I was going to write a(nother?) article about how people really just need to chill with the over reactions in response to every single Golden State Warriors loss -- all six!! -- but then I remembered that Bill Simmons already laid the groundwork for that years ago with a seminal historical text on why the Oracle Arena crowd mercilessly booed Joe Lacob after Monta Ellis.
For those of you who don’t know where Golden State was back in 2012, I’ll quickly re-hash the story: the Warriors were somewhere between terrible and mediocre for the majority of 37 years up to that point in 2012. In an effort to interrupt the decades of extended futility, Lacob & Co. made the bold move to trade a player who many fans had come to enjoy watching: Monta Ellis (I was not really among those who enjoyed Ellis as his inefficiency and defensive lapses bothered me). So after Lacob got booed, Simmons wrote a piece entitled, “How to annoy a fan base in 60 easy steps” at Grantland.
That’s correct: 60 mistakes made between 1975 to 2012.
For what it's worth, this was my favorite part: “38. If you’re scoring at home: Chris Webber > Tom Gugliotta > Donyell Marshall > Danny Fortson.” And if you don’t know who those latter three players even are, that’s kind of the point.
Hold up...gimme a moment, y'all…
...ok, ok...I’m good...
The “funniest” part of that whole long Warriors nightmare is that long-time fans were able to actually identify items that he missed -- personally, I thought the drafting of Mike Dunleavy, Jr. third overall in the 2002 NBA Draft deserved its own bullet point given that I felt Caron Butler was obviously a better pick at the time, but whatever.
For those of us unfortunate enough to live with the curse of Warriors fandom through those 60 (plus?) blunders, the thought of competing for one Finals appearance was so ridiculous that you would’ve invented a slogan and made shirts if the team even had a chance of getting an eighth seed (we actually did do that).
Anyway, my point here is that we’ve gone from wondering if Danny Fortson can lead us to the playoffs to expecting this team to not only make the NBA Finals for a third time in a row but win it to avenge a loss to LeBron James of all people. The Warriors have done it by scoring on multiple draft picks, making brilliant player transactions, and creating the type of culture that attracted one of the top free agents of this generation.
It’s not just that they’ve managed to shake off the malaise of the past, but that they did it in a matter that is diametrically opposed to the past and have allowed us to watch this team grow together.
If anyone should be able to appreciate success, it’s Warriors fans; if you avoided the Dark Ages, 1) congratulations but 2) you still have to realize that basketball really doesn’t get a whole lot better than this. OK, sure, last year Stephen Curry’s extraterrestrial powers were still fully functional and the team just obliterated all kinds of records, but if you’re comparing anything to last season you’re setting yourself up for failure.
This is it. You can’t expect basketball to get a whole lot better than this period in Warriors history right now (and I still sometimes wonder if that makes all the misery worth it). If you’re not able to enjoy this right now, you should give up on basketball and try another sport because this just ain't for you.
Nevertheless, mistakes were made in the Warriors’ loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night -- mistakes that, in fact, felt familiar given what went down on Christmas Day and some game against Matthew Dellavedova’s team last June. I don’t think that means we should fire the coach or start blowing up the court’s core to rebuild around Ian Clark, Kevon Looney, Damian Jones and (future Hall of Famer) Patrick McCaw; this team is probably good enough to move on.
And before I continue, can we please dispense with the notion that the Warriors struggle against elite teams?
5-0 vs Tor, Bos, LA, Utah... all higher than Mem. Hou/Mem/Cle losses they fumbled. Struggles are late game poss. regardless of opponent https://t.co/dGEYKEg2kI— warriorsworld (@warriorsworld) January 7, 2017
So, with all that in mind, let’s take a rational look at what went down on Friday and what the team might be able to do to rectify all of that. And I will do that by shooting down some of the more reactionary thoughts of the fanbase.
@HodieKajita It's like a 37-piece box of chocolate and all these people see is the 6 missing pieces rather than the 31 pieces remaining.— Tamryn Spruill (@tamrynspruill) January 7, 2017
The Warriors don’t need to trade any of the Big Four due to tension.
Much was made of Draymond Green’s on-court reaction to Kevin Durant playing hero ball at the end of regulation on Friday and the emotional conversation he had with Durant about the play on the court later.
Dray & Steph wanted Steph handling the rock on the PNR w KD. KD chose ISO, Dray visibly upset.Telling KD he could have gotten better matchup pic.twitter.com/YWYd4anEMC— Warriors Talk (@JaeAzizi) January 7, 2017
@MBhoops13 my fav part is Steph in the background watching to make sure Dray gets the job done.— Kimberly Stubbe (@Kimborania) January 7, 2017
And just as important to the situation, was how Curry flipped the ball to Durant to initiate the play, as described by Matt Moore of CBS Sports in his analysis of what happened.
Thankfully, Durant is a more mature adult than our PEOTUS and many other people on social media and was able to accept his teammate’s criticism in order to continue his learning process with the Warriors. Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area reported what Durant, Green and coach Steve Kerr said and summarized the content of the conversation pretty well.
...Green confronted Durant after a timeout. The previous possession ended with Durant, isolated against lumbering Memphis big man Zach Randolph, taking and missing a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
That’s not what the situation called for, according to Green and others. The pick-and-roll had been successful most of the night, and it was there between Stephen Curry and Durant.
When Durant went away from it, Green not only explained that he shouldn’t have but also why he shouldn’t have.
And Apricot offered a guess about what specifically Green might have been requesting from Durant as well.
But I think it’s important to remember what Moore said about the situation near the end of his breakdown of this play.
1. This stuff happens all the time. There's no irreparable fracture between Durant and his teammates. They're figuring things out. Durant's used to doing things one way, the Warriors do them differently. Durant has said many times that it's a learning experience, getting used to how the Warriors play. This is part of it, and there's a reason Green said he was "thrilled" they lost after the game, because it represents a real moment to examine and force changes to how Golden State has played in the fourth quarter.
Steph Curry is not actually washed.
Lost in all the commotion of the Warriors blowing a 24-point lead was Curry’s game-high 40 points, which is pretty cool since some people have been saying all kinds of nonsense about how the team is using him -- as though what happens in January is writing the script for June -- and even suggesting that the Warriors trade him before he becomes a free agent.
Hope critics gift Curry with a chip on his shoulder for playoffs https://t.co/3vmmZGXcct— Jason K. Lee (@ForTheWs) January 5, 2017
But if you were whining about Curry being too passive and not being able to play with Durant, you have to acknowledge that Friday’s game was evidence to the contrary, which doesn't suddenly change because of their poor late game execution.
It’s almost like the Warriors are giving Steph a night to do this, which is nice. And he can still clown any team in the league on any night— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) January 7, 2017
(steph curry is back)— SB Nation NBA (@SBNationNBA) January 7, 2017
Warriors critics are going to need a new narrative. "Passive Curry" quickly being put to rest.— Fast Break (@GSWFastBreak) January 7, 2017
It's weird that I'm seeing tweets about Steph Curry's struggles. His numbers indicate a very good year thus far— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) January 2, 2017
And let’s not forget that Curry also showed more assertiveness against Portland last Wednesday, as noted by Connor Letourneau of the S.F. Chronicle. And Tom Ziller of SB Nation really put Curry’s performance this season into perspective by comparing him to none other than LeBron James.
LeBron has long had nothing to prove in the regular season. His mountains are found in the finals. So he tunes himself and his team all 82 games, dropping some random spectacle in there by chance or necessity, and then he brings the full brunt of himself in the playoffs. LeBron is not particularly worried about winning another MVP, a scoring title, or being the league’s biggest Vine star. He wants more titles. So, his effort is focused toward that goal.
Curry is on that level now.
Ok, so the late-game execution does suck right now.
I think we can all agree that the Warriors’ late-game execution just isn’t working right now -- this wasn’t the first time this season they have blown leads late. And even if it has only resulted in six losses, we also have to acknowledge the problem is somewhat consistent: for some reason, they get loose and let games get away from them and then get tight and stop executing the offense that earned them a lead in the first place.
Adam Lauridsen of the Fastbreak blog offered a number of observations about what transpired in the fourth quarter on Friday, but this one in particular stood out as representing what I saw as I was watching.
For the first time this season, the Warriors recorded zero assists in a quarter. That’s on every single player who set foot on the court in the fourth, as well as Kerr and his staff. Where the Warriors were patient early in the game, letting the offense develop as players moved, they rushed things late in the game. There were too many quick threes, and when they did try to work the ball into the interior, the passes were forced. Memphis’ defense deserves a lot of credit, but the Warriors’ poor decision-making — like pulling up against Randolph rather than attacking him off the dribble — was a self-inflicted wound...The concern from this game, and the loss to Cleveland on Christmas day, is that when the pressure mounts, the Warriors crack.
Lauridsen’s entire account of the game is worth a read, but so is Nicholas Sciria’s extended tweet storm about the fourth quarter, which includes video.
Just finished up watching the Warriors, Grizzlies fourth quarter and overtime from last night. A few notes:— Nicholas Sciria (@Nick_Sciria) January 7, 2017
So how severe are these problems?
Lauridsen closed his piece on Friday night by saying, “If you don’t want to get worked up over these losses, you have to find a reason to expect things to be different come April.”
Personally, I think Durant’s response to the whole thing was perfect: the fact that he didn’t dismiss or make excuses for the collapse but instead took responsibility and publicly embraced it as a learning experiences does give me some hope that they can figure this out. I’ll also admit that there hasn’t been a whole lot of evidence that they’ll suddenly fix things, but if Warriors fans have waited this long to reach the mountaintop, what's a few more months?
Other news & notes:
- Bram, Ivan and I have already shared our thoughts on the Kyle Korver deal to the Cleveland Cavaliers in our latest Golden State of Mindcast, but there were also two videos that did a pretty good job of projecting Korver’s fit and impact with the Cavs: Athletic Alchemy did a good job of highlighting Korver’s potential defensive shortcomings against the Warriors (h/t BornInDaEB for the FanShot) and BBallBreakdown did a great job of highlighting specifically how Korver might be used in the Cavs’ offense.
- Adam Mares of Denver Stiffs also looked at the Warriors-Cavs matchup with Korver’s addition and noted that Korver is the NBA’s best catch-and-shoot player, which will put a lot of pressure on the Warriors’ rim protection by committee approach.
- Continuing to show that the Warriors are a franchise that is not afraid to dabble in political discourse, Zaza Pachulia wondered if his all-star votes were the result of a hack, according to Monte Poole.
- In seriousness, JaVale McGee really did make a fairly serious cultural statement by comparing Shaquille O’Neal to a minstrel. I have stayed away from this topic because I don’t think there are any winners there, but I thought Phillip Barnett of Uproxx already did a pretty good job of explaining why reaching back to the past of black entertainers to explain the present just doesn’t work well.
- In other news, I strongly recommend watching Spike Lee’s Bamboozled.
- My favorite ex-Warrior -- and quite possibly one of my favorite Warriors players ever -- Alex Kennedy of Basketball Insiders tweeted this gem of a quote from Kent Bazemore about how grateful he is just to be in the NBA. I just loved being able to root for someone who sees just taking the court as a privilege and will continue to root for him.
Last night’s game in Sacramento was so bad that I’d rather pretend it didn’t happen and just move on, but if you have links or reactions to that game as well please leave them in the comments below or, better yet, post a FanPost or FanShot that we can share with our broader audience.