A 20-5 team beat a 14-12 team on Thursday night in the NBA; no big surprise, right?
But the basketball world was shocked to see the 20-5 San Antonio Spurs beat the 14-12 Warriors on the road, with coach Gregg Popovich resting Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Surely the talented, up-and-coming Warriors would crush their 2013 playoff vanquishers at home, especially with the Spurs missing their Big Three.
Well, it didn't turn out that way. Instead, the Spurs played like the defending conference champions they are, regardless of who is in the lineup. And the Warriors played like a team that thinks it can sleepwalk through the first 36 minutes of the game and win on talent and 12 minutes of effort.
The result was a predictable 104-102 victory for the Spurs.
San Antonio outworked Golden State for three quarters in building an eight-point lead. Warriors coach Mark Jackson called on reserves Kent Bazemore and Draymond Green early in the fourth quarter to press the Spurs into some quick turnovers, and the suddenly energized Warriors quickly cut into the deficit. But a tip-in from Spurs center Tiago Splitter put San Antonio back on top with two seconds remaining.
There were some questionable calls in the fourth quarter, to be sure; calls that could have gone either way. But the Warriors didn't deserve this win based on the first three quarters alone. If anything, they should be happy that a true contender showed them the kind of night-in, night-out effort that's needed to compete in the NBA.
Did the Warriors simply underestimate the underhanded Spurs coming into Thursday's game? If so, that would be inexcusable.
San Antonio proved last year that they can compete with the best of the league even without their Big Three when their reserves played the Miami Heat down to the wire in a 105-100 road loss on Nov. 29, 2012. That game infamously led to the NBA fining Spurs coach Gregg Popovich $250,000 for resting his star players.
On Thursday, however, Popovich got a win instead instead of a fine. This was the first meeting between these two teams in Oakland since the Spurs knocked Golden State out of the playoffs last season on the Warriors' home court.
So how could the Warriors come out so flat?
The answer is simple: The Warriors almost always come out flat. Their games have taken on a familiar rhythm—Warriors fall behind big, Warriors come back big. Sometimes they win, like they did in their epic 27-point second half comeback against Toronto. Sometimes they lose, like they did in Sunday's loss to Phoenix.
After that Phoenix loss, Mark Jackson lit into his lackadaisical squad.
Per Carl Steward of the San Jose Mercury News:
That's how good we are—that we can not play with a sense of urgency for 48 minutes, turn it on when we want to, and still be in ballgames. We're going to be awfully good when we get the fact that we have to do it all game long.
Jackson is right—the Warriors will be a good team when they learn to play all 48 minutes. But the fact that they failed to do so, not even one week later, in a revenge game against the conference champs, has to be concerning.
Sloppy Basketball Dooms the Warriors Yet Again
For all their talent, the Warriors are developing a nasty habit of playing lazy, undisciplined basketball. And that has manifested itself in two clear ways: turnovers and fouls.
Coming into Thursday, the Warriors ranked 29th out of 30 NBA teams in turnover ratio. Those turnovers have crippled an offense that should easily rank among the best of the league. Instead, the slick-shooting Warriors rank just 12th in offensive efficiency. On defense, they have been hurt by a propensity to foul too much, ranking 24th in opponent free throws per field-goal attempt.
Both of those Warrior bugaboos came back to bite them in the loss to the Spurs. The Warriors turned the ball over 24 times, and many of those turnovers were unforced. Playing what amounted the Spurs' B-Team, the only way Golden State could lose was by giving up too many easy buckets off turnovers.
And they did exactly that, allowing 23 fast-break points to San Antonio.
Even when the Warriors turned up the intensity in the fourth, they made another crucial mistake that probably cost them the game, putting the Spurs into the penalty with over eight minutes left in the game. The Spurs would go on to shoot eight free throws in the fourth to only four for the Warriors. Again, this was not Tony Parker and Tim Duncan the Warriors were fouling down the stretch, but Patty Mills and Boris Diaw.
Will the Warriors Learn from the Loss?
After the loss, Warriors' forward David Lee was quick to give out credit to the Spurs, according to Antonio Gonzalez of the Associated Press: "They're a team that has won championships and knows how to win," Lee said. "Regardless of who's on the floor, they have a proven system."
But center Andrew Bogut took a different tone, per Gonzalez: "We can't lose that game. Period," Bogut said.
It's nice to hear a veteran like Bogut come out and say exactly what needed to be said. The Warriors cannot afford to lose games like that. They are treading water at 14-13. They are three losses behind the surprising Phoenix Suns for second place in the Pacific; more importantly, they are three losses out of a playoff spot.
For a team that came into the season with championship dreams, this is simply unacceptable. The Warriors have the talent to compete with the Los Angeles Clippers for the division title, but they have yet to play like a champion...even a division champion.
The Warriors need to take a good look in the mirror after this loss.