After big win over Clippers, Warriors still searching for spark
LOS ANGELES — The Golden State Warriors, the defending NBA champs, haven’t been themselves this season.
But after dropping three of their first seven games, the Warriors played their most complete game of the season Monday night, resulting in a 141-113 victory over the rival LA Clippers at Staples Center.
“We always have confidence going into every game that we’ll play our best,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said after the game. “Obviously, so far this season, it hasn’t happened until tonight.”
Ball security, for one, has been problematic. Heading into the contest against the Clippers, the Warriors had turned the ball over 16 or more times in every game this season, including 26 turnovers in a loss to the Detroit Pistons on Sunday at Oracle Arena.
The carelessness, at least for a game, was cleaned up in Los Angeles, as Golden State committed a season-low 12 turnovers. This was a point of emphasis for coach Steve Kerr. With the Warriors up 74-57 at halftime, Curry said, Kerr reminded the Warriors that they are tops in the league in time holding the lead.
Kerr’s message was to not mess it up again, and they didn’t.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say [a decisive win was] due, because you’ve got to let it happen,” Draymond Green said. “I think we all started to want one, though. At the start of the season, we’re like, ‘All right, we’re fine. We’ll just try to cruise into it and try to keep getting better. Not go too crazy with the wins and losses.’ But we’re competitors, we’re a championship team. We want to win.”
“It’s kind of crazy to think about how we’ve played the first eight games,” Curry said. “We have the highest-rated offensive efficiency, but our defense and our turnovers have been our Achilles’ heel thus far.”
Golden State is 26th in the league in defensive efficiency after finishing second in the category last season.
It is unlikely all of the Warriors’ issues are resolved after one big win, but Kerr did acknowledge that there is such a thing as a championship hangover. Golden State has lacked spunk, urgency and attention to detail early on.
And the NBA’s newly modified schedule could be a factor.
To improve the on-court product by giving players more rest during the season, the league decreased the number of back-to-backs and eliminated four-games-in-five-nights slates. However, this regular season started two weeks earlier than usual. This time last year, the Warriors had played only two games going into November. This season, they’re already up to eight games heading into November.
Players around the league are talking about how it feels as if they should be approaching Thanksgiving by now. In many ways, this season will be more of a mental drain than a physical one, and players are already feeling the effects.
“The physical effort is generally there,” Kerr said. “It’s the mental approach and it’s the focus.”
Rachel Nichols explains why its paramount that Golden State finds ways to stay invested in the regular season.
Now coaches across the league are tasked with the difficult assignment of demanding consistency and effort for longer periods of time without losing the ear of their players.
“That’s why LeBron going to the Finals for seven years in a row, to me, is one of the most amazing accomplishments ever to play in this league,” Kerr said. “You feel it, you feel it after a number of years. The team has a different vibe around it, and you got to fight through that.”
But Kerr said he’s going to be patient. Assistant coach Ron Adams told Kerr a great line from Hall of Fame coach Chuck Daly: “Sometimes, you have to wait on a championship team.” It’s a line Kerr is going to stick with during this juncture.
“We’re nowhere near where we’re going to be or where we can be,” Green said. “It’s a long road and we’ll get there. And like I said, I think [this team] has the potential to be better [than previous Warriors teams], but we’re not even close right now.”
Kerr recalled his own experience being part of a Chicago Bulls squad that went to the Finals three straight years, 1996 to 1998. They won 72 games the first season and 69 the next, then slipped to 62 wins. Kerr understands what his Warriors team is going through.
“That third year [in Chicago], everybody was fried,” he said. “We started out the year 8-7. We were having all these team meetings. It feels exactly the same. It’s not easy.”
Complacency can creep in, especially when a team has been so dominant in recent years.
“When I got here three years ago, these guys were bouncing off the walls every night,” Kerr said. “They couldn’t wait to play. They had lost in the first round the previous year. They had this hunger and this motivation, and this is a different vibe this year. Every year is different.”
Monday’s win might have been what the Warriors were looking for to get the ball rolling on what many people expect to be another season of dominance. There is plenty of time to get to that point, but the Warriors know it’s going to take more than just a big win here and there.
“You’re just searching for that feel-good, and we haven’t really had that,” Green said.