It was a night to forget.
For the second (perhaps the first?) time all season, a full-squad Warriors team lost a game. The Detroit Pistons thoroughly outplayed the defending champions during a brilliant stretch through the second and third quarters, and held on to win Saturday night's contest 113-95.
Detroit looked like the well-coached, cohesive team rounding into championship form -- meanwhile, it was the Warriors who looked like the young team searching for their way.
Coach Luke Walton opted to start Harrison Barnes for the first time since his high ankle sprain in December, and the result was a complete disaster. He shot a miserable 1-of-10 from the field, and earned an almost impressive -28 plus-minus in just 25 minutes of action. He wasn't alone: Leandro Barbosa (0-of-5, -20 plus-minus) and Shaun Livingston (2-of-7, -14 plus-minus) also looked their worst. Strong contributors Ian Clark and Brandon Rush rarely left the bench due to the coach's decision.
As a group, the Warriors shot 36% from the field, one of the very worst performances of the Steve Kerr era. Detroit's long-armed, well coached athletes consistently shut down passing lanes, resulting in turnovers and stops. The Warriors' star players reacted by passing less, and forcing shots in isolation. As you might imagine, it did not end well.
Despite being badly outplayed for much of the first three quarters, the Warriors showed life late in the third period. Stephen Curry began to find his mark from 28-feet or so, and rained down a bushel of super-deep three point jumpers. The reigning MVP single-handledly kept Golden State's offense on life support, as the Warriors would bring the lead all the way down to six points.
Or rather, they should have brought the lead to six. The Warriors were assessed two moving screen penalties on consecutive possessions -- what's worse is that both appeared to be terrible calls, and what's even worser is that Stephen Curry railed a three pointer on each possession, only to see his bucket wiped from the record.
On a night when the Pistons played so spectacularly, it would be wrong to credit the refs for their impressive win: they absolutely deserved to beat the Warriors. However, there's no need to spare these referees accountability: they were brutal tonight, and it cost the road team more than once.
First, Stephen Curry absorbed a lot of contact on his way to the lane without a foul call -- his complaint earned him a prompt technical foul. Seconds later, Draymond Green was charged with a foul on a distant jump shooter, and his protest earned Golden State yet another technical foul. In the third quarter, Harrison Barnes was nearly tackled under the hoop while attempting a layup, with no penalty. Luke Walton, up-in-arms and at half court, was charged yet another technical foul. For conspiracy theorists, it was just more proof that NBA referees are somehow unable (or unwilling) to call fouls fairly for the defending league Champions.
At any rate, it's best the Warriors not dwell on this performance. Golden State has road games at Chicago and Cleveland looming, and their effort the past week will not be enough to beat either team. They'll need to step up their game (and their substitution patterns) if they hope to hold off the rival San Antonio Spurs.
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