He is a cheerful presence, a terrific teammate with considerable knowledge of how basketball should be played at the NBA level.
Only in exceedingly rare cases, though, is Anderson Varejao able to produce for the Warriors, and he’s no help at all when most of his teammates fail to show up.
Such was the case Saturday night in Memphis, when the Warriors, with Varejao starting at center in place of Zaza Pachulia, submitted their worst performance – worse, even, than that stunning setback to the Lakers on Dec. 4 – of the season in a 110-89 loss to a shorthanded Grizzlies team that, even when fully healthy, has difficulty scoring.
Though Varejao was a special level of awful, he was not alone in his ineptitude.
“It was one of those nights, you know,” Kevin Durant told reporters in Memphis.
Stephen Curry was careless on offense and indifferent on defense. Klay Thompson struggled with his shot and, therefore, his game. Draymond Green didn’t bring his usual energy but picked up a technical foul for beefing with an official. Durant didn’t meet his usual standard but acquitted himself relatively well.
The Warriors were smashed by a team of castoffs and hopefuls circulating around the established talents of Marc Gasol, Tony Allen and Zach Randolph. Most of the damage, however, was self-inflicted – as in 23 turnovers, resulting in 30 points for the Grizzlies.
Asked what went wrong with the offense, Warriors coach Steve Kerr didn’t hesitate.
“Everything,” he said. “Poor decision-making, poor ball-handling, good defense on their part. They were denying a lot of things and trying to knock us off our cuts, and they did a good job of that.”
So bad were the Warriors that Kerr, joked about his job status.
“I just checked with Bob,” he cracked, referring to general manager Bob Myers. “I’m not fired. I called him just to make sure.”
It was that kind of night, laughably bumbling, the kind of showing that has led to the firing of coaches on shaky status. It was stunning to watch the best team in the NBA, take the court at FedEx Forum and performed as if scrimmaging for season-ticket holders at team headquarters.
With stars Mike Conley, Chandler Parsons and Vince Carter out with injuries, the Grizzlies owned the night from the start, leading by as much as 30.
“We weren’t on the same page,” Thompson said. “We were trying to force too many things. We weren’t patient enough. When you play a team like that that plays at a slow pace you have to be patient. You can’t play at a fast pace like we have in the past. You have to be patient. You have to move the ball around the perimeter. You have to trust each other. It’s a bad night.”
The Warriors were playing without Andre Iguodala, who was resting, and Kevon Looney, who was nursing a sprained right ankle. Pachulia, with a contusion on his right wrist, was a late scratch.
The result was Varejao joining Green, Durant, Thompson and Curry in the starting lineup. It didn’t take long to get ugly, as Memphis took leads of 29-11 in the first quarter and maintained a double-digit lead until the final buzzer.
Varejao played 18 minutes and contributed five rebounds, two assists, one steal and two turnovers. He took only two shots, missing both, and finished minus-21.
“We definitely missed Zaza,” Durant said, “but that’s not the reason why we missed the basketball game. We waited too long to try to be physical. Once we started it was a little too late.
“We definitely want to have all our guys there, but sometimes it’s not in play. We still have to go out there, and play a better game than we played tonight. It’s just one of those games we have to throw out and get ready for the next one tomorrow.”
Well, that’s all there is to do. Every team, no matter how gifted, will have nights when its members stagger about like zombies. The Warriors have had two in 24 games.
The upside of this one was that Kerr could pull his starters early in hopes of preserving them for a game Sunday against the defective but frisky young Minnesota Timberwolves.