Heroic Shooting Masking Golden State Warriors' Late-Game Problems

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistJanuary 11, 2014

Enjoy it while it lasts, Golden State Warriors fans. 

Game-winners are as fun as it gets, especially when it's Stephen Curry putting the ball through the basket. Such was the case on Jan. 10 when the sharpshooting point guard crossed over Kris Humphries, pulled up with his foot on the three-point arc and drilled the shot with 2.1 seconds left on the clock.

As you might expect, the shot found nothing but the bottom of the net.

Two points. Game over (well, over once the Dubs shut down the Boston Celtics' ensuing attempt). 

Beautiful, right? 

There's no doubt that the Warriors excel at hitting those game-winning attempts in the final seconds. This makes four, as Curry added to his own total while combining with Andre Iguodala to reach what should be considered a high number at this stage in the 2013-14 campaign. 

But don't make the mistake of confusing the Warriors' heroic shooting with overall late-game heroics. 

One of the reasons this squad has struggled to rise into the elite portion of the Western Conference standings has been a failure to play well down the stretch of close games. Much like Blake Griffin's dunks mask the overall splendid nature of his game, so too do the game-winners overshadow the problems when the clock is winding down.

In psychology, there's a principle called confirmation bias.  As human beings, we naturally look for information that is going to support our own theories, even if means that we're overlooking the facts that work against us. That often comes into play when watching sports, as success is naturally what we root for. 

If you're watching a lot of Dubs games, you're presumably a Dubs fan. And if you are, you're going to remember the positives and forget many of the negatives. 

Additionally, you can more easily recall what you're exposed to. In this case, that would be the game-winner that you see replayed ad nauseum on SportsCenter and YouTube rather than the two minutes of futility leading up to it. You see the buzzer-beater that goes in, not the one that clangs off the rim and leads to the team walking off the court with their chins anything but raised. 

Even with that in mind, you might be surprised to hear that, according to NBA.com's statistical databases, the Dubs have a losing record in many clutch situations. Take a look at the stats produced in these ones after the winning effort against Boston: 

SituationRecordFG%Offensive RatingDefensive Rating
5 minutes remaining, +/- 5 points10-939.898.187.2
3 minutes remaining, +/- 5 points8-947.1100.187.1
1 minute remaining, +/- 5 points6-942.4108.3119.4
30 seconds remaining, +/- 3 points6-750.0123.5109.3
10 seconds remaining, +/- 3 points6-650.0123.9141.8

Not only does the defense start to suffer when the game is truly on the line, but the offense tends to decline a bit when there's more time left on the clock. 

Now this may be seen as nitpicking, and that's fair. But that is often what separates the truly elite teams from the good, but not great ones. 

It's just tough to make an argument that the Dubs are actually stepping up their games down the stretch, especially when they're not winning games at the rate they typically do. If Golden State is getting a victory, chances are it's building up a safe lead rather than fighting it out in the closing minutes. 

Take the game against the Brooklyn Nets on Jan. 8, the one that ended the chances at history. Had Golden State won, it would've put together the first 11-game streak of undefeated play in franchise history while becoming the only team in NBA history to go on an unbeaten road trip of at least seven games. 

But play down the stretch came back to bite the Warriors. As Curry told the Associated Press via ESPN after the game, "It's a long road trip, but you can't let that be an excuse for how the game ended. We've got to find a way to win."

During the last three minutes of that unfortunate contest with Brooklyn, Golden State was outscored 11-5, and the Warriors shot only 1-of-6 from the field. It's never a good thing to have more turnovers than makes near the end of a close game. 

However, that was during a loss. What about during a win? 

You know, like the victory over the Celtics. The same one in which Curry hit a game-winner over Humphries. 

During the last three minutes, Golden State was outscored 7-6. A jumper from Andre Iguodala and the game-winner from Curry were the only two made shots over that stretch as the Dubs let the Celtics back into the contest before turning the lights out for good. 

As is always the case, a game-winner is only necessary when the game is close. If a team can put away the contest sooner, there's no need for one. Technically, the latter is more impressive, even if it doesn't get as much attention. 

Fortunately, you won't have to worry about it too often. Lackluster play down the stretch only matters in tight games, and the Warriors do boast a 12.1-point average margin of victory during their wins.

Don't make the mistake of letting Golden State's heroic shooting completely cover up its flaws. 



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