It’s difficult, almost impossible even, to be a .500 team in any sport when everything must go right in order to win. For the Warriors, that’s exactly the case in any game that doesn’t pit them against a handful of terrible teams (like the Timberwolves, the the victims of the Warriors’ only win in recent memory).
I got to cover the Warriors’ 107-101 loss to the Suns like a beat writer, with access and everything. So I was in the press room after the game when a frustrated and somewhat irritable Keith Smart said exactly what I laid out in the first paragraph, only more succinctly. (And it starts off this short video I took from the press conference, including a totally generic question from yours truly about free throws.)
“Our margin for error is, actually, zero.”
The Suns are the worst defensive team so far in this young season, at least in the traditionally looked upon stats of opponents’ points per game and field goal percentage. But on a night when Stephen Curry got smacked in both eyes by Earl Barron — leaving his left eye noticeably red after the game — and Andris Biedrins left in the second quarter with a stomach ailment, the Warriors were screwed. Not by the refs (a constant refrain lately from fans who’d rather not focus on the home team’s faults), by their own lack of depth and firepower.
It’s not that the Warriors don’t play hard. Seeing them for the first time in person, I noticed a lot of things â€“ lack of hustle was at no time on the list. Monta Ellis was brilliant but played every minute of the game at a maniacal pace; fatigue could have been to blame for the two key free throws he missed late in the fourth quarter when the game was in doubt. Of course, if Ellis didn’t score 38 points on 16-of-27 shooting then the Warriors would have lost this game by 20.
Again. No room for mistakes. Every opportunity not seized is a game lost these days.
It’s not about getting Louis Amundson and Ekpe Udoh healthy, as much as some people might say that’s all the Warriors need to become a playoff team. By the time they’re back Monta might suffer an injury due to overuse, or David Lee (who played a nice, efficient game save for 5 turnovers) will have further problems with his elbow. Or Stephen Curry, who played as if he were under the weather himself tonight, might tweak his ankle again.
No, the problem is the Warriors don’t have a true identity as a winning team, and all they have is hope that the team will gel quickly and prove to be far better than last year’s strange group of top-flight guards and D-Leaguers. Currently, the plan is to play hard and let Monta dazzle the crowd with incredible finishes and constant motion. And he’s good at that, especially when expending huge amounts of energy to bring the Warriors back from behind like he did against the Suns on Thursday night. But the way the Warriors are playing, it’s as if their plan is to stop what the other team is doing, and then take advantage of whoever the hottest Warriors is that night. Imposing their will is almost out of the question. They play defensively, while playing poor defense … if that makes sense.
It’s hard not to look at Curry/Monta (yet again) and wonder what could be. The plan was to have Curry dominate the ball, with Monta on the wing. However, Curry played tentatively and at times recklessly (Smart benched him after a particularly bad one-handed pass that led to a breakaway layup and-1 for Jared Dudley, which Curry didn’t blame on his his eyes colliding with Barron’s hand), and with both players on the floor at once Steve Nash continued to fillet the Warriors by taking advantage of Jason Richardson’s defender â€“ usually Ellis. Defensively the pair is almost always at a disadvantage, when one of them is at less than full strength the Warriors have almost no chance of winning.
Can Curry and Ellis play together? Perhaps, as long as everything goes perfectly.