The Golden State Warriors played Tuesday night as if they wanted to pace themselves through training camp.
Therefore, it did not take long for the Warriors’ 119-79 loss to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City to resemble something both foreign and familiar. The foreign: despite having three healthy All-Stars, the Warriors labored to do anything offensively and defensively. The familiar: after spending the 2017-18 season fighting complacency over their two NBA championships in the past three years, the Warriors ended the regular-season with the same mindset.
“I think there should always be a question in your mind if that switch is going to flip. As a basketball player, you know switches don’t work like that,” said Draymond Green, one of the three healthy All-Stars. “Nonetheless, I think if anybody is capable of it, we are. I don’t view it as flipping the switch. I just don’t think we played well.”
Afterward, Warriors coach Steve Kerr told his players to enjoy the day off on Wednesday before resuming practice on Thursday with a different mentality. After all, the Warriors begin the NBA playoffs (and aim for their third title in four years) this weekend.
“We need the competitive spirit. We need the juice,” Kerr said. “We need the joy. We haven’t had much of that. So we got to get right. We have to get our minds right.”
The Warriors set a season-low in points scored in the first half (33) and recorded their worst point differential in the Kerr era (40), trailing only when the Warriors also lost to Utah by 30 points on Jan. 30. Klay Thompson (23 points on 9-of-27 shooting) and Kevin Durant (13 points on 5-of-12 shooting) both shot inefficiently from the field. And the Warriors barely tried on defense, allowing Utah to shoot proficiently (53.3 percent), share the ball (25 assists) and dominate in rebounds (54-39).
Sure, the Warriors were without Stephen Curry. And veteran Andre Iguodala (rested his sore left knee in the season finale) and second-year player Patrick McCaw (sat out the last six games with a bone bruise near spine) were missing. Still …
“We got smacked. There’s no way around it,” Thompson said. “Your heart is in every game. But obviously when you have the chance to win a championship, your heart is really in it. I have no worries about this team. I know we’ve had injuries and we’ve been battle-tested. But we know what it takes to win in the playoffs. We can’t wait to get there.”
Yet, the Warriors tempered their optimism with cautiousness, mindful they have closed the regular season with a 7-10 record amid overlapping right ankle and left knee injuries to Curry, who is out for at least the first round of the playoffs.
“We have to be way better if we want to do what we want to do in the postseason. I’m confident that we will,” Durant said. “I think there’s been so much movement in our lineups that we let that take a toll a bit. We should just push through it. I felt like it killed the morale a bit toward the end of the year.”
The Warriors (58-24) lost their third game in the past four contests well aware their No. 2 seed stayed intact. Perhaps they were also aware that a loss ensured the Warriors would not play against Utah or Oklahoma City in the first round, considering the Jazz (3-1) and the Thunder (2-2) hurt the Warriors in regular-season matchups.
“Why would we talk about not playing Oklahoma City or Utah and what challenges they present?” Kerr said. “We’re not playing either one of them. So who cares?”
That left the Warriors weighing two different emotions.
One was pride.
“You never want to lose by 40. As a competitor, you never want to lose and definitely not lose like that,” Green said. “It pisses you off a bit. But nonetheless, move on.”
The other was patience.
“Our guys know how to do it. But it’s hard,” Kerr said. “We have to find a way to get our minds right and get our spirit. Playoffs are a whole different season.”
Even with the Warriors trailing 65-33 at halftime, Durant, Green and Thompson still played in the second half. Green totaled 20 minutes before sitting with 6:03 left in the third quarter. Durant played for 29 minutes before going to the bench with 2:50 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Thompson (35 minutes) went to the bench with 8:30 remaining before checking back in at the 6:52 mark. He played another 62 seconds, making a floater and a pair of free throws that ensured he averaged 20 points this season.
“Just needed a little more rhythm. I felt like another 3 or 4 points and his rhythm will be perfect” for the playoffs, Kerr said with a smile. “The season goal was to establish rhythm going into the playoffs. He did that.”
Though Kerr and Thompson expressed ignorance on if they were chasing an individual milestone, Thompson conceded the significance. He has averaged at least 20 points since the 2014-15 season.
“It’s pretty cool. I never thought I’d be a 20-point scorer in the NBA. I thought I’d be a role player,” Thompson said. “It’s something I can tell my kids one day about what hard work takes, and that’s what it looks like. I look back and appreciate it when I’m much older. Right now, it doesn’t really mean much.”
Neither did the Warriors’ latest loss, mindful that they await games with heftier challenges and more significance.
“None of that matters. In the end, it’s what you do in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “That’s the test. That’s the challenge. We'll see what happens.”
Injury updates – Kerr said “I fully expect” Iguodala to be in the lineup for the first game of the playoffs. Left knee soreness sidelined him for six of the last seven games. Kerr downplayed the injury, as the Warriors have been cautious with the 34-year-old Iguodala all season. He has missed a combined 16 games because of minor ailments and another two games for rest purposes.
“We’re trying to be smart,” Kerr said. “It felt like it made more sense to give him a rest.”
McCaw has been ruled out until at least May 3.
Cook signed – The Warriors and Quinn Cook officially signed a guaranteed deal on Tuesday that will secure him for the team’s playoff roster and for the 2018-19 season.
The Warriors had waived Omri Casspi on Saturday to open a roster spot for Cook, whom the Warriors considered a priority because of their injury-diminished backcourt. The Warriors also became further impressed with Cook’s production and professionalism. He has averaged nearly 17 points a game in the last 15 contests.