By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
OAKLAND — With the opportunity to make things easy on themselves for once and a chance to clinch a playoff spot against an injury-depleted, lottery-bound opponent (on the second night of a back-to-back, no less), the Warriors wouldn’t cooperate.
They handed it all back Thursday inside Oracle Arena, every comfort zone, every opening, every ideal scenario. The Warriors got hurt bad by Wilt Chamberlain — no, wait, that was Timofey (the Dream) Mozgov — but mostly brought the 100-99 loss to the Nuggets on themselves in an embarrassing loss that stands for more than a bad night.
Golden State is a better rebounding team than Denver, but not last night. They got drilled on the boards 63-38, with Mozgov grabbing 29 on his own — the most in the league this season — to go with 23 points on 10-of-15 shooting and three blocks. Golden State may have been without David Lee, but Denver was down three power forwards and centers, and besides, give up 29 to Bill Russell — check that, still Timofey (the Worm) Mozgov. Suddenly, this becomes about the heart of the healthy players, not Lee’s nerve inflammation that kept him out of the lineup.
Having been off since Sunday, and basically longer since no Warrior logged more than 31 minutes in a blowout win over the Jazz, the Warriors go run off the court … by the team that played Wednesday in Denver, got to their San Francisco hotel a little after 1 a.m. Thursday and won using eight players.
The team that trailed by 13 points in the first quarter and 20 in the second (Denver) showed toughness and determination while the group that might win 50 games (Golden State) showed there should be concern about the direction.
Because of everything that happened to Golden State with the playoffs so close, capped by Denver’s Kenneth Faried dropping in an eight-footer with five-tenths of a second remaining for the win, Thursday night wasn’t about Thursday night. With choppy times behind them and four games left in the season, the Warriors were in big-picture territory as a team surprisingly lacking focus and consistency as the postseason nears.
Or, maybe not.
“I won’t co-sign that,” coach Mark Jackson countered, disagreeing with the premise. “We lost a ballgame. I won’t say that the Houston Rockets are inconsistent with their focus. They lost to the Nuggets (Wednesday) night. Mozgov, Faried hurt us. We didn’t play well. We made mistakes. We lost a ballgame. I’m not concerned. It’s part of the process. You talk about the Spurs in a game (Thursday) that they don’t have to win, they go into Dallas, a team that’s at home and playing with a sense of urgency, and the Spurs win. It’s a mentality. They (the Spurs) didn’t just get it overnight. That’s the next step for us.”
But it’s not just the Denver game. The Warriors haven’t been dependable for weeks.
“We lost to a team that played desperate, out-worked us and hurt us on the boards,” Jackson said, dodging the issue.
The two games before this were very encouraging, a 130-102 trouncing of the Jazz on Sunday and the 102-69 light workout against the Kings on Friday. That was the look of a team ready for the playoffs.
But immediately before?
A loss at San Antonio, no shame considering the opponent and the circumstances of the second night of a back-to-back.
A win at Dallas.
A loss at home to the Knicks.
A win over the Grizzlies in Oakland.
A loss to the Spurs at Oracle Arena with San Antonio finishing a back-to-back and sitting Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili.
And before that was three wins in a row preceded by two losses in a row.
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with our focus,” said Draymond Green, Thursday’s starting power forward. “Nobody was complaining about our focus the last two games, when we punched everybody by 40. We got up 20, took our foot off the gas pedal, and when you’re playing against a team like that who doesn’t necessarily have the best shot selection and nothing to lose, and those shots start falling, you’re in for a long night. We had a chance to put them away. We didn’t and they came back to bite us.”
That was right after Stephen Curry was asked if he was worried about the backslide, the Warriors’ direction with the postseason so close, and answered, “I’m not concerned about that at all. It’s not going to waiver our confidence when it comes to what’s going to happen when we get to the playoffs. But we’ve got learn these lessons. It’s as simple as that. You can’t take off possessions, you can’t take off quarters and expect to just turn it on when you need it. For us to close out these last four games and to win a playoff series, we’re going to need every ounce of effort, energy, focus and execution going forward.”
“This is a pretty veteran team,” a reporter pointed out. “Wouldn’t you guys have learned that lesson long ago?”
“You would think so,” Curry said. “But we fought down the stretch. Obviously Faried made a great play. We probably wouldn’t be talking like this if he misses that shot. But you put yourself in that situation, you’ve got to deal with the consequences. That’s what’s going on right now.”
That’s just the pain of what happened Thursday night, though. Until the Warriors show otherwise, there’s actually a lot more going on than that.