Wake-up call: Warriors trying to learn from late-game meltdowns

Wake-up call: Warriors trying to learn from late-game meltdowns

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.

Durant building 'Thunder Stopper' reputation after 40-point effort

Durant building 'Thunder Stopper' reputation after 40-point effort

OAKLAND -- Kevin Durant, Thunder Stopper? With a second consecutive magnificent performance in decisive wins over his former Oklahoma City teammates, Durant may be adding a nickname.

Durant on Wednesday night posted his first 40-point game as a Warrior, carrying them to a 121-100 win over the Thunder at Oracle Arena.

He has scored 79 points in two games against OKC, taking only 40 shots to ring up such an impressive total. He was 13-of-16 Wednesday night and 15-of-24 in scoring 39 points in a 122-96 win on Nov. 3 at Oracle.

Though Durant downplayed his production, his coach and teammates were not surprised he has been so good against the team with which he spent nine seasons.

“It’s still kind of fresh, but we can’t deny the history of him with OKC,” Stephen Curry said.

“Every player in the NBA wants to play well against his old team,” coach Steve Kerr said. “For most guys, you feel that extra juice when you play against a team that you played on.”

Durant not only finished with a season-high point total but also added a team-best 12 rebounds, along with four assists and three blocks. He practically stamped his signature on the game.

“My teammates are doing a good job of freeing me up,” said Durant, who drilled 5-of-7 from beyond the arc. “I put the work in and prepared myself for every game. I just happened to knock them down.”

It’s not just that Durant was facing his former team, though. He was, once again, on opposite sides from longtime teammate and erstwhile friend Russell Westbrook. The two have not had much to say to each other since Durant’s decision last July to leave OKC and sign with the Warriors.

Little changed Wednesday night, though the two had a brief exchange in the second half, as Durant headed to the line to shoot a pair of free throws.

Asked if the two have talked, Westbrook said, “Nah,” despite the brief dialogue.

Durant carefully avoided saying anything remotely inflammatory about Westbrook or any of his former teammates.

“It’s good to see everybody,” he said. “Once the ball is tipped, you’re just playing. You’re just hooping. It’s as simple as that. But it’s definitely good to see everybody.”

Durant’s lone lowlight came when he blew a dunk with 1:45 left in the first half, taking flight about 10 feet from the basket and slamming the ball off the back of the rim and nearly to halfcourt.

“I thought I made it,” Durant said, “and then I heard the crowd.

“I was kind of upset. I tried to dunk it too hard, I think. I might have jumped from a little too far out. As I was close to the rim, I felt myself coming down a little earlier than usual.

“But, yeah, I should have made that one. That would have brought the crowd to its feet. But, hopefully, I’ll get another opportunity.”

The crowd was on its feet plenty, as was the case during Durant’s previous display against OKC. The Thunder won’t be back to Oakland this season.

Durant will have another chance to go after his former team and burnish his credentials as a Thunder Stopper when the teams meet on Feb. 11 in Oklahoma City.

 

Westbrook on Pachulia's flagrant foul: 'I'm going to get his ass back'

Westbrook on Pachulia's flagrant foul: 'I'm going to get his ass back'

Late in the first half of Wednesday's game between the Warriors and Thunder, Russell Westbrook collided with Zaza Pachulia.

Pachulia appeared to hit Westbrook in the face. The Thunder guard hit the floor and rolled around for a few seconds before bouncing back up.

The officials reviewed the play and assessed a flagrant foul on Pachulia.

After the game, Westbrook was asked about his vantage point on the play and he didn't hold back.

"I don't know. He me kind of hard. But it's alright. I'm going to get his ass back. Straight up," Westbrook said.

He was then asked if he noticed Pachulai standing over him.

"I didn't see that until just now, but I don't play that game. I'm going to get his ass back. Whenever that is, I don't know, but I don't play that game," Westbrook said.

Westbrook's comments were brought to Pachulia after the game and the Warriors center offered this rebuttal.

"I can't worry about that kind of comment. I'm part of an amazing team and we have a great goal of winning a championship. I'm all in with my energy, 100 percent. So we're thinking about this team, staying healthy, moving forward, getting better, getting to the playoffs and playing for the championship. That's what I'm thinking about. I'm not thinking about those kind of comments. That team is not there, so they may be thinking about other stuff like getting me back. Okay, you can get me back. But again, it's my 14th year, we all know what my game is, to play hard, not dirty. If it was a hard foul, it was a hard foul. It wasn't dirty at all. I'm not worried about this," Pachulia told the media.

Westbrook will get that chance on February 11 when the Warriors travel to Oklahoma City.