It’s rare to see amazing feats of greatness on an NBA court, so when things like those happen, one should count themselves lucky to have witnessed such events.
On the other hand, it’s also equally rare to see an amazingly appalling stretch of basketball on an NBA court. There is an assumed minimum level of competence expected from professional NBA players — and the Golden State Warriors, during one chaotic possession in the third quarter against the Atlanta Hawks, gave the impression that they were well below such a minimum.
If that wasn’t the ugliest stretch of basketball you’ve seen in your life, then you’re probably a basketball lifer who has seen much worse. But I’m pretty certain that it still would rank among the ugliest stretches you’ve ever seen.
To be fair, there was a certain level of incompetence expected going into this game from both teams. The Warriors and the Hawks both rank low in the league in both offensive and defensive metrics. Before last night’s game, the Warriors were the 25th ranked offense in terms of efficiency, and the Hawks were ranked 27th. In terms of defensive efficiency, the Warriors were 27th, and the Hawks were 29th. In a battle of two teams who generally struggle in both scoring and preventing their opponents from scoring, something was bound to give — and as last night’s debilitating 104-79 drubbing displayed, the Warriors were the ones who played the part of the worst of the worst.
It was the latest setback in a season that has been one big bag full of disappointment and mediocrity. Granted, the absence of key cogs in the Warriors machine — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and D’Angelo Russell, to name a few — gives the Warriors an excuse for their fall toward the bottom of the NBA’s pecking order; the inexperience of their rookies and the limitations of their journeymen give them another. But this loss may be one where such excuses — for perhaps the first time this season — aren’t enough to give them a free pass.
Not when you put up an abysmal shooting split as a team: 39.8 percent from the field overall, and an even more appalling 17.6 percent clip from beyond the arc. Not when you only manage to generate a paltry 17 assists, despite playing in a system that should be generating at least 20 (and even that is a low number). Not when you turn the ball over 23 times and give the other team plenty of possessions and opportunities to score off of your mistakes.
And most certainly, not when your stuttering offense manages to put up an offensive rating of 82.3 against an opposing defense that has been anything but serviceable.
“Everybody’s trying to make a play instead of letting the next guy make the play,” Steve Kerr said after the game. “We got frustrated and we didn’t have any sort of rhythm or flow to the game. I thought Atlanta really punished us for our mistakes and played well.”
There has been plenty of games this season where the Warriors have been blown out in spectacular fashion. They are limited in their capacity to prevent such outcomes. As discouraging as those losses may have been, they have been forced to quickly forget such debilitating losses and move on to the next one. Inexperience may be a big disadvantage for such a young team, but being easily impressionable may be much worse, which makes moving on even more crucial.
“We kind of defensively didn’t do anything,” said Omari Spellman, who finished with 10 points and 9 rebounds. “We just didn’t make it hard on them. ... Whenever you do that to a team on their home court, you ain’t gonna have positive results.
“Coach talked about (this loss) being a blip on the radar. ... We’re not gonna try to linger on it too much. We just wanna leave this one behind us. ... It’s a tough one. We can’t keep having these lapses. We gotta figure it out as a team.”
It wasn’t as if the Warriors came into this game without any sort of tangible gameplan. Defensively, they revealed their explicit tactic of throwing blitzes toward the Hawks’ budding star, Trae Young. Young has been on a tear during this early part of the season, averaging 28.4 points and 8.4 assists per game, on a shooting split of .454/.387/.854. Young had a target on his back, and the Warriors were content on doubling him off of the pick-and-roll and letting everyone else on the Hawks make plays.
It worked early — Young was forced to give up the ball on several possessions, and his supporting cast bumbled in their attempt to provide alternative methods of scoring. But the Hawks adjusted. When blitzes and doubles would come Young’s way, he would find his teammate that was left open, aided by the Warriors’ inability to rotate behind their on-ball aggression.
Eventually, the Warriors abandoned their strategy of doubling. The Hawks — not a particularly good three-point shooting team — started knocking down their shots from the perimeter. Young started to feast on the Warriors’ lackluster perimeter defense, shooting 10-of-19 from the field and finishing with 24 points and 7 assists.
Right behind Young was rookie De’Andre Hunter, who finished the game with 18 points. Former Warriors center Damian Jones was a force in the paint for the Hawks; he finished with 16 points and 8 rebounds.
The Warriors had the most efficient scorer on the floor in Eric Paschall, whose 24 points came on only 9 made shots out of 11 attempts, which included a perfect 2-of-2 clip from three-point range. But Paschall was the only shining beacon for the Warriors, the only player for them who displayed any semblance of consistency and stable play.
Even the return of the only player on the floor with championship pedigree wasn’t enough to tip the scales toward the Warriors. Kevon Looney, who missed 20 games due to a neuropathic condition, made his return last night. But he only played 15 minutes, scoring 2 points and showing signs of rust and a lack of conditioning.
“I don’t think (getting a rhythm back) will take that long,” Looney said after the game. “I got a good feel for the game. Once I figure out my role, I can help this team. ... Maybe it’ll take a couple games, maybe four or five. Hopefully it doesn’t take long.”
For Looney, it may take only four or five games for him to get going. But for the Warriors, they have still yet to find their own rhythm as a collective, with 22 games played and only four wins to show for it. The season is still relatively young, and the return of Curry, Russell, and Thompson (if he makes a quick recovery and the Warriors deem it worthy for him to get his legs back this season) may salvage a few more wins later on. But as the losses come one after another, the Warriors may have to look toward next season to regain any semblance of rhythm they are looking to attain.