OAKLAND, Calif. — The Warriors found no need to harp on Saturday’s 35-point loss to Dallas too much. The Warriors could rectify it instead with a better effort on Sunday against Detroit.
“It’s what we do,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr wrote on the team’s whiteboard beforehand.
Yes. They do. When accounting for the Warriors’ 121-114 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday at Oracle Arena, the Warriors have a 17-6 record following a loss. As much as the Warriors benefited from Curry’s return, other factors were in play. The main one: the Warriors did not like experiencing their most lopsided defeat of the season against Dallas.
“You don’t want to get embarrassed like that again. Or just lose the next night,” Kevin Durant said. “We came out with a nice sense of urgency. We let go of that game, but everybody in the locker room from the coaches on down in the back of their mind wanted to avenge the terrible loss. I liked the energy from the start.”
It seemed fitting the Warriors went back on to their winning ways and achieved another milestone. They have now collected at least 50 wins for six consecutive seasons. Kerr also became the third head coach in NBA history along with Pat Riley and Phil Jackson to win at least 50 games in each of their first five seasons.
“What’s more surprising in that game [Saturday] night is not having any of those games for three years. The first three years of this run I don’t think we had a single game like that,” Kerr said. “You think about what these guys are doing night after night after night. Taking everybody’s best shot and playing deep into June. It’ surprising we haven’t seen more of those nights over the years.”
The Warriors have experienced a handful of lopsided losses this season. Those have included double-digit losses to Boston (33 points), Oklahoma City (28), Milwaukee (23), Portland (22), and Toronto (20). That has coincided with the Warriors showing some dose of complacency and burnout. And yet, the Warriors often stress this is not simply the result of the team feeling bored.
“It’s hard for anybody to understand what these guys go through physically, emotionally and spiritually trying to defend the crown and trying to win the title and trying to stay on top of the mountain,” Kerr said. “It’s hard. Last night they had nothing. They had nothing in the tank. The great thing about this team is the always bounce back because they have so much pride.”
Hence, Kerr sounded prideful about defending his players.
“What they’ve accomplished, this team has the best record in the last four seasons than any four-year period in the history of the NBA,” Kerr said. “What’ve they done is just remarkable. Last night was tough. It’s really tough to do what they’ve done, too. So we’re going to give them a pass. We’re going to move on. We played a good game tonight. We roll on. I prefer to look back on how few games there were over the last five years instead of the opposite.”
Kerr’s players sounded just as nostalgic.
Stephen Curry called the milestone “kind of surreal” after he went through three rebuilding seasons immediately after the Warriors selected him with the No. 9 pick in the 2009 NBA draft. Draymond Green called the achievement “a special thing.”
Plenty changed since then, though. The Warriors selected Klay Thompson at No. 11 in 2011 and Green at No. 35 in 2012. The Warriors made more acquisitions via trade (Andrew Bogut in 2012) and free-agent signings (Andre Iguodala in 2013). Although the Warriors credited Mark Jackson for bolstering the team’s defense, the front office and Jackson had philosophical differences on their collaboration. Since the Warriors hired Kerr, they won three NBA championships in the past four years. That coincided with the two back-to-back championships after signing Durant as a free agent in 2016. Last summer, the Warriors signed DeMarcus Cousins at their taxpayer mid-level exception ($5.3 million) after he attracted depressed interest amid concerns about his surgically repaired left Achilles tendon.
“It takes a collection of talented guys and a commitment to trying to put together the best team possible every year,” Curry said. “That’s front office, coaching staff and all the way down. I have a true appreciation on what we’re able to do. I want to continue it for as long as we can.”
How long will it last? Barring any major health issues, the Warriors are favored to become the sixth NBA team in league history to win a third consecutive championship? But after that? Durant might leave this summer. The Warriors and Thompson are expected to reach a deal on a max offer. They are unlikely to re-sign Cousins since he will likely command more on the open market than what the Warriors can offer ($6.36 million).
Amid that uncertainty, the Warriors hope their winning and team-oriented culture are enough selling points. Yes, Green and Durant had their infamous flareup in November. But they have sorted things out enough to still co-exist on the court.
“It’s more about the people you come to work with every day. That’s what makes runs like this possible,” Green said. “It’s what makes runs like this sustainable. When you look at the game of basketball. I love the game of basketball. It’s a job. Saying that, you can love your job all you want. There’s going to be days you don’t want to do it.”
Green then mentioned the team’s collective talent has helped make that feeling less burdensome. He also credited behind-the-scenes positons, including ownership, public relations staff and the community relationships department.
“Everyone is a tight-knit family. That’s what makes runs like this possible,” Green said. “This is how we feed our family. It’s the nature of it. Very long season. But you got to go out and do your job. We’re competitors. We want to be great. Every night we step out there, we’re chasing greatness. We try to never lose sight of the end goal and doing something not many people have done in the history of this game. When you’re doing that, you’re able to put the grind of the season behind you and you put all the other stuff behind you.”
KD the facilitator?
The Warriors’ star prides himself on scoring a lot of points. He also finds it important to make those baskets with efficiency.
But Durant argued that should not mean he is not willing to pass the ball. In the Warriors’ win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday at Oracle Arena, Durant scored 15 points on a season-low six shot attempts while doling out 11 assists. Why did Durant suddenly morph from a scorer to a facilitator?
“I’m a well rounded player,” Durant said. “I can still affect the game without taking a bunch of shots. I thought I passed the ball well. I thought I played a great floor game. I know you’re used to putting me in a box as a player.”
Durant said those comments somewhat in jest. After all, the reporter in question has written an article before about Durant’s superb playmaking skills. He has averaged a career-high 5.7 assists this season. He has also logged double-digit assists in four other games. And against Detroit, Durant tied a season-high in assists while recording only three turnovers.
“Kevin is such a great talented player that he can do whatever he wants on the floor,” Kerr said. “He decided to be a distributor tonight. He’s one of those guys that is so talented that whatever he chooses to do that night, that’s what he does.”
But why did Durant decide to pass more than shoot against Detroit?
Durant had never taken such fewer shots in his three-year stint with the Warriors. He took only one shot when the Warriors played in Washington on Feb. 28, 2017, but that coincided with Durant playing only two minutes before suffering a left knee injury. Durant also took only seven shots on Feb. 3, 2017 against Phoenix. But after going 9-of-25 from the field in Saturday’s loss against Dallas, Durant changed his strategy.
“I didn’t wan to force shots tonight,” Durant said. “If the shots I took tonight would’ve been forced, then last night I forced a bunch trying to get us back in the game. I tried to play a different game tonight. Is that a problem?”
Fair point. Durant had plenty of good options to pass to, including Curry (26 points), Thompson (24) and Green (14). The Warriors logged 31 assists. After sitting Saturday’s game for rest purposes, Curry’s presence made Durant’s job easier in two ways. Durant did not feel as much pressure to score. He leaned on Curry’s gravity to spark strong ball movement. In related news, the Warriors logged 31 assists.
Does that mean we will see more of facilitating KD than scoring KD? Not so fast.
“We function better when he’s just playing basketball and being aggressive. He was very good distributing the basketball,” Green said. “What it boils down to is we’re going to need Kevin Durant taking more than six shots. Nobody is complaining about it. He took six shots about it. It’s not the end of the world. But when it’s money time, we’re not going to have Kevin Durant taking six shots.”
When it is money time, the Warriors might have Kevin Durant record a lot of assists, though. After all, Durant does not want to be put in a box.