Six losses that pushed Warriors into play-in they hoped to avoid

Six losses that pushed Warriors into play-in they hoped to avoid originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

The trophies, all four of them, still shine. The four rings all represent greatness past. The banners on display at Chase Center tell of roads traveled and conquered. Even now, there are Warriors who, given a moment to reminisce, can feel and smell the champagne of championship celebration.

Yet it was not until late Sunday afternoon that the Warriors knew they would play beyond this regular season. By clinching the No. 10 seed in the Western Conference, they became last of the 20 NBA teams granted access to at least the NBA Play-In Tournament.

They receive this morsel, but there was no celebration because standards were unmet. Instead, as the Warriors accept lukewarm reality, some surely drifted into memories of this tumultuous 2023-24 NBA season.

A season that has them in Los Angeles on Tuesday, facing the Lakers and the prospect of having their play-in game on the road rather than at home – as if that makes a difference.

“I don't know,” coach Steve Kerr said Sunday. “We're a better road team than home team this year.”

How did these proud Warriors, most of them 22 months removed from an NBA championship, land in a place they’d hoped to avoid?

The reasons are many, from a tragic death in the family to hurtful suspensions to injuries to slumping stars. What stands out, though, are the numerous alarming performances that dropped the Warriors into the second NBA playoff tier, where one loss could kick them into the offseason.

Here are the six losses, ranked from painful to devastating, that stood between the Warriors and the guaranteed playoff berth that would have come with finishing among the top six teams in the West:

Jan. 7 vs. Toronto Raptors: 133-118

The Warriors were coming off a painful home loss to the Denver Nuggets, having blown an 18-point lead in the final seven minutes. Even with Draymond Green still on suspension, they figured to punish the next team to enter Chase: Toronto, which was 14-21.

Golden State was down seven in the first minute, down 14 after seven. The Raptors spent the first quarter torching the Warriors’ reckless offense, scoring 10 points off five turnovers, and exploiting shoddy defense with 64-percent shooting.

The Warriors trailed throughout, giving up 76 points in the first half and never getting closer than nine after halftime. They earned the boos that came their way.

March 18 vs. New York Knicks: 119-112

The Knicks came into Golden State’s house relatively unarmed, missing starting forwards Julius Randle and OG Anunoby, as well as starting center Mitchell Robinson. They had lost 14 of their previous 19 games.

No matter. Like gangsters, they still took the valuables. On a night when the Warriors were at full health, New York needed less than five minutes to build a 15-4 lead and pushed the margin as high as 15. Josh Hart played all 48 minutes and produced a triple-double. A man named Miles McBride scored 29 points.

Golden State’s starters were shoved off their own floor, taking the blunt end of a tip-to-buzzer loss.

Jan. 15 at Memphis Grizzlies: 116-107

With Ja Morant, Marcus Smart, Desmond Bane and Brandon Clarke all sidelined, Memphis took a 14-25 record onto the floor. This shaped up as one more loss on the way to the draft lottery.

The stars were missing, but the Grizzlies had – drum roll, please – Vince Williams Jr. (24 points), GG Jackson (23 points) and five others scoring in double figures. That was enough to offset a starting five that combined to shoot 26.9 percent from the field.

They needed help from the Warriors, and they got plenty. Golden State gave away 30 points off 19 turnovers. Stephen committed five, Dario Sarić four, Jonathan Kuminga and Green three each.

This is one for the inexcusable file.

Nov. 28 at Sacramento Kings: 124-123

The Warriors had a 24-point lead at Golden 1 Center.

They built a 12-point lead in the first eight minutes, watched it shrink to two three minutes later. Took a 17-point lead into the third quarter, watched it shrivel to nine entering the fourth.

Sacramento’s first lead was 111-110, with 5:46 remaining, and it outscored Golden State 9-2 over the final 90 seconds. The Warriors shot and rebounded better but gave up 26 points off turnovers. The beam was lit.

Kerr rightfully accepted a lot of blame. With Moses Moody single-handedly propping up Golden State’s offense – 11 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter – Kerr subbed him out with 4:26 remaining.

Warriors not named Moody shot 2-of-17 in the fourth.

March 9 vs. San Antonio Spurs: 126-113

In the first year of a rebuild around fabulous rookie Victor Wembanyama, the last-place Spurs came to the Bay Area to confront a Golden State team still salty after losing to a sub-.500 team in its previous home game.

Though the Warriors were without Gary Payton II and Curry, the Spurs were missing Wembanyama and Devin Vassell. Star power and records (33-29 for Golden State, 13-50 for San Antonio) favored the Warriors.

But the defense never announced itself. The Spurs shot 53.7 percent from the field, including an astounding 62.5 percent from deep to take a 19-point halftime lead.

The Warriors recovered slightly in the second half, but the defense still gave up 64 second-half points to a bottom-five offense.

March 7 vs. Chicago Bulls: 125-122

After a 3-1 trip through the Eastern Conference, the Warriors came home feeling good. Fully healthy to face the Milwaukee Bucks, who had won six in a row, they slapped them 125-90. Belief was being rewarded. And next up were the 30-32 Bulls.

The Warriors raced to a 13-point lead in the first quarter and Chase was rocking. Then the defense fell apart in the second and third quarters, allowing the Bulls to score 74 points on 61.7-percent shooting, including 52.6 percent from deep.

After Curry limped off with 3:51 remaining upon sustaining an ankle sprain, Bulls’ star DeMar DeRozan made big shots to hold off a late Golden State rally.

Why is this loss the most devastating? Because it came only two weeks after the Warriors publicly stated their goal was to climb to the No. 6 seed – and avoid the play-in tournament they secured two days ago.

Five others (in chronological order) to make it 11:

Nov. 18 vs. Oklahoma City Thunder: Led by 18 with 6:18 remaining in the third quarter. A Chet Holmgren 3-ball ties it in regulation. Lost 130-123 in overtime.

Dec. 2 at Los Angeles Clippers: Led by 22 early in the third quarter. Lost 113-112.

Jan. 4 vs. Denver Nuggets: Led by as much as 18 and were up seven with less than two minutes remaining. Lost 130-127 on a miracle shot by Nikola Jokić.

Jan. 27 vs. Los Angeles Lakers: Led by as much as 15 and were up nine with 3:58 remaining. Lost 145-144 in OT.

Feb. 14 vs. Los Angeles Clippers: Led by 14 with less than 11 minutes left. Lost 130-125, giving up 44 points in the fourth quarter – with Kawhi Leonard in street clothes.

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