Warriors' latest up-and-down road trip marred by more what-ifs
Warriors' latest road trip marred by even more what-ifs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea
The Warriors entered their three-game road trip through Oklahoma City, Minnesota and Denver as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference. They reached as high as the No. 5 seed and head home to San Francisco as the No. 9 seed.
That right there is the perfect synopsis to the Warriors' latest woes on the road. It started on a high note, crashed hard, fought to recover but still is digging out of another hole. This one isn't short on frustrations.
First, the strong start.
Facing an on-the-rise Oklahoma City Thunder team, the Warriors survived a late scare Monday night in a 128-120 win. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined to score 66 points and made 14 3-pointers. Andrew Wiggins and Jordan Poole each scored 15 points. Wiggins finally looked like himself again.
One game after handing out a season-high 40 assists, the Warriors totaled 37 against the Thunder. The small-ball lineup thrived and the Warriors showed flashes of being the defending NBA champions again.
"You got to play the full 48," Steve Kerr said to reporters after the win. "The start that we got off to, though, set the tone for the game. We played a great first quarter and they had to swim upstream the entire final three quarters. Even though they got close, we were able to hold them off."
Two days later, the Warriors failed to play the full 48. Big time.
At Target Center, the Warriors entered the fourth quarter up by 11 points against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Their lead extended all the way to 14 in the fourth. The Wolves went on a 9-0 run, and the Warriors were outscored 28-17 over those 12 minutes before being outscored by five in a 119-114 overtime loss.
This is where the what-ifs begin.
What if the Warriors simply controlled the ball? After committing only five turnovers in the first half, the Warriors turned the ball over six times in the fourth. They totaled 17, and Minnesota turned them into 24 points.
Curry committed four of those turnovers, including two in the fourth quarter. What if his strong start continued in the second half? He scored 21 of his 29 points through the first two quarters. Curry went 5-for-8 from the field in the first half and made five of his seven 3-point attempts. Between the second half and overtime, he scored eight points, went 3-for-13 and missed all five of his threes.
Kerr's tone was quite the opposite in the second of this three-game trip.
"We're not good enough to win without executing," Kerr said. "We might have been a few years ago. We're not good enough now to win without executing in the fourth quarter on the road. We're trying to correct that, we're trying to work on that and we got to do better."
Plus, Curry played 43 minutes in the OT loss. Thompson played 40, Draymond Green played 39 and Wiggins played 35. What if the Warriors were able to bury the Timberwolves in the fourth and give their veterans a rest instead of being pushed to overtime?
Thompson likely would have been ruled out Thursday either way, as he has sat the second night of back-to-backs all season. But maybe, just maybe, the Warriors' game against the Denver Nuggets was going to mark a new chapter for Thompson's season.
Green originally was listed as questionable with right foot soreness. He went through warmups and was a late scratch with right calf soreness. Kerr called the issue "minor," just as he has with the rest of the Warriors' injuries this season. Calf soreness last season turned to a back injury that held Green out for two months.
After playing 35 minutes for only the seventh time this season in the loss to his former team, Wiggins scored nine points Thursday night in the Warriors' 134-117 loss to the Nuggets. He went 3-for-14 from the field and 1-for-11 on 2-pointers.
The Warriors led by 11 points in the second quarter. The story of this loss wasn't about the start or end, though. What if the Warriors didn't crumble in the third quarter?
They won the first quarter by one point, were outscored by two in the second and trailed by one going into halftime. They also lost the fourth by three, but it was the third that was the difference. The Warriors were outscored 35-22 in that period.
With 5:19 remaining, the score was tied at 85 points apiece. The Warriors then trailed 105-91 going into the fourth. They allowed a 16-0 run and had eight turnovers after only five in the first half. Aside from the third quarter, the Warriors trailed by four points.
There also were reasons for optimism. Kerr's tone was more focused on that side of things before taking off for the Bay.
"I really liked how the guys played off the bench," Kerr said after the loss. "I thought everybody contributed well."
He later specifically shined a light on Donte DiVincenzo, James Wiseman and JaMychal Green.
Jonathan Kuminga scored 17 points, going 7-for-9 shooting, and grabbed seven rebounds. Jordan Poole had a strong showing with 22 points, five assists and three rebounds. Curry did all he could with 28 points, five assists and five rebounds. He was an efficient 10-for-17 and went 5-for-10 from long distance.
But Steph also appeared to hurt his right leg and then later his left.
Steph held his leg in pain after getting the and-one, but he remained in the game pic.twitter.com/EGW6dmS2Da
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) February 3, 2023
Maybe he doesn't even play if the Warriors win in regulation the night before.
RELATED: Why Steph remains 'mostly optimistic' about 26-26 Warriors
Curry told reporters he's "mostly optimistic" when it comes to the big picture, though he recognizes the Warriors have plenty to clean up, especially late in games. They're near the top in points per game and at the bottom in points allowed per game. Their offensive rating and defensive rating are right in the middle of the league.
Because that's what the Warriors are right now. Average and .500 again at 26-26 with loads of what-ifs six games before the NBA All-Star break and three ahead of the trade deadline. It's still impossible to predict where they'll wind up and as what.
Their win against the Thunder was at full strength, aside from Andre Iguodala. Just like that, they collapsed to a Timberwolves team that was without Karl-Anthony Towns and Rudy Gobert, putting them down going into a tough environment against the Nuggets.
The what-ifs outweigh the absolutes, keeping the Warriors in mediocrity for now.
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