“Well, that was the worst loss of the year.” I received this text after the Golden State Warriors blew a 19-point 4th quarter lead to Luka Doncic, Spencer Dinwiddie, and referee Scott Foster on Sunday night. All of the Warriors’ young players struggled, and the team missed a chance to get a game closer to the losing Phoenix Suns and to stay ahead of the suddenly-unstoppable Memphis Grizzlies. But was the game the worst loss of the season? Let’s evaluate the candidates, because trust me, there’s been quite a few “worst loss of the year” texts this year.
Honorable mention: Charlotte 106, Golden State 102
Not a terrible game overall, but with the Warriors trailing by two, they executed a fantastic trap to force a jump ball. 6’1” Terry Rozier versus 6’6” Draymond Green? It should have been a wrap, but the referee surprised Draymond with the toss, which also went towards Rozier, and Charlotte closed it out. Why can’t NBA refs throw a jump ball correctly? It especially stung because the Warriors lost in their last trip to Charlotte when Draymond got ejected after a controversial jump ball call. Bring in the possession arrow already!
Honorable mention: Denver 89, Golden State 86
This was honestly a very nice comeback for the Warriors, who were down 13 points in the 4th quarter before Steph Curry and Jonathan Kuminga led the team back. After a big steal, Nikola Jokic blocked the rookie at the rim - as Curry was wide open behind the three-point line.
Look, there’s no shame in losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, but the way this happened was rough. The Warriors simply couldn’t score late, making only one basket in the final seven minutes of the game. Memphis only scored six points in that same stretch, but that was enough to steal the game in overtime. The worst moment? An unguarded Draymond Green lollygagged across the time line and drew an eight-second violation with a minute to go and the game tied. That led to a 57-second Memphis possession where they missed three threes, and then the Warriors got a terrible shot at the buzzer.
In OT, the Splash Brothers-In-Law went 1-6 from deep - all but one of those shots coming from well behind the line - and both of the team’s two-point attempts were blocked. Now with Memphis leading the season series 2-1, their matchup on March 28 looks especially huge.
If you lose to the New York Knicks at home, it’s one of the worst losses of the year. I don’t make the rules here. It was a tough loss in part because the Warriors’ lack of size was truly exposed, by a truly mediocre team. The Knicks killed the Warriors inside and on the boards, Julius Randle and Mitchell Robinson in particular. But thanks to Curry making shots late and the Knicks missing free throws, the Dubs had a chance to tie on a Klay Thompson free throw line jumper, but the shot bing-bonged out.
In a game the Warriors led for the first 44 minutes, the Dallas Mavericks made a stunning 26-1 run in the 4th quarter and the Warriors went nearly nine minutes without making a shot from the field. It wasn’t a surprise to see the Dubs cough up a lead - that happens in basketball, especially when the team is leaning so heavily on young players. It’s just that it felt like the Warriors had already absorbed the Mavs’ comeback punch, when Doncic went on a personal 9-2 run in the third, and the Dubs bounced back to finish the quarter up 14.
This loss may be the most baffling one of the season, because it absolutely felt like the game was over. Up 19 with ten minutes to go? It should have been a wrap. But it also went badly in a classic 2021-22 Warriors way. When the Mavericks scored their first 11 points of the run, it was all layups (and a technical free throw) while the Warriors bricked four straight threes. Bad shooting, but also bad shot selection - Davis Bertans was playing center! They were playing three guards! Go to the hoop, fellas! They also got very discombobulated after some cheap foul calls from Scott Foster, but it’s important to note that Foster may be the worst referee in the league, but he’s not biased - every team thinks Scott Foster hates them! Although he probably does hate Chris Paul.
The only reason Sunday’s game might not be the worst of the season is that amazingly, the Warriors managed to be out of the game with a minute left. So there weren’t any false hopes at the end to be dashed! Steph Curry made some shots late, including a crazy one-legged three, but losing as Luka Doncic calmly ices the game at the line isn’t the same as a buzzer-beating gut punch.
Losing on a buzzer-beating three-pointer when you’re up two, because your star player left his man wide open? In a game where you led by seven points, with the ball, with less than two minutes left? After Steph Curry gave you a two-point lead on a clutch and-one with five seconds left? Yes, that is brutal. This was an especially distressing loss because Steve Kerr essentially abdicated his responsibilities as a coach. Mike Malone used a Hack-a-Looney strategy, sending the Warriors center to the free throw line three separate times down the stretch. Kerr’s adjustment? Nothing. Looney shot 2-6, and Denver climbed back into the game. On the final play, yes, Curry should have stuck with Monte Morris instead of trying to steal the ball from Jokic, but why was he in the game at all? Gary Payton II, who had six steals in the game, plus a block on Jokic, watched Denver win it from the bench.
Keifer Sykes. Goga Bitadze. Torrey Craig. Those were three of the starters in an NBA game in 2021-22. And the Warriors lost to this team at home. Rookie Chris Duarte scored 27 points and rookie Isaiah Jackson had 15, and no one besides Steph Curry could shoot for the Warriors. Still, the Dubs were up three with nine seconds left. They could just foul! Well they did not. Curry left Justin Holiday to double a rookie center five feet behind the three-point line, and Holiday tied the game with a triple. Overtime was a slow death, with two painfully long replay reviews and an awkward jump ball. The Warriors brought in Klay Thompson down three with seconds left, but they threw the ball away to end this without a shot.
Despite the overwhelmingly negative tone of this piece, I actually believe that overall, it’s a positive sign for the Warriors! Obviously not the part where they can’t figure out how to foul or behind the arc in the final seconds, but in the Warriors’ seven home losses, they’ve lost by a total of 24 points. Two went to overtime, while three others went down to the final shot. So while it’s heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, barf-bagging, whatever adjective you prefer, ultimately these terrible losses have been mostly fluky, and shouldn’t make fans panic. Unless they lose to the Washington Wizards at home. Then hit the panic button as hard as you can.