SAN FRANCISCO — Perspective.
Steve Kerr spoke about the concept in great detail prior to the Golden State Warriors‘ matchup against the defending champion Denver Nuggets on Thursday night — “It’s a very stressful job, but only relatively speaking” was chief among his Popovichian axioms.
Little did Kerr know exactly how crucial that perspective would become just a few hours later.
As Nikola Jokic’s from just inside the half-court line floated through the air, it was almost a foregone conclusion that the dagger would land squarely in the arteries of the Warriors’ hearts. After a 25-4 Denver run over the final six-and-a-half minutes that erased an 18-point Golden State lead, Jokic’s game-winner sealed a 130-127 Nuggets win — and one of the most deflating losses of a disappointment-riddled Warriors season.
“This is a tough one,” Kerr said after the game. “This is as tough as they get — this loss tonight.”
The rapid turnaround bordered on cringeworthy for everyone except the Nuggets and their fans. After a season-best 44-point third quarter, the Warriors were on cruise control as their lead approached 20 midway through the fourth — players chest-bumping, fans rejoicing, the vibes tangibly improving by the second.
From that point on, however, they watched helplessly as the basket that had appeared as vast as the ocean for most of the game suddenly slammed shut. Meanwhile, Denver bludgeoned Golden State inside, consistently scoring at the rim and from the foul line to seize back momentum.
What was poised to be a celebratory, potentially transformative night for the Warriors devolved into yet another jagged lump of evidence suggesting that the unparalleled mojo of the Steph Curry-Klay Thompson-Draymond Green dynasty is rapidly nearing — and perhaps past — its expiration date.
Thursday was the fourth time this season that the Warriors lost a game which they led by 18 points or more. The most glaring instance was the one-point loss to the Sacramento Kings in late November, which saw Golden State surrender a 24-point lead, costing them a potential appearance in the In-Season Tournament quarterfinals. Just two games later, they blew a 22-point lead in a loss to the Clippers. And don’t forget Chet Holmgren’s that powered the Oklahoma City Thunder to an overtime victory at Chase Center shortly after.
“I have never had, like, such good wins and such bad losses,” Warriors rookie Brandin Podziemski said after Thursday’s defeat. “I kind of lean into the vets on what they think, and they just tell me it’s another game coming and just try to be consistent in your daily habits, your routine — and more often times than not we’ll come out with a victory. But, like I said, we’re blowing a lot of leads. We could easily have 20-25 wins this year.”
It’s been a bumpy, often heartbreaking ride for the now 16-18 Warriors, who are currently sitting outside of the Western Conference Play-In Tournament picture at 11th place. With Thompson and Andrew Wiggins underperforming for most of the season and Green still serving an indefinite suspension, Kerr’s word — perspective — is becoming more and more difficult to maintain.
With each loss mounts more suffocating pressure to not only salvage the season, but also to resurrect the charisma, success and synergy that’s become associated with Golden State’s logo over the past decade.
“You don’t want to be in position where you’re having to explain away bad losses,” Curry said on Thursday night. “But that’s who we are right now.”
The Warriors have, on occasion, taken the optimistic approach to their late-game failures. Of their 34 games this season, a league-leading 27 have been of the clutch variety — within five points with five minutes remaining. That’s led to a lot of tough losses (14, to be exact), but it also means that Golden State is in nearly every game until the end. If the ball bounces slightly different, the execution is slightly more crisp or a foul call goes their way, suddenly their record looks a lot more appealing.
But it’s hard to be an optimist when you’re losing, especially the way the Warriors have been losing.
Now, more than ever, perspective has to be king in order to prevent the season from cratering, along with the ramifications that would accompany that failure. The page that the Warriors must turn seemingly each and every night is getting heavier by the loss, but if anyone understands the fickle nature of the NBA — the ability of fortunes to change at the slightest twist of fate — it’s the veterans and champions that lead Golden State’s organization.
“When you lose hope in yourself as a team, that’s when the conversation changes. We’re not there,” Curry remarked. ” … Even with the record we [have] now, we know we can compete. Just a situation where you’re out there with a look of despair on your face because you’re trying to figure out how it happened. We have to fight that balance right now for us to give ourselves a chance.”