If the Warriors fall in the play-in tournament, or worse, the pre-playoff diagnosis will be simple and brief and deeply concerning.
Lousy defense, starting with sleepy first quarters, on the road.
Another forgettable start on the road Tuesday night set another ghastly tone, and the failed recovery punched another hole in the Warriors’ hopes of sending a daunting end-of-season message to the rest of the NBA.
A 137-128 loss to the Thunder in Oklahoma City took them down to 0-16 this season as they trailed after one quarter on the road.
For the 25th time in 32 road games, the Warriors walked into the visitors’ locker room defeated, looking not for answers but for reasons.
“I wish I had known,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters at the Paycom Center. “If I knew, I would obviously tell the team what’s going on. But the slow starts have been really consistent. We changed the starting line-up tonight and it didn’t change anything. We still took some delay immediately.
It took just over three minutes for OKC to take a 13-2 lead, and a 9-0 run in the final minute of the first quarter gave a 40-30 lead. The Warriors came back into the game but never really slowed down the Thunder’s onslaught.
“We executed very well; we shot 53% from the field,” Klay Thompson. “Our defense wasn’t very good at all.”
And, yes, again, the defense — or lack thereof — deserves most of the blame. Golden State, whose road defense is ranked ahead of only the Spurs and Rockets, saw OKC shoot 53.2% from the field, including 45.9% from deep.
You can’t send a threatening message without posing a threat in road arenas, especially when that’s where Golden State will play most of its remaining games.
The Warriors are in their last 16 games, seven at Chase Center and nine elsewhere. As defending champions trying to bring a whistling dynasty to life, it has been a much more difficult task than they could have imagined.
“I don’t care what you’ve done in the past or what kind of talent you have, there are certain leaps in momentum that make it even more difficult,” said Stephen Curry, whose 40-point barrage was of no use. “And we haven’t proven that we can beat those with raw talent. We have to continue to hold ourselves accountable for those moments when you bring the other team to life, whether it’s a turnover or a missed boxout or a throwback in transition.
There were turnovers, 21. There were missed box-outs, a factor in the Thunder’s 44-33 rebounding advantage. And there was a bad transition defense, which this season has become a must.
All of these passives will be exposed during the video review, just as they have been exposed in previous sessions. The problem isn’t not seeing the problems, it’s not solving them consistently down the road.
The Warriors are the third best defensive team in the NBA (108.1 rating) at home, 28th best in the league (119.0) on the road. So the 27-7 record at Chase Center, the 7-25 record away from the nest.
Back-to-back road losses to teams — the Lakers on Sunday in Los Angeles — sitting below them in the Western Conference standings lifted the Warriors from fifth to sixth — the guaranteed postseason spot as low as possible.
And now they’re heading to Memphis, where Golden State on Thursday takes on the Grizzlies, who had a tenuous hold on second place but hold the league’s second-best record (26-5) at home.
“We’ve got some things to clean up if we’re going to turn things around on Thursday,” Thompson said.
“I’m still confident. That’s why we’re showing up,” Curry said. “But you would like to have something to show at some point.”
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That’s it. The Warriors discussed these issues until they were sick. They know that poor defense is the root cause. They also realize, after 66 games in the season, that they have found no solution.
They are 0-2 on the road since entering playoff mode last week. It does not scare opponents, and such performances on the road will be their downfall, whether before or during the playoffs.
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