NBA franchises get better and worse from season to season, but for the most part they keep their identities over the long haul. For the Golden State Warriors, that identity includes coming up just short against playoff teams on a regular basis. Last night, they provided an archetypal example of how they lose these kinds of games. Check the video above and follow along below.
With 13 seconds left in regulation at the Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State trailed 106-100. After a timeout, they ran a nice play to get guard Reggie Williams(notes) a three-pointer from the wing, which he made with little trouble. OKC reserve Daequan Cook(notes) momentarily lost his mind and threw an in-bounds pass to no one in particular, and Monta Ellis(notes) took advantage by picking the ball up in the corner and calmly swishing a three to tie the game. Kevin Durant(notes) took the ball at the other end for a chance at the win, but his tough jumper couldn't fall against some quality GSW defense. In a matter of seconds, the Warriors had taken advantage of a bit of luck and given themselves new life. They had nothing more at stake than their pride, but that was enough for them to refuse to quit and work to send the game into the extra period.
What followed was classic Golden State, insofar as they did just enough to lose. As they had throughout the game, the Warriors stayed close to the more talented Thunder and had a chance to win in the final seconds. However, they couldn't get a stop -- Russell Westbrook(notes) hit the second of two free throws after a Stephen Curry(notes) foul with 11 seconds left to give OKC a 115-114 lead. Monta Ellis had a chance to win the game with an isolation jumper from the top of the key on the last play, but his shot rimmed out.
This loss was not entirely the Warriors' fault -- the Curry foul was questionable (even if he played Westbrook too close given that Ekpe Udoh(notes) was lurking to protect the rim) and head coach Keith Smart's first final play never got the chance to develop due to an itchy trigger finger from the hometown scoreboard operator. That snafu required a mulligan, which necessarily forced Smart to call another timeout to figure out another play. The Ellis shot was likely the team's second option, and in a perfect world the miss would have forced a second OT rather than Golden State's 43rd loss of the season.
Of course, the Warriors only found themselves in the first OT due to a bit of serious luck, so it's not as if they were victims of a cosmic injustice here. NBA games involve moments of both good and bad fortune, and over the course of a full 82-game season teams tend to break even on the karmic ledger. Like a lot of bad teams, the Warriors failed to take full advantage of their second chance and lost the game. The Thunder, on the other hand, blew a near-certain victory in regulation and did what they had to in the extra period to ensure they'd stay in the hunt for a top-three spot in the West playoff race.
It's still impressive that the Warriors were even able to take the Thunder to overtime on the road. But "impressive" isn't the same as "victorious," and a dozen of these moral victories over the course of the season don't add up to tangible success. A performance like this may position Golden State as a team that needs a little more experience to turn the corner, but they have been in that situation for the better part of two decades (with the brief exception of the two-year "We Believe" era).
A team's average margin of victory (or loss) usually acts as a decent test of a team's quality, but even the worst teams don't take every loss in a blowout. The Warriors, unfortunately, have lost these kinds of games with regularity for as long as this native fan can remember. Are they cursed? Or is management just uncertain of how to build a team that wins them?
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