Even the best NBA teams generally lose 20 games, because players and teams can have off nights in a variety of ways: shooting, passing, defending or energy, if you’re looking for some examples. All NBA players who stick around longer than their rookie contracts play with energy, in the sense that they do what they should. But the Warriors have blown teams off courts all season when their skill mixes with joy mixes with passion mixes with anger … sometimes it’s just three of those four elements, but the combination has generally led to four-point leads turning into a 24-point margins.
The Warriors had a 13-point fourth quarter advantage turn into a 114-111 win over the Celtics in Oakland on Sunday night. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, and it’s ridiculous that we’d even parse wins by point differential. This is NBA life in late January, when everyone’s looking forward to the All-Star Break (or Game, in the cases of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) and teams like Brad Stevens’ Celtics (which are passive-aggressively tanking, as opposed to blatantly dropping games) can cause problems. That the Celtics didn’t cause the Warriors’ seventh loss shows why Golden State is different than most 60-win teams, and why they have a chance to become a 70-win team if Kerr doesn’t spend the first half of April resting key players.
The Warriors came off the high they experienced from destroying a club they felt quite a bit of anger toward, the Houston Rockets (thanks to James Harden voicing his opinion that the Warriors aren’t all that good, along with some shoves and nudges to Curry). They dragged booty against the Kings … that is, until Thompson used one of his three wishes in the third quarter. The magnitude of Thompson’s effort turned an ordinary win against the Kings into a de facto playoff game, with all the celebration during and attention afterward from fans/media/peers.
So it wasn’t a surprise that the Warriors found themselves unable to put away the Boston Celtics on Sunday night. This, on a night when everyone contributed in their own way — besides Shaun Livingston (who’s just kind of there) and Mo Speights (who clanked a few shots he usually makes in his sleep).
— Thompson scored 31 points, but he took the entire game to do so. Since he made over 50% of his shots again (11-of-19), we’ll give him a pass. He wasn’t in that same zone we saw on Friday (he missed a three when he tried to replicate the wonky footwork he had on that three in the corner off the shovel-pass from Curry), but he took advantage of Boston’s awareness by driving and converting several layups.
— Curry had 22 points, 11 steals, a two-handed dunk that ended with a gentle kick to the underside of the glass …
… and a glorious behind-the-back pass to Andre Iguodala in transition.
— Andrew Bogut was given some televised credit for being the “player of the game” because he had 13 points, 13 rebounds and four assists. I’d give him that award for not getting hurt despite playing 28 minutes, although Tyler Zeller looked surprisingly comfortable against him.
— Draymond Green was the only ferocious player in this game. He dove after loose balls, inhaled nine boards, collected three steals and let the saliva fly after a transition layup he made while fouled. He was one of the reasons why the Warriors should’ve won by their customary margin of 17 or 18 points.
— Harrison Barnes is getting a lot better at tipping in missed shots, no?
— David Lee had seven assists in 16 minutes. He also had three turnovers, as it almost looked like he was trying prove a point that he can be the most unselfish player on the team when he puts his mind to it.
— Iguodala didn’t commit a turnover in 29 minutes, shot 3-of-4 and even made both of his free throws.
— Justin Holiday had an excellent steal-quick-outlet-pass-to-Curry-to-start-the-break play, and scored nine points without making a three.
Despite all of those satisfactory/good/excellent performances, the Warriors could never put away the Celtics, or keep Jared Sullinger off the free throw line. They couldn’t even stop Evan Turner, which speaks to a team defensive performance that wasn’t quite up to par.
But the Warriors still won a game in which no one played longer than 33 minutes. And if they were motivated to bounce back from a prior loss, or if Sullinger had popped off before the game about the Warriors being overrated or something, it probably would’ve been a double-digit victory. As it was, the Warriors cruised through a second quarter where Steve Kerr sat Curry and Thompson at the same time for a long stretch, then built a consistent lead before frittering it away in the final quarter when Boston scored a Klay-esque 12 points in the final 52 seconds.
Nobody’s perfect. The Warriors are 36-6 (a 70.3-win pace), they’re nearly perfect at home (21-1), their point differential per game dropped to 11.9 (which is kind of hilarious), and Curry’s dunk gave everyone something to remember. It wasn’t exactly 37 points from one player in a quarter, but it’s impossible to match that kind of brilliance 81 times before the *actual* season known as the playoffs begins.