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Two costly mistakes that prove the Warriors’ loss against the Pacers was highly preventable

Toughest loss of the season may have been the most avoidable one.

Indiana Pacers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

Enough has probably been said already about this defeat.

The Indiana Pacers didn’t have Domantas Sabonis, Myles Turner, Malcolm Brogdon, and Caris LeVert — four of their five leading scorers.

The Warriors, on the other hand, still had Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and a deep bench unit. If NBA games were won on paper, they would’ve had a commanding victory even before the start of the game.

But that just isn’t the case. The Pacers had every motivation to win this game. Second and third-stringers fighting for their NBA lives had the opportunity to keep their dreams alive. Being the David to the Warriors’ Goliath would make headlines and most probably go a long way toward extending, renewing, or garnering brand new contracts in the future, even if those contracts come from other teams. Hunger and survival instinct can often be the deadliest forces in a game of basketball.

Most of all, momentum was on this Pacers team’s side. Before their back-to-back slate against the Warriors and the Los Angeles Lakers, the Pacers hadn’t won a game in the road since November 22 (0-19 record on the road since then). After springing an upset against the Lakers last night, they weren’t intent on laying down during the back end of their slate.

They clearly wanted more.

You can point to several factors as to why this was undeniably the Warriors’ most bitter defeat this season. The aftertaste lingers when you consider the fact that this loss was perhaps their most preventable one.

Never mind that the Pacers — the third-worst three-point-shooting team in the league going into the game — shot a relatively blistering 15-of-35 (42.9%) from the field. Flush down the toilet the fact that the Warriors shot an abysmal 9-of-42 on threes (21.4%), 3-of-26 of which where from the non-Curry contingent.

Forget the fact that the Warriors’ deep bench crew was outscored by their Pacers counterparts, 42-37.

Wipe the Warriors’ 21 turnovers — which the Pacers turned into 19 points — from your memories.

When all is said and done, you can pinpoint two key possessions — one during the endgame, the other during overtime — that were highly representative of the Warriors’ failings against the Pacers.

The first is perhaps the most egregious. To set the stage for a bit, the Warriors were up three with 9.4 seconds remaining, with the Pacers set to inbound the ball. The most prudent move for the Warriors in this situation would be to intentionally foul and send the Pacers to the line.

It’s the smart decision, especially with three historically elite free-throw shooters in Curry, Thompson, and Jordan Poole on the team.

You probably already know what happened, but let’s go over it again because the possession had an additional layer to it:

Not only did the Warriors fail to foul on the catch — they had a pretty good candidate in Isaiah Jackson, who qualified as the Pacers’ worst free-throw shooter (50%) — Curry also committed the worst mistake possible when defending an inbounds play: leaving the inbounder, the most dangerous player on the floor, open.

When said inbounder is also the Pacers’ best three-point shooter, it’s a head-scratching mistake that could’ve been preventable on several levels. If the decision was intentionally made to not foul up three, the least the Warriors could’ve done was to not commit the obvious mistakes.

In no world does Jackson warrant even a sliver of double-team consideration. That mistake is Curry’s to bear.

The second key possession came during overtime period. With the Warriors tied with the Pacers, a mistake on a simple defensive concept costs them.

A handoff to the Pacers’ Keifer Sykes turns into an open three due to miscommunication on a switch. The disconnect is born out of a basic confusion: Who should switch onto the rolling big? Poole thought he was the one; so did Juan Toscano-Anderson. That left no one guarding Sykes, who pulls the trigger on the go-ahead three — a lead the Pacers would not relinquish for the rest of the period.

Such costly mistakes stood out, but the overarching theme of the game was the disappearance of the Warriors’ outside shot and secondary scoring support. As aforementioned, Curry accounted for the majority of the team’s three-point makes. His secondary scoring corps — Poole, Thompson, and Andrew Wiggins, scored a combined 28 points on 39 shots, which included a 1-of-18 clip on threes.

Curry did all he could with his 39 points on 27 shots, but he himself fizzled out in the end. Coupled with a defensive effort that played down to the level of their competition, the Warriors scuffled against what was perhaps their most beatable opponent of the season.

During the last 25 games — starting from their first matchup against the Phoenix Suns – the Warriors have maintained their defensive identity (fourth in defensive rating over that period). Their offense, on the other hand, has nosedived – 25th over that period.

Some of that is due to personnel difficulties: lineup changes and rotations patterns resulting from player absences, mainly due to injuries and COVID-19 protocols. Some of it is due to questionable decisions from players and coaches alike, as was displayed against the Pacers.

Should the level of concern be alarmingly high? Probably not. Draymond Green’s return is a glimmer of hope that should fix several key concerns, especially on offense. But the Warriors also shouldn’t be this complacent — a lesson they had to learn the hard way tonight, and one they should take to heart going forward.