- The Warriors lost their second game in a week, second in three games.
- The Pistons defense stifled the Warriors (despite Curry's 38)
- "Warriors suffer most disturbing loss of Steve Kerr era."
And while the first two have some analytical merit, it was the sentiment offered in Monte Poole's story at CSN headlined by the third point that is lingering with me as the Warriors look ahead to facing the Cleveland Cavaliers tomorrow night.
They instead tumbled into the most disturbing defeat since Steve Kerr took over as coach...With Harrison Barnes back in the starting lineup, the Warriors rolled out their opening-night starting five. All the key players were healthy and eager. And aside from a brief spurt late in the first quarter, they looked like they’d rather be on a couch somewhere watching the NFL playoffs...It was, in short, a wretched mess.
If calling that "wretched mess" the most disturbing defeat" of the Kerr era seems extreme, please direct attention the portion that I put in bold there: this was the first time in a long time that the Warriors' rotation has been at full health. It wasn't just the starters, but everyone down to James Michael McAdoo, who averages the least minutes per game of anyone on the roster (5.9).
It's not just that they lost this game — it's that the outcome with most everyone available to interim coach Luke Walton has to shake our faith that this team could actually get better than they were when they remained undefeated for 20+ games.
Perhaps not everyone subscribed to that belief anyway, but consider that they managed to win games — and some by healthy margins — without some combination of Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson out not to mention that prior to Draymond Green sitting out against the Denver Nuggets he and Andre Iguodala were the only players who had played all 41 games this season.
There was plenty reason to believe that the Warriors had another gear left in them that we hadn't seen — and couldn't possibly see — because they hadn't been at full health. Last night's game shook whatever faith their was in that possibility, "disturbing" being the perfect word to describe the disruption of a previously held belief moreso than any indication of panic.
Last night's loss stands apart from the other three because there was no obvious excuse for a poor performance. And it really does stand out as unique in the context of Kerr's entire tenure, as described by Poole in another article after last night's game.
The 18-point margin represents the worst loss the defending champs have taken over the past year and a half when all their key players were healthy and active.
Of course, this should be expected in the course of an 82-game season — nights like last night are the reason why 70 wins has been such a difficult threshold to cross. But it was troubling that they couldn't seem to rally themselves out of whatever funk had overcome them as we've seen so many times this season; even more troubling is that we've seen signs of these kind of letdowns for a string of games now that has been masked by the blinding glow of winning at an historic pace. Most troubling is that the Warriors themselves don't seem to have answers to snapping out of this funk readily available.
So why is this so scary for a team that is off to a remarkable 37-4 start at the midpoint of the season? Because they have yet to play the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder and the Cavs are up next. With the Spurs just two games behind — which is almost equally incredible — they actually need to keep winning just to hold on to the top seed in the Western Conference, which could be huge if the two teams meet in the Western Conference Finals.
The fatigue of winning
Diamond Leung of the Bay Area News Group reported that Klay Thompson thinks the team might just need a loss like this to wake them up.
"We've just mentally got to get our edge back, especially with the team behind us right now," Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. "We've got this crazy record, but they're a couple games behind us. We've got to play with something to lose again.
"Maybe we need this. Maybe we need a loss like this to wake us up that everyone's coming for us every night."...Bogut said he has seen slippage in the team's play during the past couple of weeks, even during wins.
"Right now, most teams playing against us are getting whatever they want," he said.
Ethan Strauss of ESPN noted observations of the Warriors coming apart at the seams during the game.
Detroit repeatedly deflected passes and smothered whatever glints of inspiration the Warriors occasionally came across. The Warriors noticeably squabbled with each other, as teams do when they're down big and can't get stops.
Overall, Golden State looked a new level of frustrated. Curry got a technical foul after Detroit backup center Baynes landed on him to nary a whistle. Green got a technical foul, then later flirted with an ejection when he shoved Andre Drummond after a free throw. Walton got a tech for his reaction to a non-call on a block of Harrison Barnes.
And I thought Adam Laurdisen of the San Jose Mercury News' Fastbreak Blog might have most accurately summarized how those problems showed up on defense.
To my eyes, the breakdown in the middle of the Warriors’ defense is coming from perimeter players being a step slow closing off penetration compounded by interior players being a step slow coming up to meet it. The collective sluggishness on defense leaves opponents with more time to pull up for open looks or exploit full lanes to the basket. The crispness and fluidity that characterized the Warriors’ defense early in the season is gone — and has been missing for a few weeks now. They’re still capable of bursts of intensity, but they’re less sustained than we saw to start the year.
People took note of this somewhat stunning fatigue-at-full-health issue on Twitter as well.
The Warriors are just tired. It’s a tough stretch, been firing at a high level for a long time. It’s tiring.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 17, 2016
I’m not really talking about back to back tired. The Warriors are more generally tired. They were cranky in Denver https://t.co/T0HL3lH32i— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 17, 2016
Saw a lot of "The Warriors were tired" last night. Maybe so... but the Pistons worked 'em, so, tired or not, a (great) win is a win.— PistonPowered (@PistonPowered) January 17, 2016
I don't think the fatigue issue takes anything away from the Pistons' win at all, but it has to be acknowledged if only because it flew in the face of what most of us were probably expecting from a healthy rotation.
Harrison Barnes started, Brandon Rush barely played
Harrison Barnes made his first start in 2016 and...well...it didn't go all that well.
Barnes gets beasted by Morris, attacks the rim on the other end, runs into a wall. The first Barnes start since November isn't going well.— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) January 17, 2016
Not sure how HBarnes' plus/minus is even mathematically possible pic.twitter.com/tTvXb84cJ8— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) January 17, 2016
Multiple people noted this briefly in recaps and it makes sense it didn't get more than a couple of paragraphs total of attention given everything else going on. But it stands out because Brandon Rush had been playing so well, as nicely articulated by Matt Moore of CBS Sports, who also described what makes this team so likeable.
Up and down the roster, Golden State, as the odds-on favorite to win a second straight NBA title, is filled with guys who have battled through adversity to get where they are, and Rush is just another example. But this is about more than being happy for a guy who has resurrected his career. Rush is a real weapon. He's long and athletic and versatile. He's another like-sized wing who fits perfectly inside the Warriors' ever-switching defensive system. And as mentioned, he's become a dead-eye shooter from distance -- as if Golden State needs another one of those.
But anyway, it was odd that Rush got just nine minutes on a night when every single other wing on the roster except for Klay Thompson could not seem to make a basket and Barnes, in particular, was known to still be recovering from injury.
Is Caldwell-Pope becoming a "Curry stopper"?
Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy dismissed talk of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope becoming something of a Curry stopper, according to Rusty Simmons of the S.F. Chroicle in an article prior to last night's game. Yet that didn't stop from people from zeroing in on KCP's defensive contributions, as summarized well by Rod Beard of the Detroit News.
That helped to spark the offense and get things going for Caldwell-Pope, who torched Curry for 20 points, triggering the Warriors to switch Thompson, their best defender, on him. Making Curry work on both ends of the court worked, as it may have sapped some energy from him offensively. Van Gundy said they had a specific strategy to try to slow Curry down just by staying with him. Curry was left open on a couple of occasions, but in general, Van Gundy was happy with the defense they played on him, despite the big scoring night.
The thing is that, well, Curry had 38 points. And before you wonder how many times KCP was guarding him, he was the first defender on pretty much every shot Curry made. But the key was Warriors screens: 9 of Curry's 13 made field goals came after screens, usually pick and roll situations in which KCP just got stopped in his tracks. Even more interesting: KCP's lack of fight and the fact that Pistons bigs rarely showed as Curry had ample time to choose the shot or drive made it seem like that was by design. The upside of that strategy? They were in great position to shut down all other types of scoring opportunities that Curry could set up for others. The result: an increased focus on playing the passing lanes, as described particularly well in the breakdown at SB Nation's Detroit Bad Boys.
Active hands led to deflected passes, second and even third efforts on defensive rotations led to contested shots and calculated gambles forced turnovers. Considering the variables, this was the best defensive outing of the season...He set the tone early in the game by jumping passing lanes and making the Warriors work on both ends of the floor. Detroit fans know full well of his non-stop energy and after the Golden State game, he might finally start to catch on as bonafide two-way player league wide.
The Warriors-Cavs-Spurs midseason "round robin"
- This week marked the beginning of a Warriors-Cavs-Spurs round robin in which the three teams will play each other in two-week span. The Cavs already kicked things off by playing the Spurs and the Warriors will face the other two competitors on consecutive Mondays. As Jesus Gomez of SB Nation notes, that means we'll find out even more about the league's top three teams shortly.
- Jason Lloyd of the Beacon Journal writes, "For all the problems the Warriors pose opponents — and there are plenty — the Spurs are perhaps an inch or two more terrifying."
Dave McMenamin of ESPN notes that Kyrie Irving is getting better as his knee heals.
Chris Parker of the Jerusalem Post reports that LeBron James was bothered by the Cavs' lack of detail during their Christmas Day loss to the Warriors and had a team meeting that seems to have fixed the problem.
- Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com noted that the Cavs have now won nine of their last 10 games.
Obviously there are other links out there that you might think are insightful as the Warriors look to face the Cavs tomorrow. Drop them in the comments, make a FanShot, or write up a FanPost if you have a longer commentary to make.