There was a time where the Golden State Warriors owned the third quarter. Owned the third quarter as though it were a luxurious weapon at their disposal. Unleashed it like Dominic Toretto hitting the nos switch.
The third quarter used to represent the Warriors arrogance. They were the hardwood version of cat sidling up next to a gopher hole, batting at the innocent critter. A gopher knows it may be in danger, but it has no idea that the game is rigged. They think there’s still a chance of survival; they think that because they’ve survived this long, they can continue to do so.
And then, when the cat has played with its food long enough, and is no longer entertained by the lowly gopher’s wistful ignorance, it ends matters swiftly.
Such were the Warriors of old.
In 2016-17, after Golden State added MVP Kevin Durant to a 73-win team that needed an intricate domino pattern to keep them from a trophy, the Warriors became perhaps the most arrogant team in NBA history. They morphed into an absurd caricature of the cat in nearly every game.
In the first half of games, that Warriors team had a net rating of 11.5, meaning they scored 11.5 more points than they allowed per 100 possessions. That’s a great number; a very great number, in fact (for perspective, it’s just a shade under the Milwaukee Bucks league-leading mark this season).
But in the third quarter, that number flew to an unthinkable 23.0.
Or, to put it in more accessible terms, over the course of the season - 82 games of 24-minute halves - Golden State outscored their opponents by 480 points in the first half. In the 12-minute third quarters alone, they outscored their opponents by 477 points, a nearly identical margin in half the time.
You were there. You remember it. A lesser team - and there were 29 lesser teams - treading water for 24 minutes, entering halftime still within striking distance, still fooling themselves into thinking they had a chance. And by the time the fans had returned to their seats with empty bladders and full beer glasses, Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green had all but ended the game.
Fast forward a few years, and the Warriors are an aging, decrepit cat, pawing at the gopher but whiffing horrendously.
It’s no secret that Golden State isn’t good. The 9-32 record confirm’s everything your eyeballs have been telling you. But their strategy for losing has mirrored their blueprint for success.
After dropping the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies by an appalling mark of 35-17, the Warriors have now been outscored by 120 points in third quarters, a -12.5 net rating that is last in the league by a country mile.
Now they’re not good in the first half, either, as they’ve been beaten by 210 points, with a net rating of -10.5. In fact, their even worse in the first quarter than they are in the third.
But it’s the third quarter that’s been jarring. You can forgive them in the first quarter now - they’re playing from a talent deficit on a nightly basis. But the third quarter is when adjustments are made, drawstrings are tightened, and the crowd is engaged. It’s a little shocking to see them fall flat now, when they used to run circles around not just their competition, but the skyscraper-high expectations they had created.
The Warriors had been trending in this direction, as they struggled to find the energy and arrogance that defined earlier iterations of the team. That 23.0 third quarter net rating in 2016-17 dipped to 17.3 in 2017-18, and down to 11.7 a year ago. Good, even great numbers, but numbers emblematic of a strong team, not a team that can play with their food whenever they damn well choose.
We’ll see what kind of cat they are next year.