Heading into Wednesday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets, the Golden State Warriors were riding a 10-game winning streak and a perfect 6-0 record on their current road trip. What was on the line? Not only tying the franchise record for consecutive wins (11), but becoming the first team in NBA history to go on a road trip of seven games or more and emerge with an unblemished record. Thanks to noticeable fatigue, a lot of turnovers and an upstart Nets team that is now 4-0 in 2014, that blemish finally came.
In the first quarter it was business as usual and it looked like the Warriors were going to run away with the game and make history in the process. Golden State shot 62 percent from the floor and went 6-for-8 from downtown to build a 32-22 advantage. But then in the second quarter, everything fell apart, particularly on the defensive end. Most people think of the Warriors as an offense-only team, but Golden State’s winning streak and their status as a Western Conference powerhouse was/is because of their stout defense. Look at how the Dubs stacked up against the league coming into the game:
Warriors: 3rd in D rating, 1st in rebounding, 4th in assists, 7th in blocks. Last year, 14th in D rating & assists, 27th in blocks.
— Jim Park (@SheridanBlog) January 8, 2014
But in the second quarter, that defense fell to pieces as the Nets outscored Golden State 37-20 to take back the lead heading into halftime. It probably didn’t help that the Warriors’ reserves were so bad in their limited minutes that Mark Jackson ended up riding his starters into the ground on the second night of a back-to-back. Stephen Curry (45 minutes), Klay Thompson (43 minutes) and David Lee (40 minutes) looked absolutely gassed by the time the final buzzer sounded. Even Andrew Bogut (31 minutes) and Andre Iguodala (30 minutes) had to put up more minutes than they were used to.
Saying the Warriors were fatigued is putting it lightly. Curry’s struggled with his shot on this road trip (42.3 FG%, 31.7 3P%) and he’s had problems with turnovers all season, but his performance in the game’s waning minutes was clearly impacted by borderline exhaustion. He and Klay Thompson couldn’t get their legs under a couple of open threes that would usually be money. Curry didn’t look like he wanted to jump at all, especially on the game-clinching turnover to Kevin Garnett out of a double team. The Warriors also scored only one field goal in the last four minutes of the game.
No one’s taking any credit away from the Nets, because they earned this one. Iggy couldn’t stop Joe Johnson, who finished with 27 points. Andray Blatche had 17 off the bench. And Kevin Garnett caught fire in the fourth quarter to keep Brooklyn ahead. But when Golden State’s playmakers are too tired to make plays, when their shooters don’t have the legs to make shots and when their brains are too drained to take care of the ball, it’s no surprise the Warriors are returning home without that historical achievement.
An increasingly worrisome problem, even amid a 10-1 spurt in Golden State’s last 11 games, is how hard Jackson is riding his starters on a nightly basis. Thompson and Curry are both averaging more than 37 minutes per game in the backcourt, but backup point guard Toney Douglas is only seeing 11.7 per game. That’s probably because Douglas has been mostly terrible during his time in the game, but the Warriors’ lack of a true backup point guard who can ease Curry’s minute totals could be the difference between playing for a championship and playing at one.
I think Iguodala can be a capable backup PG, but so long as Jackson won’t play him that way, GSW needs a backup PG
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) January 7, 2014
That being said, the Warriors are still in good shape and shouldn’t be demoralized about losing the final contest after playing seven games in 11 nights. Wednesday night’s game in Brooklyn was Golden State’s 23rd road game, which is the most any team in the NBA has played so far this season. The loss dropped the Dubs to the sixth spot in the West after they had climbed all the way up to fourth, but the standings are so tight right now that any win or loss is going to scramble the seeds around a little bit.
Even without making history, the Warriors went 6-1 on a tough road trip and still have an impressive 9-2 record against the East, not to mention their 19-4 record when Mark Jackson’s preferred starting five is available. If this team stays healthy, they still have plenty of time to climb up the standings and into the top four (and maybe even three). That is, if Jackson saves his shooters’ legs for the postseason.