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.

Does Draymond still care about DPOY after another ring? 'At this point...'

Does Draymond still care about DPOY after another ring? 'At this point...'

OAKLAND -- Even though Draymond Green still would like to win the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award, winning a championship with the Warriors has quenched much of thirst for the honor.

“I don’t really care that much anymore,” Green said after participating in the JaVale McGee Celebrity softball game Saturday at the Oakland Coliseum benefitting the Jug Life Foundation, promoting a healthy lifestyle around water consumption.

“I cared before,” Green added. “But we won the NBA championship now. I don’t care about what happened in the regular season any more at this point. I think I would have cared if I found out in Round 1 or Round 2 (of the playoffs).

“But at this point . . . I don’t even care any more.”

This is in marked contrast to what Green expressed early in the regular season, when he acknowledged the DPOY award is the only individual award he actively cared to win.

As recently as two months ago, in discussing his defensive performance in a season during which he made numerous memorable plays, including some game-saving defensive stands, Green let his words speak on his behalf.

“It is the best defensive season I’ve had, because I’ve continued to grow,” he said at the end of the regular season. “When I look at the last couple years, I think each year I got better defensively. And I think this year I’ve gotten better. So I do think it’s my best season, defensively -- but just not numbers-wise. The numbers are up a little bit more. But I actually feel better about what I’ve done on the defensive end than I have in any other year.”

Winning a championship apparently has an impact on the significance of individual awards.

A finalist for the award for which he finished second in each of the past two seasons, Green said Saturday that his plan is to leave for New York on Sunday and be in attendance when the awards are presented Monday night.

The other finalists for the award are Jazz center Rudy Gobert and Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, who won it the last two seasons.

All three players will be among those at Basketball City at Pier 36 in New York for the inaugural telecast of the NBA Awards on TNT.

Durant fires back at salty Thunder fans with custom cupcake hat

Durant fires back at salty Thunder fans with custom cupcake hat

Kevin Durant didn't forget about the taunts.

In February, when Durant returned to Oklahoma City for the first time as a member of the Warriors, Thunder fans heckled him with t-shirts featuring cupcakes, a reference to Durant being soft for joining the 73-win Warriors.

On Saturday, the cupcake graphic made a return with one slight change.

Durant, playing in JaVale McGee's JugLife Celebrity Softball game at the Oakland Coliseum on Saturday, showed up to the stadium wearing a cupcake hat. But instead of a cheery on top, a championship ring was superimposed on top of the cupcake.

So Durant, an NBA champion, got the last laugh.