Wednesday night was an encapsulation of the entire season for the Warriors. They came out dominant, in control, only to stumble towards the end and fall before the finish line.
The Denver Nuggets (33-25) led for 10 seconds the entire game, all of it coming at the end as they stole a 117-116 win to send the shellshocked Warriors (42-17) into the All-Star break.
Nikola Jokic showed why he’s the reigning MVP as he put up 35 points, 17 rebounds, and eight assists, none bigger than his kick to Monte Morris for the buzzer-beating 3 to give the Nuggets the victory.
The Warriors have had their struggles with league-average centers, so it seems almost unfair when they matched up against one of the two best centers in the league.
And while Jokic put up numbers early, the Warriors’ goal was apparent: let Jokic get his, don’t let him get his teammates involved.
It worked too, as his only teammate in double-figures was Bryn Forbes until late in the fourth quarter. Although it wasn’t all good, as Forbes burned the Warriors all night for 22 points of his own.
While the Nuggets were relying on two players to keep them in the game, the Warriors were the exact opposite as seven of the nine players that saw the court ended up in double figures.
Stephen Curry led the way with 25 and looked like he had sealed the game on a 3-point play with just 5.9 seconds to go.
But in what has been a recurring theme, Golden State just couldn’t close. Even in their win over the Lakers they had to survive multiple questionable decisions and mental lapses to escape with a W.
Steve Kerr said turnovers killed the team late in the game:
We turned the ball over eight times in the second half. I thought that was crucial. We had three turnovers in the first half and we were really going well, then we had a string of about five straight turnovers late third that kept Denver in the game.”
Wednesday it started in the fourth when Michael Malone started going hack-a-Looney.
They fouled him three times, Looney went 2-of-6 from the line and it took the Warriors out of any offensive rhythm.
Kerr had no answer for him, and continued to leave Looney on the court despite the big man clearly laboring not just with his shot but with his wind as well:
We can all look in the mirror and take blame, myself included. I made some decisions at the end that didn’t work out.”
Once Looney took his first hack-a free throw at 2:29 left in the game, the only other points the Warriors scored the rest of the way was the Curry and-1.
It’s a shame, as Golden State was playing their most complete game up until that disastrous fourth quarter.
Especially Looney, who had 13 points and nine rebounds and did an admirable job when left on an island against Jokic.
Gary Payton Jr. drew the start instead of Jonathan Kuminga and showed out as well. Payton had 12 points and a season-high six steals and took turns on Jokic himself, bothering the big and even swatting him once.
Kuminga continued his hot streak despite playing just 21 minutes, and piled up 12 points, seven coming in a span of a minute.
But those two stayed glued to the bench in the fourth quarter. Despite the fact that Looney was getting intentionally fouled, the defense couldn’t get a stop and their offense had stalled.
Kerr said some decisions are going to eat at him after this game:
I’m going to beat myself up tonight, and I won’t sleep because they’ll be several things I’ll kick myself for… it stings, it stings when you lose one like this.”
The Warriors clearly are in need of this All-Star break, not just to get some much-needed rest but just to reset this recent stretch of games where they have lost four of their last five games.
It’s written all over their faces and body language, this team is ready for the break.
The All-Star break awaits the Warriors, and it’s a welcome sight. The team just looks worn down and they’ll have a full week to rest their bodies before they return to the court. Aside from Curry, Wiggins and Kuminga who will all participate in All-Star weekend.
It was announced before the game that Jonathan Kuminga will replace the injured Chris Duarte in the Rising Stars Challenge. Instead of two teams, this year the rookie/sophomore exhibition will feature four different teams in a bracket style mini-tournament.