During the Golden State Warriors recent five-game winning streak, they got used to falling behind big, only to come crawling back into the game and steal wins. They got a little too used to it, it seems.
On Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Warriors flew a little bit too close to the sun. They forgot that they don’t know how to win games on the road, and thus can’t rely on those same comebacks.
As has been the trend lately, they fell behind big early, trailing 13-2 just a few minutes into the game. The defense was sloppy and the offense was lethargic. But they proved more than capable of getting back into it. Fueled by bursts of energy from Jonathan Kuminga (who started in place of Kevon Looney) and Andre Iguodala (who was playing in his second straight game after returning from injury), the Dubs came rushing back into the contest, erasing the double-digit lead and replacing it with a lead of their own while still in the first quarter.
And then they gave it all right back, ceding a Thunder run and falling behind 40-30 after the first quarter. Yes, multiple double-digit deficits in the first quarter alone.
The second quarter began with a flurry of amazing shots from Steph Curry, playing in just his second game since missing a month with a lower body injury. But the Warriors backed it up with a whole bunch of sloppiness, and the Thunder pushed the lead to 14.
And, like clockwork, the Warriors jumped back into it. This time it was aggression and athleticism from Kuminga and Jordan Poole who, along with Curry’s brilliance, sparked a 19-2 run that put the Warriors on top again. A second double-digit deficit was successfully defeated, though another quarter-ending run by OKC gave the Thunder a four-point lead at the half.
But the third quarter is where the Warriors have worked their magic lately, and for a moment it looked like they would again. The sloppiness that had defined so much of the first half disappeared. So did the lethargy. With a little regression from the Thunder’s shooters — OKC shot 13-for-25 from deep in the first half — it was easy to see Golden State taking the lead and running with it.
Instead they did the opposite. The defense got weak as the team started rotating late and reaching. The Thunder shot a whopping 15 free throws in the third quarter, and built up a third double-digit lead.
This time the Warriors couldn’t overcome it. They’d grown too reliant on being able to easily wipe away leads, and the Thunder were too gutsy in the fourth quarter to let it happen again. OKC built up a big lead, pulling ahead by 15 points with less than seven minutes remaining.
Fueled by a visibly angry Curry, the Warriors gave it one final push. A string of threes and forced turnovers got the Dubs within six points — a two-possession game — with about a minute remaining.
But that was the closest the Warriors would get, as they dropped their second straight game on the road 137-128, and still sit with just seven road victories. They’re currently mired in a seven-game road losing streak.
The schedule doesn’t get any easier from here. They finish their road trip on Thursday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Then it’s back home for an absolutely brutal stop in the Bay Area, where they’ll host the Milwaukee Bucks and new-look Phoenix Suns. Then it’s back on the road for a five-game trip.
The momentum they carried into Sunday’s game — a five-game winning streak, rejuvenated defense, and a returning Curry — is now gone.
Steph was borderline heroic in this one, finishing with 40 points, six rebounds, and seven assists, while shooting 14-for-23 from the field and 10-for-16 from beyond the arc (though he did have six turnovers). Klay Thompson added 23 while Kuminga had a nice game with 21, and Draymond Green racked up a triple-double of 11 points and 11 assists.
Iguodala and JaMychal Green had some nice performances off the bench, but between struggles from Looney and Jordan Poole, and not playing Anthony Lamb (who is out of two-way contract days) and Ty Jerome (who has just five remaining), the bench was pretty weak.
As was the case on Sunday, the Warriors offensive passivity bit them in the butt. They did have a strong game from distance, shooting 39.2% ... but their 51 three-point attempts nearly matched their two-point attempts (38) and free throw attempts (16) combined. 39.2% on threes sure is nice, but it’s still not as efficient as 71.1% on twos or 87.5% on free throws.
But ultimately, those are good numbers, and you should win when you score like that, even with 21 turnovers. The Warriors lost because, for the umpteenth time this year, they didn’t know how to play defense on the road.