The Golden State Warriors’ summer acquisition of Kevin Durant ensured that every bump in the road this season would make headlines. It’s not a terrible surprise, then, that Friday night’s especially bad fall-from-ahead loss to the Memphis Grizzlies has brought about some controversy.
The Warriors led by as many as 24 in the second half and by 19 to start the fourth quarter before allowing the Grizzlies to come back and win 128-119 in overtime. The clearest issues came at the offensive end, where Golden State did not make a field goal until nearly nine minutes into the fourth quarter and struggled to execute in crunch time. It was an odd sight for a group with as much as offensive talent as any team in recent memory.
One play has come to represent the problems in the loss and the issues at play for the Warriors moving forward. Up 111-109 with about 40 seconds remaining in regulation, Kevin Durant saw an apparent mismatch against Zach Randolph and called for the ball from Stephen Curry, who begrudgingly gave it up. Draymond Green immediately began to show his disapproval and only grew more upset as Durant questionably settled for a pull-up 3-pointer with no attempt to get his teammates involved. Green pulled Durant aside after the timeout and made his opinion known, although the teammates did end that discussion by slapping hands.
Take a look at the whole play here:
Warriors' Kevin Durant calls for ball on crucial late possession, Stephen Curry relents, Draymond Green reacts w/ frustration pic.twitter.com/VROJSAZ0cZ
— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) January 7, 2017
And here’s Green’s conversation with Durant:
The play has pretty much everything a Warriors hater and/or skeptic could want. Green shows his emotions in a way that doesn’t promote team cohesiveness, Curry defers to Durant to continue questions about his comfort level in his new role, and Durant defaults to the same one-on-one play that led to late-game failures over several years with the Oklahoma City Thunder. The best takeaway is that there have been growing pains as Golden State tries to maximize value, and the worst is that the Warriors lack the trust in each other necessary to win a title.
The first week of January is too early to determine a talented team too much of a mess to win a title — remember that Tyronn Lue didn’t even become the Cleveland Cavaliers’ head coach until Jan. 22, 2016 — but Warriors fans are understandably on edge. Forget the league-best 31-6 record. Golden State does not lack a sense of purpose or identity, but the pieces clearly do not fit together perfectly after less than half of a regular season together. The league’s best team over the past two seasons has not experienced much adversity until now, and it’s clear that there is work to be done.
At least a few of the Warriors seem to understand as much. In fact, Green thinks such a dispiriting loss could be a good thing in the long run. From Janie McCauley of the Associated Press:
“I’m actually happy we lost today because there are some things that we need to correct in order to win a championship. That’s our goal,” Green said. “Our fourth-quarter offense has been atrocious.”
Head coach Steve Kerr knows there are problems to solve, as well:
“The fourth quarter, once they made that run, our body language was bad, and that can’t happen,” Kerr said. “And that bothered me.”
Right now, the Warriors look like a team that gets uncomfortable when opponents push them to their limits. That’s a decent problem to have for a team with a remade bench and a new superstar to integrate, especially when it hasn’t kept them from putting up the best record and the best point differential in the NBA. These are worries for the playoffs, not the regular season. But the Warriors are not judged like other teams, and they’re going to hear these concerns until they win at least one championship.
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