night. We’re going to keep our heads up. But it was disappointing to lose this one.”
More on Sunday’s loss …
WRITER’S RANT: Curry took five shots in the fourth quarter of a game the Warriors really wanted to get. Five shots … after making 6 of his first 8.
Of those five shots, two came in the final seconds, heaves just because after the game was decided. So, really, he took 3 shots in the first 11 minutes, 52 seconds of the fourth quarter.
The first one came at the 10:40 mark. The next one came at 3:28. The next at 1:51.
MARK JACKSON: “We went away from him a little bit. Klay (Thompson) and David (Lee) got it going. Give credit to their defense, they put bigger bodies on him. At the end of the day, he cooled down a little bit and their defense stepped up. They made the adjustment and they started trapping trying to get the ball out of his hands.”
That’s on Curry.
Yes, I know why it happened. I’ve been talking about it all year. Jackson moved Curry off the ball most of the second half and practically all of the second quarter (which opposing coaches have got to love). It’s been the pattern all year, and not the chicken’s come home to roost.
When Curry is off the ball, it is harder for him to get a shot. He has to do more work and it’s easier for teams to deny him since the Warriors’ plan for getting him the ball is simple and widely known.
Often, if the first option isn’t there, Jarrett Jack goes to open No. 2. If that’s not there, he’s shooting. Or Curry will get it and after all that work he all but has to shoot it.
Some games, he does well. He makes shots and it looks great. But it hasn’t been consistently successful and it proves even tougher against good defenses.
It’s on Curry because he’s probably the only one who can do something about it. He’s such a nice guy that he is going to do what his coach says and he’s going to bust his butt doing it. But what the Warriors really need is for him to be a little Russell Westbrook about it. He either needs to tell Mark Jackson to give him the ball or just go get it despite what the coach says.
Sounds disrespectful. But I’ve had plenty conversations with Mark Jackson the last two seasons, on and off the record. He’s the type of guy that if Curry came to him and said “gimmie the ball,” he’ll respect the boldness enough to do it.
Jackson loves Jack. And for good reason. But Jackson leans on Jack too much at point at the expense of his best offensive player. The security they get from Jack is not worth the potency they lose by taking the ball out of their best playmakers hands. Curry’s got to read the room, be the leader and make the call his coach won’t. That’s what best-players-on-the-team do. He can’t continue to allow his game to be neutered by becoming simply a catch-and-shoot player.
I know Curry turns it over. I know he gets blitzed by athletic bigs and he has a hard time turning the corner. But you win and lose on his abilities and his flaws. It’s OK if he fails. He learns what he needs to learn, goes back to the lab and come back better. It’s all part of developing in the NBA.
But this is the time of year, and in the playoffs, you ride your horse. Especially in the fourth quarter. Because the Warriors have messed around all season with this combo guard stuff, they don’t really know how best to exploit their horse. They should have been developing options and counters and improving his weaknesses, etc., so that by this point they have a working model for where they will get offense from in critical moments.
They don’t have that. Actually, they do. It’s hit jumpers or get out in transition. But that doesn’t work consistently in the playoffs.
Curry has to see the big picture and go take the ball. Or tell his coach that he can’t play the background in games like Sunday night’s. Clearly, it’s not going to happen otherwise.
MVP: Klay Thompson
I was pretty impressed with his resiliency. Nobody played great, but he was out here grinding. He went inside more than I can remember. He played good defense, even cooled off Mo Williams for a stretch. He made his mistakes, to be sure, and missed a few clutch shots. But he hurt the Jazz and Randy Foye or Gordon Hayward didn’t hurt the Warriors.
He dominated his position. He made Anthony Davis look more like a struggling
MDP: Andrew Bogut
Remember before the All-Star break, when Golden State got smashed against Houston and Bogut said the Warriors need to play better straight up defense and stop relying on help? He went out the next game and got torched by Al Jefferson at Utah. Yeah, he didn’t make out too well on that one. Same goes for Sunday. He again didn’t look like the game-changer the Warriors need. He’s supposed to be the one game for the physical gritty play. But apparently Jefferson has his number. Bogut finished with 2 points, 6 rebounds and 3 turnovers in 23 minutes. Jefferson finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists. And in the final minutes, Jackson sat Bogut, his best defensive presence, in favor of rookie forward Draymond Green. Not a good night for Bogut.
KEY MOMENT I: The Warriors led 41-35 after a 3-pointer by Klay Thompson at the 6:51 mark. They didn’t convert another basket until a Carl Landry tip-in with 42.1 seconds left in the half.
During that five-plus minute span, Golden State missed six shots and turned it over on three times. Curry missed back-to-back jumpers. Lee split a pair of free throws then, after Jack missed a jumper, Lee made two 3-pointers. Curry followed with another missed jumper. The Warriors then squandered the next three possessions with turnovers (Bogut, Curry and Lee). Jack followed with a missed jumper and Randy Foye capped an 18-3 Utah run over the stretch by drilling an open 3-pointer. The Warriors trailed 53-44.
TELLING STAT:The Warriors are 3-7 in their last 10 games against winning teams. In those games, they’re averaging 95.7 points per game — about five points below their season average. Good teams usually play good defense, especially late in games. During those 10 games, the Warriors averaged 22.4 fourth-quarter points.
YEAH, WHAT HE SAID: “We’ve definitely got to know that any opportunities to clinch, you can’t take them for granted. We’ve got to seize the moment, so to speak. We have another opportunity Tuesday. This can’t go unnoticed. This can’t go on anymore.” — Warriors center Jarrett Jack
KEY MOMENT II: Golden State had the lead down to four early in the fourth quarter. Lee converted a three-point play and Thompson, going left, forced himself to the rim for a layup, cutting the Warriors’ deficit to 80-76 inside of 10 minutes left.
But another drought helped Utah replenish its lead. The Warriors managed just two points over the next 2:52 — thanks to Lee’s missed layup, successive turnovers by Curry and Lee, and a missed runner by Thompson.
After a finger roll by Lee, the Warriors trailed by six. But Williams checked back in and immediately hit a runner. Then, after Lee missed a turnaround hook, Williams nailed another jumper. Just like that, the Warriors were back down 10. An opportunity to take control of the game was thwarted by bad offense. The Warriors managed just two points in just under five minutes.
COACHES CORNER: Very surprised that Mark Jackson didn’t have the Warriors’ playing like wild beasts. He’s an excellent motivator and you’d expect his team would’ve played like they had something on the line. Certainly, the nerves of a clinch game played a factor. The Warriors usually respond well, so Minnesota could be in trouble on Tuesday.
But the bigger issue, save for the aforementioned, are the rotational quandaries. Jackson’s rotation has been trimmed down to seven deep. That’s probably smart. Problem with that is if two of those guys aren’t playing well, he ends up leaning on the key guys heavier. His addiction to the small lineup — better the notion of playing his five best guys — leaves him with so many match-up problems that he’s stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Barnes played just 23 minutes and Bogut played just 30 seconds more. But neither did much to warrant more minutes. They had nine rebounds between them and were 1 of 6 from the field. Does Jackson play them and hope they get it together? Does he play with his five best guys — Curry, Thompson, Jack, Landry and Lee — and deal with the consequences? How much run does he give Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green (who combined for 8:55 of action)?
It’s a tough call, no doubt. But it seems in games like these he spends too much time waiting for his key guys to get it together. Jackson knows he’s not coaching the Miami Heat. Says it all the time. Which means he’s got to know the importance of the buttons he pushes. Come playoff time, it only takes on more meaning, and he has his fair share of games where he doesn’t push the right buttons. He doesn’t have it like Popovich who can just stick to his rotation and he will come out on top most nights. Jackson has to manage the game. As it is, he’s getting outmanaged as most games the Warriors are trying to adjust to matchup problems presented by the other team.
With Mo Williams hot, where is Kent Bazemore to try to cool him off? Why does Festus Ezeli get just 5:35 against a big, physical team like Utah? Why not at least see what Richard Jefferson and Andris Biedrins can do?
Another point of concern: the Jazz outscored the Warriors 32-21 in the second quarter. The Warriors routinely give up big quarters. It doesn’t hurt them as much against the lesser teams, as they seem to be able to come back. But the better teams in this league can rip off a run against the best of them. Jackson has to be better at making the adjustments to stop runs.
The best way to stop a run is a timely basket. The reason the Warriors give up elongated runs because they don’t have an efficient ways to get that timely baskets. It looked like something was brewing with Bogut at center. But most times, it’s a jumper from Curry or Thompson, a Jack pull-up or a David Lee lefty hook (which opposing defenders already know is coming). Jackson’s going to have to dig deeper into his repertoire.
SERIOUSLY?!: Carl Landry played just 18:46. That was the seventh most of any Warrior. Check out this production: 10 points on 4 of 5 shooting with 7 rebounds, 2 assists and a steal.
Landry had his problems with Jefferson and Jazz forward Derrick Favors. But at least he was giving them problems. And the real issue is that Landry should have gotten more of David Lee’s 45 minutes instead of only playing along side Lee. Landry wouldn’t have to bang with Favors if he was in there with Bogut or Ezeli (Festus was a team-best +7, by the way, in his 5:35 of action).
KEY MOMENT III: The Warriors trailed 91-80 with 4:20 left in the game. Thompson knocked down a step-back 3-pointer and Oracle started to get into. After a defensive stop and a step-back 3-pointer by Curry, Oracle was rocking. The Warriors’ deficit was down to 91-86 with 3:28 left.
The Warriors scratched out two more stops and a putback by Draymond Green had them within 3, 91-88, with 2:35 left. Finally, Golden State was about to take this game over and put away the Jazz. Right?
Wrong. Jefferson, after spending several seconds trying to figure out what to do with the ball, decided to drill a 20-footer.
Curry followed by missing a 3-pointer. He then came up with a steal but turned it back over on the ensuing fastbreak. Fortunately for Golden State, Foye stepped out of bounds, giving the Warriors the ball back. And Lee took the inbounds pass in for a driving layup. The deficit was back to 3 with 1:21 left.
The next defensive possession, Golden State thwarted two attempts at the basket by Utah and had the ball with 55 seconds left. Out of a timeout, they wound up settling for a Green runner that was blocked by Favors. He got his own rebound and kicked it out to Jack, who decided against calling a timeout or looking for a good shot and chose to host a fade-away 3-pointer. Missed.
With 14.9 left, Mo Williams nailed the dagger 3-pointer.
BEFORE YOU GO: Golden State’s magic number to clinch a playoff spot is 2. That means they can seal a playoff berth by winning two more games. They can clinch Tuesday with a win against visiting Minnesota if the Lakers lose at home to New Orleans or No. 8 Utah loses at home to Oklahoma City the same night.
The Warriors’ other less-secure race got more interesting with Sunday’s loss. Golden State now sits a game ahead of Houston for the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. But Houston has a favorable schedule down the stretch with two games against Phoenix, owners of the worst record in the West, and one against Sacramento, another cellar dweller.
Since the Rockets won the season series, the Warriors would finish with the No. 7 seed if they finished tied. That means Golden State probably needs to win three of its last five games — vs. Minnesota, vs. Oklahoma City, at Lakers, vs. San Antonio, at Portland — to finish with the coveted No. 6 seed. You see three wins?