The Golden State Warriors had kind of a rough weekend. It began with a Friday home loss to the Houston Rockets (their second loss to Houston in a week) in a game that saw James Harden and Chandler Parsons largely have their way with the Dubs despite Houston playing the second game of a road back-to-back in which they didn't arrive at the arena until about an hour before the game due to traffic. It continued Sunday with a 106-102 loss to the surprising Phoenix Suns, whose duo of Eric Bledsoe (24 points, eight rebounds, eight assists, three steals) and Goran Dragic (21 points, 4 for 4 from 3-point range, four assists, four steals) outdueled the Warriors backcourt of Stephen Curry (a game-high 30 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and Klay Thompson (19 points, three rebounds) to push Phoenix to a fifth straight win.
The deflating defeats shared more than just four-point margins. In both games, Golden State fell behind by 13 points in the second quarter, thanks in large part to porous defense (58 first-half points by Houston, 59 by Phoenix, on identical 48.8 percent shooting marks) and careless ball-handling (10 Warriors turnovers in the first half of both games, leading to 24 total points for the opposition).
Some of those struggles point toward the absence of Andre Iguodala. The Warriors' top perimeter defender and secondary ball-handler has been sidelined with a strained right hamstring for the past 12 games, with Golden State going 5-7 and allowing opponents to score 8.5 more points per 100 possessions during that stretch than during the season's first 13 games. (With Iguodala on the floor, the Warriors are steamrolling opponents by 14 points-per-100, according to NBA.com's stat tool; when he's out, they've been outscored by 3.6-per-100.) Backup center Jermaine O'Neal suffering a torn ligament in his right wrist doesn't help either, removing another defensive-minded big man (sophomore center Festus Ezeli has missed the entire season with a knee injury and isn't expected back until well into 2014) from the rotation.
But head coach Mark Jackson and his staff aren't pegging the struggles to the gifts of the players who aren't available. Instead, they're pointing toward the shortcomings of the somewhat laconic ones who are, according to Carl Steward of the Bay Area News Group:
In a rare sight, assistant coach Pete Myers lashed out at the team long and loud during a third-quarter timeout with the Warriors trailing by nine. The tirade seemed to help raise the energy level, but not enough to pull out the game.
Coach Mark Jackson then took his turn after witnessing an all-too-familiar script for defeat — the Warriors falling behind by double digits again, making a valiant rally that fell short, committing 20 turnovers, and suffering too many defensive breakdowns.
Jackson believes it's become a question of wanting it for his team and playing with a much greater sense of urgency.
"I'm finding that the guys in suits and ties want it more than the guys in uniform," he said tersely. "I don't see anybody in uniform with that same passion (as Myers). Enough is enough at some point. We're going to be fine, but we have to turn this thing around, it's as simple as that. We're watching the same movie every single night. It gets old." [...]
"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," Jackson said. "We're going to be awfully good when we get the fact that we have to do it all game long. But you come into a good team's gym, turn it over 20 times and pick and choose your spots, it ain't gonna cut it."
Jackson's remarks came after he watched the Warriors once again crank things up in the second half, with Curry and Thompson combining for 35 points after intermission two nights after popping for 23 in the final two quarters against Houston. Unlike last week's come-from-behind win against the Dallas Mavericks, though, the late-game fireworks weren't enough to overcome the sluggish start, leaving the Warriors as losers of three of their last four and four of their last six, sitting out of the West's top eight at a disappointing 13-12.
Jackson's not wrong about the turnovers. Golden State has coughed it up more frequently than any team besides Houston and has allowed the league's fourth-highest amount of points per game off turnovers, according to NBA.com's stat tool. And for all the great things Curry can do with the ball in his hand, he has made some shaky decisions as a distributor, committing a league-high 93 turnovers so far this season. Running buddy Thompson has been hit-or-miss lately, shooting just under 40 percent from the field during his last 10 games, and both he and sophomore wing Harrison Barnes have looked spotty on defense at times when tasked with locking down in Iguodala's absence.
In addition to the injury, ball security and individual performance issues, though, there's another persistent problem, according to Adam Lauridsen of the San Jose Mercury News' Fast Break blog: Jackson's rotation decision-making.
Opponents target and abuse David Lee on defense, and he no longer seems capable of winning those points back at the other end, yet Mark Jackson makes no discernible adjustment in his minutes. Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes are far weaker defenders than they were to start the season, and Jackson likewise is playing them just as much — if not more — than before. The entire team is guilty of careless turnovers when they can afford them the least. But the same players make the same mistakes in one game after the next. The fact that the Warriors made miracle comebacks in some of their lackluster performances seems to have reinforced their belief that they can recover from their mistakes, rather than spurring them on to tighten up their performances and not to make the mistakes in the first place. [...]
Channing Frye is an NBA player because he can do one thing very well, make open three pointers. David Lee repeatedly left Frye open on the perimeter. It might have been worth it had Lee actually been helping on defense, but he usually just ended up in no-man’s land — too far away from the ball handler to meaningfully slow penetration and too far from Frye to recover once the ball was kicked. Lee made this same mistake every time he was on the court. Either Jackson didn’t tell Lee to stay home or Lee ignored the coaching. If the former, Jackson is kidding himself when he talks about the Warriors as a defensive team. If the latter, why was Lee allowed to stay on the floor, particularly in crunch-time? [...]
The frustration of Lee’s consistently horrid defense was compounded by Jackson’s unwillingness to go back to the players getting him stops. Draymond Green stayed on the bench for the middle 8 minutes of the second quarter when the Suns blew open the game. Toney Douglas and Kent Bazemore both changed the game defensively during their runs, but were never seen or heard from again. Andrew Bogut languished on the bench in the final 2 minutes (after the threat of intentional fouling was gone) when his mistake-correcting presence in the key would have allowed the Warriors’ perimeter defenders to play their men more aggressively. [...] The Warriors have players capable of playing defense, but Mark Jackson hasn’t responded to the Warriors’ defensive struggles by increasing their roles and, with the exception of Green, hasn’t used them in place of poorer defenders during crunch time.
Lauridsen wasn't the only GSW observer to recognize the defensive cross-matching problems, but Jackson held fast to his rotations and substitution patterns. As a result, the Warriors got burned by Phoenix to the tune of 106 points and a 13 for 27 mark from 3-point land.
Iguodala's expected to be back soon, and could well clean up an awful lot of these messy stretches himself. If he can't, though, and if Jackson's really sick of "watching the same movie every single night," he might do well to consider changing up his cast of characters a bit. If he doesn't, his $68.4 million expected blockbuster could continue to "John Carter" its way to recognition as one of the season's more disappointing flops after a very promising start to the year.
- - - - - - -