BOSTON — For the first three quarters of the Golden State Warriors‘ game against the Boston Celtics on Thursday, Stephen Curry and company looked like themselves. Coach Steve Kerr went as far as to say they looked like a championship team.
But then, in the fourth quarter and through overtime, everything they had put together unraveled … again.
And now after a 121-118 loss to the Celtics, the Warriors sit at 22-23 halfway through the season and just 5-18 on the road.
“We’re capable, but it’s a matter of execution and being able to sustain it,” Curry said. “There’s another level to get to that we haven’t gotten [to] in terms of putting together a full 48 minutes.”
The Warriors are in complete search mode. They have been all season. And so far, they have found almost nothing.
To a certain degree, they still believe this to be true. But there’s also an understanding that this season is not like any other.
“Last year [we] started 18-2, we had some rough patches but at least you had a segment of the season that you could say we figured it out,” Curry said after Golden State lost to the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 15. “We might have had a game or two, but we have not had a stretch where consistently we can say we have figured it out. You’re going to lose games from time to time … But a lot of it is self-inflicted or not being able to prove we have the identity that we need.”
Golden State can file its game against the Celtics under the umbrella Curry was talking about.
For the majority of their dynastic run over the past 10 years, the Warriors became known for their big third quarters. They configured different versions of closing small-ball lineups that they dubbed “death lineups.” The “Strength In Numbers” slogan was well-earned.
But this season, it all seems off.
Thursday’s game in Boston saw one of their better third quarters in a while, but they weren’t able to slam the door shut. Their bench hasn’t been nearly as productive as last season.
“There has to be a sense of urgency but I don’t think we’re playing that way… If you don’t have a consistent level of urgency then you are going to lose,” Draymond Green said after their loss in Chicago.
He continued: “I think the point [where we’ll turn a corner] will come, but you’ve got to build toward it. You can’t take two steps forward, or three steps back. It’s got to be a constant build … that constant build has not started.”
Golden State is far from the first team with title aspirations to be treading water at the midway point of the season. Just a year ago, the Celtics found themselves with a 25-25 record through 50 games.
After a loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 28, the Celtics went on a nine-game winning streak. They only lost six games the remainder of the regular season on their way to the NBA Finals.
The Warriors will now look to follow a similar script, and one they’re familiar with themselves.
Two seasons ago without Thompson, Golden State hovered around .500 before winning 15 of their last 20 games, eventually losing in the play-in tournament.
The Warriors haven’t expressed exactly what is holding them back. They’ve said they don’t know why they can’t string good games — or even a series of good decisions, in some cases — together.
Kerr took the first step in trying to find a spark for his team by switching his starting lineup against the Celtics, something he said he’ll stick with for now. Jordan Poole started in place of Kevon Looney, joining Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, Curry and Green.
“We’re past the halfway point and we’re .500. Let’s try something different,” Kerr said.
There is still time for the Warriors to find themselves. And, even though Curry says they can’t rest on their laurels and expect everything to click suddenly, there is a level of comfort given their experience.
And that is what’s keeping them from being concerned.
“We’ve got a core group that has won titles,” Kerr said. “I have great faith in all those guys. They’ve been through everything together and they’ve had great success. It’s a long haul to get through the NBA season … it’s not easy. But I have no doubt that we have enough. And those guys know how to get it done.”