The Golden State Warriors’ current slump has been one of the most fascinating developments of the season, a sharp turn in a story that once appeared headed toward yet another NBA Finals matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. Then Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury, and now the Warriors look exhausted and in need of much more than rest. With the San Antonio Spurs on a roll and the No. 1 seed in the West up for grabs, Saturday’s matchup between the Warriors and Spurs at the AT&T Center has looked like a turning point in deciding who gets home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and how the Warriors bounce back from their worst stretch of play in several seasons.
Saturday’s game still matters a great deal to the standings, but it’s now far from appointment viewing. The Warriors lost for the fourth time in their last six on Friday night, dropping a tight contest to the Minnesota Timberwolves 103-102. At 53-12, Golden State is just 1 1/2 games ahead of San Antonio for the No. 1 seed and could see that lead dwindle to a mere half-game (with no separation in the loss column) should they lose on the second night of a back-to-back.
Yet head coach Steve Kerr is not putting pressure on his team to win that game. In fact, he’s resting his four best active players:
Coach Kerr announced that Curry (rest), Green (rest), Iguodala (rest) & Thompson (rest) will not play tomorrow night in San Antonio.
— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) March 11, 2017
Kerr explained the decision in some detail. From Chris Haynes of ESPN.com:
“We’re going to get [to San Antonio] at 3 am,” Kerr said. “Those guys are all playing big minutes, and this would give them three days before our home game, and then we’ll have a whole week at home next week and a chance to get recharged.
“It’s my call, and it’s the right thing to do in terms of the way the season is playing out and the way the minutes have gone and KD’s injury. It’s the right thing to do, so we’re doing it.”
Iguodala was asked if he knew about Kerr’s decision before Friday’s game.
“Nope, no clue,” he said. “I do what master say.”
His comment drew a swift and angry response on social media, with some interpreting it as a shot at Kerr. Iguodala later clarified his remark to ESPN, saying it was in no way a shot directed at Kerr and that it was only an inside locker room joke.
“Me and Steve are cool,” Iguodala told ESPN. “[People] can think what they want to think.”
Iguodala could have chosen his words better, but the reaction to them probably says more about the state of the Warriors than anything he did. Golden State has now lost four of six for the first time in the Steve Kerr era and could experience a three-game losing streak with a loss on Saturday. To put that in perspective, the Warriors had gone 146 straight games without losing two in a row before dropping games to the Wizards and Bulls last week.
The news follows the Spurs’ Friday announcement that MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard would miss the game after entering the league’s concussion protocol. That’s bad news for neutrals — what looked like one of the biggest games of the season will now feature around 40 minutes of Patrick McCaw and Matt Barnes. And it could get worse if Gregg Popovich matches Kerr by resting key veterans like LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol.
It’s tempting to say that the Warriors will sit these players because of their recent loss, but the performance pointed to the necessity of rest regardless of the result. Golden State will finish off a run of eight games in different cities over a span of just 13 days on Saturday, and the effects of playing seven of those games without Durant have been glaring. The Warriors have looked exhausted and are experiencing a three-point shooting slump totally at odds with their reputation as a dominant perimeter side. Golden State has shot worse than 30 percent from three-point range with no more than eight conversions in all four of their recent losses.
The worst struggles have come from an unexpected source. Stephen Curry is just 18-of-76 from deep (23.7 percent) for in the Warriors’ last seven games, a middling level of performance that has become downright disastrous without Durant around to take pressure off him.
Feel like I can overanalyze a lot of GSW factors but none are bigger than "Steph Curry keeps missing open shots"
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 11, 2017
That’s not to say Curry has been bad. In fact, he has proven his worth as a driver and creative finisher, which came into play on Friday. Down 17 points to Minnesota in the second quarter, Golden State battled back to have a chance to win late. When Curry made a floater with 19 seconds left, the Warriors took a 102-101 lead and looked in position to pull off their biggest comeback of the season.
Then, just seven seconds later, Andrew Wiggins drew a foul and made two free throws to take the lead right back. The Warriors had a chance to win, but Curry missed a mid-range jumper. Klay Thompson made an effort for the ball and tied up Brandon Rush to force a jump, but referees determined there were just 0.7 seconds on the clock:
The tip itself was enough to run out the clock, and the Wolves ended up with their eighth win in their last 12 games.
There are ways to spin this loss for the Warriors. They showed fight in coming back, nearly won, and were the victim of several questionable calls late. But these are nevertheless unfamiliar explanations for a team so used to winning since Kerr became head coach. The Warriors aren’t just losing games — they look gassed on virtually every possession and aren’t succeeding in the one area of the game that usually comes naturally. Saturday’s rest should help, but it will also come as a relief. The Warriors have never looked so in need of a break.
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