If I had told you, prior to the Golden State Warriors road back-to-back against the Memphis Grizzlies, that the Dubs — sans Steph Curry, James Wiseman, and Eric Paschall, and with only one game from Kevon Looney — would split the series, you would have taken it. You would have taken it in a heartbeat.
Splitting a road back-to-back against a team you’re jockeying with in the standings, while your superstar and a handful of other key pieces is sidelined, is emphatically a win.
So let’s all try and keep that in mind, because Saturday’s loss was a slightly hard pill to swallow. The Warriors had the game in their hands. They led at halftime. They led for much of the third quarter. Things were right there for the taking in the fourth quarter.
But they couldn’t take them.
Make no mistake: I am not saying you should not be disappointed about the game. You should be. You’d be right for feeling like the Warriors should have won, and it’s a sentiment echoed by the team.
Steve Kerr: "We didn't seize the opportunity. We let them hang around, we let them off the hook. ... I thought we lost the game in the second quarter."— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) March 21, 2021
The late game execution simply wasn’t there. The Warriors offense grew stagnant in the final minutes, and they gave up key offensive rebounds. They led 100-99 with with under three minutes left, before being outscored 12-3 to end the game. Andrew Wiggins was at one critical moment trapped and, with shades of the heartbreaking loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the Warriors failed to call timeout and instead ceded a turnover.
And victory slipped through their fingers.
It was only in their fingers in the first place due to a high dosage of grit, and a steady stream of elite defense. The Warriors led at halftime despite having made just 13 shots, and shooting a mere 31.0% from the field.
But the defense did their part. Golden State held Memphis to just 38.9% shooting and 31.3% from deep, and forced 12 turnovers. They were active and quick, disruptive and tough, smart and desperate.
The offense just never came through. Jordan Poole had another stellar game, with 26 points on 10-for-21 shooting, keeping his post-G League tear going.
Jordan Poole's 7 post-G League games: 20.9 points, 2.3 assists, 0.3 turnovers (!!!), 68.6% true-shooting— Brady Klopfer (@BradyKlopferNBA) March 21, 2021
Juan Toscano-Anderson and Nico Mannion had nice offensive performances off the bench, but the starters other than Poole struggled. Wiggins shot just 4-for-14, though he earned 12 trips to the free throw line. Kelly Oubre Jr. shot 4-for-13. Draymond Green had 7 points and just 3 assists, and Alen Smailagić was a non-factor.
And down the stretch, it became clear who the players and coaches felt gave them the best chance of earning a win: Poole. That’s something to keep an eye on.
Poole scored Golden State's final 8 points. https://t.co/6gEc2t0U02— Wes Goldberg (@wcgoldberg) March 21, 2021
Poole’s great performance earned him a bigger role in the rotation, even when Curry’s return forces the second-year pro back to the bench.
Asked Kerr if Jordan Poole has earned a heavier minute total off the bench once Steph Curry returns: "Yes"— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 21, 2021
It’s those kinds of developments that make a loss still productive, and that’s exactly what the Warriors 111-103 loss was. They grew, they improved, they learned some things about themselves.
And they suffered a slightly gut-wrenching loss in the process.