BOSTON – For the first three quarters of the Golden State Warriors’ game against the Boston Celtics on Thursday, Stephen Curry and company looked like themselves. Coach Steve Kerr went so far as to say they looked like a championship team.
But then, in the fourth quarter and through overtime, everything they had put together came … again.
And now after a 121-118 loss to the Celtics, the Warriors sit at 22-23 on the season and just 5-18 on the road more than halfway through the season.
“We’re capable, but it’s a matter of execution and being able to sustain it,” Curry said. “There’s another level to reach that we haven’t reached [to] in terms of putting together a full 48 minutes.”
The Warriors are in full search mode. They were every season. And so far, they got almost nothing.
They are not panicking or showing much concern, at least in public. Klay Thompson is lying her long-adopted mind of: If we make it to the playoffs healthy, we can beat anyone.
To some extent, they still believe this to be true. But there’s also a sense that this season is like no other.
“Last year [we] started 18-2, we had some rough patches but at least you had a part of the season where you could say we found it,” Curry said during Golden State’s loss to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 15. “It was maybe we’ve had a game or two, but we haven’t had a stretch where we can consistently say we’ve done it. You’re going to lose games from time to time … But a lot of it is self-inflicted or not being able to prove that we have the identity that we need.”
Golden State can file its game against the Celtics under the shadow Curry was talking about.
For most of their dynastic run over the past 10 years, the Warriors called their big third quarter. They configured different versions of closing small ball lineups that they called “death lineups.” The slogan “Strength In Numbers” was well deserved.
But this season, it seems all off.
Thursday’s game in Boston saw their best third quarter in a while, but they couldn’t close the door. Their bench is not nearly as productive as last season.
“There has to be urgency but I don’t think we’re playing like that… If you don’t have a consistent level of urgency you’re going to lose,” Draymond Green said after their loss in Chicago.
He continued: “I think the point is [where we’ll turn a corner] It will come, but you have to build towards it. You cannot take two steps forward, or three steps back. It has to be a continuous build … that continuous build hasn’t started.”
Golden State is far from the first team with title aspirations to be treading water at the midway point of the season. Just a year ago, the Celtics found themselves with a 25-25 record through 50 games.
After a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on January 28, the Celtics went on a nine-game winning streak. They lost just six games the rest of the regular season on their way to the NBA Finals.
The Warriors will now look to follow a similar script, and one they are familiar with.
Two seasons ago without Thompson, Golden State hovered around .500 before winning 15 of their last 20 games, ultimately losing in the playoffs.
The Warriors have not indicated exactly what is holding them back. They’ve said they don’t know why they can’t string good games — or even a series of good decisions, in some cases — together.
Kerr took the first step in finding a spark for his team by changing his starting lineup against the Celtics, something he said he will stick with for now. Jordan Poole started in place of Kevon Looney, joining Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Curry and Green.
“We’re past the halfway point and we’re at .500. Let’s try something different,” Kerr said.
The Warriors still have time to find themselves. And, while Curry says they can’t rest on their laurels and expect everything to suddenly click, there is a level of comfort given their experience.
And that is what keeps him from worrying.
“We have a core group that has won titles,” Kerr said. “I have great faith in all those guys. They’ve done everything together and they’ve been great. It’s a long haul to get through the NBA season … it’s not easy. But it’s not I have no doubt that we are. And those guys know how to do it.”