James Harden was ruled inactive for Saturday night’s contest less than one hour before tip at Oracle Arena.
Psychic powers are not needed to predict what happened next – a 15-0 run from Houston (34-25) to start the game, and that was essentially all she wrote for the lifeless Warriors (42-17).
A late run gave Golden State a short-live lead and the Oracle crowd reason to stick around, but the Warriors could not dig themselves out of the early hole and fell 118-112.
Steve Kerr said the Warriors can never afford to take it easy because everyone has them circled on the calendar:
“Coming out of the break, we have not done a good job as a group – players, coaches, all of us – of being ready to play against teams that are going to come after us. Seems like I tell our team everyday that the whole league’s gotten better, and everybody has been scheming and plotting and planning for us for years now. So we can’t ever expect anything’s going to be easy.”
It seems the only surefire way to beat the Warriors is to sit your best player right at the last minute.
They were disinterested from the start, and save for a few minutes of high-level intensity couldn’t muster enough energy to top the Rockets. They went scoreless for nearly four minutes to start the game, and the starters went down 18-8 in their six minutes of action.
Kevin Durant said that while they were able to make a comeback that early hole was too big:
“The first quarter is still early to be down 15, but we definitely don’t ever want to be down 15 points – especially 15 to zero. I thought we did a good job of fighting back in the second and third, but the first quarter was the story of the game.”
Houston always seems bring out the worst in the Warriors offense, with their switching style forcing the Warriors into an isolation-heavy game.
Two nights ago, Durant spoke about how some games would not be ideal be for the ball-movement offense with which Golden State has become synonymous. Durant accounted for most of the offense, with 29 points, but chipped in little else and had just four rebounds and three assists.
The Warriors leaned on Durant and Stephen Curry to shoulder the offensive load once again, and while Curry had 25 points, nine rebounds and seven assists, he had to work hard for every look.
Curry pointed to the scoring by quarter to show that the team closed the game much better:
“Going down 15 the way that it happened, we lost the game right there. I liked our fight, but they’re a talented team. If you look at it, we won the rest of the game by nine points, but 35-20 in the first quarter is not going to get it done.”
Houston busted out it’s usual tough nosed defense and was content to blitz any high pick-and-roll, forcing the ball out of the hands of Durant and Curry, and making the Warriors’ non-playmakers make something happen.
Often times, that was Jordan Bell, who saw 17 hard-to-come-by minutes, catching a pass on the short roll, only to find Andre Iguodala as his only open teammate. And any two-man game with Iguodala and Bell is exactly what the Rockets want.
Usually, Draymond Green is in that spot. But he was forced to leave the game in the fourth quarter after stepping on DeMarcus Cousins’ foot. He looked to be in serious pain and immediately went to the ground. While the severity is still unknown, it’s bad news for a Warriors team whose bench play is already concerning.
The injury capped off what was a rough night for Cousins, who shot just 1-of-7 in the first half, had three fouls and four turnovers. He pushed through to end with a decent line of 13 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and four blocks, but also finished with a team-worst plus-minus at minus-17.
Kerr said that you can see how frustrated he’s been with his play lately:
“Think about what DeMarcus has been through, the year-long injury, the frustrating free agency. It’s not an easy thing. It’s a very difficult injury to come back from and after the first couple weeks with the excitement and the adrenaline, the wear and tear begins… He can do better, he knows that, he’s definitely frustrated, but he cares.”
Golden State stubbornly kept feeding him in the post possession after possession. Post isolations have never been the most efficient form of offense for the Warriors, and it’s continued with Cousins.
Once the pass is entered into the post, the cuts and off-ball screens go away, and it’s essentially on Cousins to make something happen. He’s continued to struggle in that role and it’s led to some slow starts with that starting five.
It was a let down for the Warriors not just on the court but before the game—and the injury to Green just adds injury to insult.
A four-game road trip awaits the Warriors next, with a trip back to Charlotte for the three All-Stars to face off against the Hornets Monday.
Shaun Livingston returned to the court after being away for the birth of his second child, Jonah Jazmine Livingston.