Sports

Golden State Warriors have come back to earth

For the second time, this week, the Golden State Warriors went cold in the fourth quarter. Twice this week, the Warriors blew leads of 20-plus points. Against the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday, they played so frantically trying to achieve a +13 points differential in a win that would allow them to advance in the playoff tournament, that they forgot to actually secure the win. It was a rare double loss.

Following their collapse to Sacramento, they rebounded with a win over the Los Angeles Clippers at home. On Saturday, they held a massive edge over the Clippers at the start of the second half. However, By the end of the third frame, their 19-point halftime lead had dwindled to seven.

With 1:02 left in regulation, Golden State still led by five. James Harden’s drive and finish slashed it to three. Following Moses Moody going 1-for-2 at the charity stripe, Tyronn Lue drew up a sideline call that led to Paul George in the lane whipping a shovel pass to Kawhi Leonard slicing down the baseline and making it a two-point game. On the ensuing Warriors possession Steph Curry rimmed out a game-clinching pull-up jumper.After crashing the boards, Russell Westbrook took off in transition and fed the rock to Paul George. Smelling blood, George dribbled between his legs, stepped back and drilled a 26-foot game-winning triple over Klay Thompson.

Curry drove the lane and kicked out to a wide-open Draymond Green from the corner as time expired, but that shot predictably ricocheted off the rim. Now, instead of being 11-9, the Warriors are 9-11. That’s an apropos record because it’s starting to feel like an emergency for the Big Three era. Golden State’s dwindling dominion over the league is nothing new. Concerns surrounding Thompson’s diminished performance early in the season have been an annual discussion, but it’s been compounded this season by his impending free agency. The demise of their third quarter dominance is another signal that they can’t be considered a contender in 2024.

At their peak, they were the NBA’s best third quarter team in the league. The Steph-Klay-Draymond Warriors wouldn’t overwhelm you from the start, but after halftime, they could roar out of the gates in the second half stronger than Usain Bolt at the turn. During their final championship run, they finally finished second to another team in third quarter scoring margin. But they were also the league’s second-ranked team in fourth quarter scoring differential.

If you back even further, they were even more suffocating in the third quarter. Their 2019 Finals team’s scoring differential in the third frame was 70 points higher than any other team. The 2017-18 Warriors led the league in third quarter net rating by 10 points  over the second-best team, despite having a negative points differential in the fourth. This season, their net rating in the third quarter ranks 12th, which is perfectly average. Golden State has lost much of what made them extraordinary. That strength is now a vulnerability.

Without those third quarter runs, their ability to demoralize opponents has dissipated. Golden State can look around at a league they once hovered over and hasn’t noticed everyone has grown or they’ve shrunk. They were always a slightly above average fourth quarter team, but this season they’re in the bottom fourth of teams in scoring margin.

We saw this penchant for collapses happen routinely during the 2022 season, but that was two seasons ago. Wisdom never kicked in. They’re still playing YOLO basketball like it’s 2015, but without the same stylistic and talent advantage over the field. Their volatility was already becoming a narrative during the final stretch before the postseason. We used to excuse their waning focus on boredom. This was a team built to win a title game. They could afford to goof around on a random night in January. Watching these Warriors is akin to seeing two street racers playing chicken with a cliff. It’s exhilarating, but also worrisome.

It’s possible they’re feeling their age more in the fourth quarter, but that wouldn’t explain what happened against the equally old Clippers. In the fourth quarter, they lacked energy and their execution was lazy. This team needs an infusion of youth because this feels like the Warriors’ slow death is in motion.

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex




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