It could be worse (no, really)
Warriors looking for answers after late meltdown, but aren't lost just yet
Another late meltdown. Another game where the dynasty wheezed out a feeble breath instead of a victory scream.
The Golden State Warriors blew a big lead (again) to fall to the Denver Nuggets last night. It was a rough watch over the final handful of minutes, puncuated with a buzzer-beating three-pointer from Nikola Jokic. An unintentionally banked three that would have been a silly “ha ha” highlight if the Warriors hadn’t spent the 4th quarter bleeding away their huge lead.
Ah well, so it goes.
Tonight, Golden State gets a chance at redemption. They also have a chance of deepening the worry lines if it goes wrong against James Wiseman and the struggle bus that is the Detroit Pistons.
WHO: Golden State Warriors (16-18) vs Detroit Pistons (3-31)
WHEN: Friday, January 5th, 2024; 7pm PST
Kerr, my old friend, I think we need to talk
The Warriors are reportedly close to getting Draymond Green back. Per ESPN’s initial reporting, the angriest defender in the NBA is expected to return to the Warriors' facility in the coming days “to start ramping up to resume play.” While welcome, Green’s availability will only add to the complicated math that coach Steve Kerr is running to calculate how and when to involve the Warriors’ emerging young talent.
Last night, Denver was down by 13 points entering the fourth quarter, but then outscored Golden State 36-20 in that fateful final frame. For a while now, the clamor around Kerr and his old school coaching has been growing louder and louder. When does sticking with the veterans go wrong? Well, last night, for one.
Jonathan Kuminga started his 11th consecutive game, pouring in 16 points in 19 minutes prior to getting pulled in the middle of the 3rd quarter. For some reason, Golden State’s rising third year star didn’t see the court again - even as the lead evaporated.
Kerr’s answer doesn’t make sense to me - and I don’t think I’m alone in this. But let’s hear the highly decorated basketball expert before we get our pitchforks out (via Anthony Slater):
“He was playing great,” Kerr said. “His normal time to go back in would have been around the five-, six-minute mark (of the fourth). (Andrew Wiggins) was playing great, we were rolling, were up 18, 19, whatever it was. So we just stayed with him. Then at that (later) point, it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. He had been sitting for a while. So I stayed with the group that was out there and obviously we couldn’t close it out.”
Ok, get the pitchforks!
Jokes aside, this is the sort of non-answer that frustrates me. And perhaps more importantly doesnt touch on the stale flavor of Kerr's strategy and rotation decisions. The question on not playing Kuminga isn’t about the “we were rolling” phase of the game. The question here is much more germane to the “we were getting rolled up and smoked” part of it all.
Slater goes on to summarize a number of hectic late collapses, but points out that, “[i]f the Warriors found a way to protect those big leads and close out the Kings, Clippers, Nuggets and Thunder twice, they’d have a 21-13 record, which would place them sixth in the West, instead of a 16-18 mark, currently placing them out of the Play-In bracket.”
Neat. But let’s keep it honest between friends and call it what it is. Last night marked the fourth loss after holding an 18-point lead so far this season.
So no, don’t answer questions about last night’s collapse by talking about how well it was working - especially because Kuminga being involved was a key reason that it was going so well in the first place.
As the league catches up to the Warriors, they’ve got to loosen their grip on the past, and that can start with grabbing hold of the future that is right in front of them.
Because if this team isn’t careful, it could imperil both. This is a quote from a week or so back, but it could just as easily apply to last night, which is a concern.
“Yeah, I am a difference-maker,” Kuminga said. “I know I am. But it’s not up to me to do certain things. How can I say it? It’s not up to me to control my minutes. I feel like I’ve done that. But the last voice ain’t mine.
Understand that there is already a chef here. And the difference between the chef and a cook is control of the menu. The chef comes up with the recipes, the cook executes them; but the Warriors don’t seem to trust their cooks enough. That, to me, is an organizational issue.
It has been 10 years since Kerr took the helm. Might be time to refresh the menu. Or at least let the young kids cook freely a little bit.
Big Jim, and the path not chosen
It could be worse though. There have been some misteps along the way, but none as egregious as taking James Wiseman with the second overall pick. The team fixed it as well as they could later, dumping Wiseman to the Pistons and reuniting with Gary Payton II. I find myself thinking about this a lot recently. What if Golden State leaned further into the Wiseman experiment? Even as they push through their current struggles, this could all be a whole lot worse.
Klay Thompson made some recent comments showing that he has heard and understood some of the team-first chatter around the team. Steph Curry is still electric - even if it is sometime a finger-in-the-socket turnover. The core here is still viable, mostly.
Kuminga is a good fit on this team, in a way that James Wiseman never was; in a way he was never going to be. A player like Kuminga, that can thrive around the perimiter, but is still fast and agile enough to create pressure at the rim is what the Warriors need.
And so tonight’s game is going to be a chance for some reflection. You should never live in the past, but there was something about caterpillars and butterflies, but I can’t recall it right now. Maybe it’s important. Maybe not.
Moving on is hard, but only sometimes.
We haven’t had the chance to do this in a while, so let’s party. Happy Friday everyone! As an over-consumer of fine (and not-so-fine) punk music, please allow me to share a song from my favorite punk band. They’re in town this weekend playing three shows, hopefully I’ll manage to make it to one.
In keeping with the theme of this article, here’s one about a guy who needs some brand new lungs - because the ones he’s got are black and tired.