There’s something to be said for winning ugly. For pulling victory from the jaws of defeat when a team’s collective back is against the wall of poor shooting, uninspired defense or just general malaise. And the Warriors did it last night as they have many times this season, beating the lowly but recently game Sacramento Kings 87-83 at Oracle Arena.
But there’s another side of the coin, too, the second, glass-half empty edge of this ugly win sword. For teams like Miami, Oklahoma City or San Antonio it’s different; winning a game they weren’t necessarily supposed to against an inferior opponent is “veteran savvy,” “finding a way to win” or indicative of their close-game playoff chops shining in the regular season. But for the Warriors, a team that hasn’t enjoyed the throes of postseason basketball in five seasons and is trying to claw its way out of a month-long slump, a more realistic and thus pessimistically inquisitive approach needs to be taken.
Golden State needed a last-second, Klay Thompson three-pointer to beat the 21-42 Kings? At Oracle Arena? With the Lakers, Rockets and Jazz breathing down their playoff necks? They shot 36% from the field? Sacramento’s assist rate was 29%?
It would maybe be different, too, if both teams played well. If shots were falling, the ball was moving and intensity levels were high on both ends of the floor. Every player is good in this league, so every team plays many games well above or below its aggregate standards. And Sacramento, recently, had been doing just the former. But not last night. Not either squad.
The Warriors and Kings haphazardly traipsed through this game until its final minutes, when Thompson’s ultimate dagger put a stop to Golden State’s collapse after a string of jumpers by Kings forwards Jason Thompson and Patrick Patterson. But until then there was no gamesmanship or sense of urgency from either side, and, frankly, the Warriors are lucky to have emerged from this timid fracas with a win – it took poor communication resulting in a confused rotation by John Salmons to free Thompson for his game-winning trey. Until then, Sacramento had been the team making the winning, fourth quarter plays.
But Golden State got the win anyway, and given the increasingly crowded standings and time of year it’s a very, very big one. But context, beating a dead horse, matters here. Right now, the way the Warriors are playing, there can be such thing as a big win and a bad one. That’s the luxury their play in December and January afforded them, but also the curse, too.
For this season’s majority, questions weren’t with regard to playoff chances and worry wasn’t directed toward those surging Lakers; wonder meant assessing likelihood of homecourt advantage and concern was agonizing over first round matchups.
After February, those days are over now. Golden State needs to win, but to make good on this season’s once sky-high promise they need to play well, too, assuring fans their holiday season success wasn’t an aberration. That they’ll be something more than a small thorn in the side of one of the West’s elite and harken back to “We Believe” come April. After last night, we certainly can’t say that, but we can’t say the win didn’t matter, either.
There are worse places to be than this strange state of flux; the Warriors know it too well given the last half-decade. But given the glory days of two or three months ago, it’s still a tough pill to swallow.
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