Warriors 3 Things: Golden State’s loss to Memphis exposed their fatal flaw

Warriors 3 Things: Golden State’s loss to Memphis exposed their fatal flaw

SAN FRANCISCO — There has been a lot of praise, perhaps even bloviation, about the Warriors after the team’s strong start to the season.

The vast majority of it has been earned. This is a good team — one of the best squads in the Western Conference – that has a clear identity on both ends of the floor, enviable depth, and a transcendent superstar at the peak of his powers.

But in an NBA where there is no clear-cut title favorite and certainly no obvious juggernaut in the Western Conference, the Warriors’ impressive play from the jump has led some to suggest that this team, with this roster, is a title contender.

The Memphis Grizzlies showed why that’s not the case on Thursday night at Chase Center in a 104-101 win.

The simple act of dropping a game wasn’t the title-talk forfeiting transgression for the Dubs.

No, it was how they lost the game that had serious resonance.

Yes, it was an October game, but it was one against a playoff-caliber team that brings it every night. The contest was heated to the point where Steph Curry was empathically clapping ahead of a late-contest defensive possession against an isolating Ja Morant.

There was some real heat to this game.

And in that heat, the Warriors’ offense melted.

It wasn’t a one-off or a bit of bad luck — it was a symptom of a larger problem. One that — even with Klay Thompson and James Wiseman back in the fold and playing well — will likely haunt this team in the spring, further health permitting.

Be skeptical if you want, but Thursday’s game felt every bit like an early-season playoff preview in the building. And in it, the Grizzlies exposed the Warriors’ fatal flaw.

Tied at 98 with two minutes to go, the Warriors — despite tremendous defense — stopped scoring.

Steph missed an off-balance 3-pointer with 1:24 to play and another long, desperation heave at the regulation buzzer.

It was a tied game — a two would have done. Instead, Curry was shooting from 25 feet-plus.

These two shots were sandwiched by an unacceptable 8-second violation turnover by Green.

Things didn’t get any better in overtime.

Yes, Damion Lee hit a 3-pointer — his second big-time shot of the game — to put Golden State ahead 101-100, but in the final two minutes of regulation and five minutes of overtime, the Warriors attempted 10 shots. They made one: That Lee 3.

All but two of those late-game shots were 3-pointers — five from Curry and three from Lee, with Lee getting the only open looks.

The two shots the Warriors attempted inside the 3-point line were both blocked at the rim.

Credit to the Grizzlies, a good defensive team whose physicality and length throws the Warriors, in particular, but the basket was closed beyond the arc and at the rim.

Where do you go when that’s the case — as it usually is during the big moments of big games against good teams?

The mid-range.

And the most direct way to get a shot off from the mid-range is to rise and fire off the bounce.

Does this remind you of another team?

Yes, this was the fatal flaw with the original Strength In Numbers teams, as evidenced best by the fourth quarter of Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals.

He was the most talented free agent in years in a league defined by superstars, but there was a more acute reason the Warriors added Kevin Durant after that fateful 2016 game at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors needed a power wing — someone who could create his own shot off the dribble and rise and knock down shots on dude’s heads.

The Warriors’ free-flowing system doesn’t flow as freely when the game is in its biggest moments. It’s a natural reaction for things to clog up, an unstoppable force of nature to clench. It’s also a defense locking in on the task at hand.

They needed a player like Durant — even a lesser version of arguably the greatest scorer of all time would do.

Harrison Barnes was a good player, but he was never going to be that kind of guy.

There was additional maneuvering needed, but the Dubs effectively swapped Barnes for Durant that summer. In turn, they created the greatest basketball team of the 21st century.

With Durant, there was always an outlet — a safety valve — for the Warriors when the ball-movement machine was grinding.

Give it to KD, and KD would get a bucket. Inside, outside, anywhere in between — it really was that simple.

But Durant isn’t putting on No. 35 in blue and yellow anytime soon, and now that the Dubs are back to being a competent — perhaps even contending — squad, his absence is glaring in moments like those we saw unfold Thursday.

The Warriors had creators on the floor — Curry, Green, Iguodala (to an extent) — they only had one player, Curry, who could create his own shot off the dribble. And he’s having to shoot from well behind the line to get a clean look at the basket.

The return of Thompson isn’t going to fix this problem, by the way. He wasn’t the solution the first time around.

Thompson is a great player — one of the best in NBA history in my book — but he’s not a dribbler. Even at the free-throw line, he takes one mechanical bounce.

There’s no shimmy, no shake. Just the purest stroke that ever existed. And while he’s happy to shoot in someone’s face, he’s not creating his own shot. He would have been a massive upgrade over Lee Thursday. (And Lee was good.)

Perhaps Kerr should have called for a Wiggins isolation late in the game, but I can’t blame him for not wanting that play — Wiggins turned the ball over on the last two plays in the game that were called for him and he’s an underwhelming isolation player.

Or, maybe Kerr should have trusted Jordan Poole instead of Lee in that moment. He’s confident enough and has good enough handles to try to get to his spot and knock down a 15-footer.

But Poole had been sloppy to the point of recklessness in the game. He had six turnovers, four made baskets, and three assists. Oh, and he was a liability on defense.

This was not his game. Those have been few and far between so far this season. I don’t think he should have been on the floor Thursday.

Might he need to be on the floor come April? I can buy that. And that’s what a season is for — lessons and, hopefully, progression on both sides of the floor. (A progression, in this case on offense, I’m done expecting Wiggins to make.)

If the Warriors continue to play well — as I expect — and make the playoffs, the team’s lack of a secondary isolation scorer will be the thing that undoes them.

They can still go far, but not all the way — not without one of those, the rarest of breeds in the league.


Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers

(Jose Carlos Fajardo/Bay Area News Group)

Let’s take a moment to acknowledge that Thursday’s game had no business being close, because the Warriors had no good reason to turn the ball over as often and as ridiculously as they did against the Grizzlies.

Not to belabor an obvious point (“too late, Dieter!”) but Green’s eight-second violation was an immediate disqualification for the Dubs Thursday.

It wasn’t some brain-fart in the second quarter. He took too long to bring the ball up the court with a little over a minute left in a tied game.

And Poole’s turnovers? What can you say but “wow!”

The Warriors are relying on the third-year guard to be a key player for the team this year, with or without Thompson. He’s been an impactful player to date — far too often it’s making a positive impact for the opposing team, though.

The Warriors can do nothing but be patient, continue to provide opportunity, hoping things improve. Thank goodness Lee has been a plus player on both ends of the court.


A defensive series to remember

Even in the loss, the Warriors did excellent things on Thursday. The most impressive of them all, though, was their defensive possession in the final minute of regulation of a tied game.

That should have been the signature moment of a Dubs’ win and 5-0 start.

It’s a shame it has been relegated to this point of the column — an afterthought at best after a truly excellent game of basketball from a neutral perspective.

The play started with Curry wanting the smoke from Morant, who is, unquestionably, a dude.

(My goodness, what a great player he is already — a young man worthy of the utmost respect.)

It ended with a great Green rebound.

In between, Curry was crossed off the earth, the Grizzlies pulled down an offensive rebound, Curry went near-Duke and stuffed Morant on a drive.

Green followed that up with a brilliant block on the perimeter and the ball.

Optimism about this Warriors team should be rooted in sequences like that on defense.

It’s a shame that this is a league defined by offense — this team can be truly special on the other end of the court.

© 2022 KQPT-FM. Internet Development by Frankly Media.