The Golden State Warriors’ penchant for losing games they have in hand is almost becoming legendary. They’re the fastest gunslingers in the West, but they could teach a masterclass in shooting themselves in the foot on too many occasions this season. On Sunday night, these Warriors had a victory in hand that would have kept them within striking distance of the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed.
In the final 2.4 seconds, Spurs forward Devin Vassell inexplicably fouled Andrew Wiggins after the Warriors corralled a loose ball. Wiggins made the first and missed the second, giving Golden State a 108-107 lead. However, Kevon Looney pushed off Jakob Poeltl on the boxout, which put Poeltl at the free-throw line with a chance to take the lead. Poetl made the first, then doinked the second, but Keldon Johnson was somehow able to corral a tipped ball and lay it in off the backboard, leaving .3 seconds remaining. Ironically, Otto Porter’s inability to reel in Poeltl’s errant free-throw tainted his career-high 16 rebound night, including a career-best eight offensive boards.
Sunday’s loss follows a distinct pattern of Golden State squandering wins in the fourth quarter over the last two months. On Jan. 21, Golden State’s recklessness got the best of them in an overtime loss to Indiana. The Pacers were playing without Malcolm Brogdon, Caris LeVert, or Domantas Sabonis, and center Goga Bitadze was ejected before halftime.
On Feb. 27, the Mavericks rallied from a 21-point third-quarter deficit to hand the Warriors their first regulation loss in a game they led by more than 20 points since 2007. In the tightly packed Western Conference, every game matters. Golden State sits 1.5 games behind the Grizzlies for the second seed, two games ahead of the Jazz, with 10 games remaining.
It’s not quite losing a 3-1 lead, but their volatility is becoming problematic. The Warriors are a mixed bag in clutch situations. In the last five minutes of a game, when a team is leading or trailing by five points or fewer, the Warriors are 22nd in offensive rating and 19th in rebound percentage. The most concerning trend is their 26 percent 3-point shooting in clutch time. The only teams worse in crunch time are the Orlando Magic, Denver Nuggets, San Antonio Spurs, Indiana Pacers, Atlanta Hawks, and the Chicago Bulls.
That imprecise shooting from downtown has been exceptionally detrimental for the team that takes a higher frequency of 3-pointers than every opponent not from the state of Utah. Golden State’s offensive woes in crunch time spotlight the chasm that exists between it and the Phoenix Suns. The Warriors’ 49.3 Effective Field Goal percentage ranks 10th in the league. Phoenix’s 63.6 EFG feels worlds away.
Golden State’s turnover percentage also ranks 22nd. With age, the Warriors have gained more wisdom, but they’re still the same volatile group in many ways. Golden State held San Antonio to 38.8 percent shooting on Sunday, but their 15 turnovers translated to 22 points for the Spurs.
The freewheeling style that’s been The Warriors’ staple has often gotten them into and out of jams for years. They don’t have the vast chasm in talent anymore. Golden State has to win by closer margins. A combination of Steph Curry’s shooting slump, injuries, getting Klay Thompson re-acclimated, and Draymond Green’s absence has seen this Warriors team appear discombobulated when championship contenders should be at their most composed.
Offensively, they’ve been turning the ball over like they just finished covering the ball with Crisco between plays, and they rebound like it, too. Their lack of size, primarily due to James Wiseman’s extensive rehab, has left them vulnerable to solid rebounding teams.
Fittingly, Draymond Green was absent for the final frame of Sunday’s loss after he was ejected in his first start. Golden State’s core for the last decade keeps finding new ways to stay off the floor, hurting them in close games. They’ll need all hands on deck down the stretch with Curry sidelined until next month. The Durant-era Warriors had an extra gear they could switch on after waltzing through the regular season, but it’s unclear if this is Golden State’s best after so many head-scratching losses lately. Kerr and Co. have to clean up their clunky offensive execution and get their shooters in rhythm if they’re going to blitz through the West as they’ve done in years past.