OAKLAND -- They say panic is not near, and it shouldn’t be. They say they will get better, and not only as they should but they must.
But after the kind of late-game meltdown that has to haunt any veteran team, much less one assembled to annihilate foes while marching toward a championship, the Warriors limped into the weekend with their backsides raw and their minds spinning.
What do they make of themselves? Do they even know who they are?
Is it acceptable to win 84 percent of the time, or must they gaze deeply into the other 16 percent to ascertain significance?
These are the questions swirling about in the wake of an abysmal and, ultimately, ruinous fourth quarter for the second time in 12 days, this one coming Friday night, a 128-119 overtime loss to the redoubtable Memphis Grizzlies before a bereaved sellout crowd at Oracle Arena.
“It’s not the end of the world,” forward Draymond Green said. “Nobody is hitting the panic button because we lost a regular-season game, because I really don’t care how many games we lose. It’s about getting better.
“I just don’t feel like right now we’re getting better at the rate that we need to get better at in order to reach the goal that we want to reach.”
Blowing a 24-point third-quarter lead, the Warriors were knocked into next week by a Grizzlies team that seems to know how and, moreover, when to crack their code. They used the same formula as the Cavaliers did in overcoming a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit on Christmas Day.
“Our fourth-quarter offense has been atrocious,” Green correctly assessed.
“The reason it was a game down the stretch is not because of our offense,” said Stephen Curry, whose 40 points weren’t enough. “When you give up a 24-point lead, it doesn’t matter how many shots you miss. You’ve got to get some stops.”
Green is right, as is Curry. The Warriors (31-6) fell apart at both ends. Softened up by Memphis muscle, the Grizzlies then used clutch shooting to send them reeling and rugged defense to deck them.
They invited defeat with skittish offense and defense that faded late in regulation and totally disappeared in OT, when Memphis (23-16) made seven of its eight shots.
“It was a combination of bad defense and looking up at the score and seeing the lead dwindle down and rushing a little bit,” Curry said.
“I think we got a little deflated.”
As the catalyst of the team and its longest-tenured member, Curry should have a feel for what is happening. He seems to be implying the Warriors are searching for their edge. That the ruthlessness displayed last season, while rampaging to an NBA-best 73-9 record in the regular season, has been hard to summon this season.
“We are trying some different things,” coach Steve Kerr said. “We just haven’t executed very well. Maybe that’s something that we can do better as a coaching staff, trying to get guys in better position. We’ll look at the tape and continue to experiment and try different things. But we have to close games better and execute better offensively.”
Closing out a game on defense is partly about communication but mostly about desire. Closing out on offense is partly about swagger, but mostly about execution. The Warriors were 0-for-4 in being outscored 49-21 after the third quarter.
“We’ve got some things we need to correct to be a championship team,” Green said. “And right now, we’re not that.”
Urging patience, which the Warriors did, to a man, squares with the rational mind but is a tough sell in the age of instant gratification and double-instant results.
They’re trying to develop and grow before an audience that sees four All-Stars and expects magnificence as the routine. They also are, even if they won’t admit it, bearing the burden of the unprecedented fashion in which they lost the NBA Finals.
“We have a long way to go,” said Kevin Durant, who was signed in July to assure redemption for that June defeat. “We’re still learning about each other. We’re still learning ourselves, especially in late game situations. We haven’t had a lot.
(Saturday) we’ll watch film and get ready for Sacramento. But we’ll learn a lot from this. I think it’ll make us better in the long run.”
To suggest this may be the game that snaps them awake presumes the Warriors have compiled the NBA’s best record while sleeping through the first 37 games. Maybe they have. They have 45 games left, and they’ll win the vast majority of them.
But if the Warriors don’t wake up and realize they’re as susceptible to their own shortcomings as they are to a determined and talented opponent, their postseason will be neither as long nor as glorious as they imagine.