For those familiar with the Warriors this season, these last two meltdown games are nothing new. Squandering a big lead only to hold on for the win? Been there. Give up a huge lead and lose the game? Done that.
The Warriors are the Bizarro Comeback Kids. They give up big leads and allow the other team to comeback.
So it should be no surprise that the Warriors closed out the Nuggets round 1 playoff series by going up 18 in the fourth and holding on by the hair on Andris Biendrins’ chin.
Up 18 in the opening game of Round 2 against the Spurs, I texted my friend, “Still not comfortable. We could lose this.” And, of course, they lost. Still, it was shocking. That one stung the worst. The welt may leave a permanent scar.
But what fostered my uneasy text was that, by my count, the Warriors had an astounding 19 similar games during the regular season. I can’t imagine any other team came close to 19.
Even more surprising, they went 14-5 in those games, winning their first 8 before finally running out of luck on December 22 against the Lakers. And after that Nuggets playoff win, karma came back on got them again Monday against the Spurs.
Fifteen of the 19 games came in the season’s first three months. The Warriors seemed to fix the issues with no big opponent comebacks in February, before experiencing four such games again in the final one-and-a-half months. And now we get two more in critical playoff games.
Here are the details by date:
1. Led by 17 against Suns on opening night in Phoenix (10/31). Won 87-85.
2. Led by 14 against Clippers in Los Angeles (11/3). Won 114-110.
3. Led by 13 against the Hawks in Oakland (11/14). Won 92-88.
4. Up 15 in the fourth at Minnesota (11/16). The Timberwolves cut the lead to three with four minutes left before the Warriors recovered and won 106-98.
5. Up 20 in the fourth quarter in Detroit (12/5), the Pistons cut lead down to three with one minute left before the Warriors recovered and won 104-97.
6. Up 8 with two minutes left in the fourth in Washington (12/8), the Wizards cut the lead to one and then had a chance to tie the game on their last possession before the Warriors hit free throws for the 101-97 win.
7. The Warriors led by 21 points, 18 in the fourth quarter, at Charlotte (12/10) before the Bobcats cut the lead to six. The Warriors won 96-104.
8. Up 12 with seven minutes left against the Hornets in Oakland (12/18), New Orleans tied the game late in the fourth before the Warriors pulled out the 103-96 victory.
9. Up 14 in the fourth quarter against the Lakers in Oakland (12/22), the Warriors watched Los Angeles come back and win 118-115.
10. Leading by 20 in the second half against the 76ers in Oakland (12/28), the Warriors allowed Philadelphia to cut the lead to two twice in the fourth quarter before hanging on 94-89.
11. Up 22 against the Celtics in Oakland (12/29), Boston cut the lead to 8 early in the fourth before the Warriors pulled away again, winning 101-83.
12. Leading by 20 against Portland in Oakland (1/11), the Trail Blazers cut the lead to 3 in the fourth quarter. The Warriors held on for a 103-97 win.
13. The Warriors led by 10 with under a minute left in the third quarter at Denver (1/13) before being blown out in the fourth, losing 116-105.
14. Up 16 in New Orleans (1/19), the Warriors fell behind by 7 in the fourth before coming back and winning 116-112.
15. Up 13 with under nine minutes left to play against the Mavericks in Oakland (1/31), Dallas came back to tie the game before the Warriors won 100-97.
16. Led by 16 in Philadelphia (3/2) before losing 104-97.
17. Squandered a 13-point lead against the Rockets in Oakland (3/8), losing 94-88.
18. Up 25 in the third quarter and 20 with 8 minutes left in the fourth against the Lakers in Oakland (3/25), Los Angeles trimmed the lead to six twice in the final minute. The Warriors held on for the 109-103 victory.
19. Up 9 in Los Angeles with six minutes left in the game (4/12), the Warriors and the refs allowed the Lakers to come back and win 118-116.
So what went wrong? The early season woes can be blamed on a second-year coach adjusting to a team with three rookie rotation players (two starters in Harrison Barnes and Festus Ezeli with no Brandon Rush or Andrew Bogut), a raw second-year starter in Klay Thompson and the team’s top player trying to figure out if he still had ankles.
Late in the season, the blame shifts to a now-stable Curry and veteran Jarrett Jack. Their defense in the fourth quarter of games has been detrimental to the team, as have their turnover issues. Mark Jackson likes to go with the three-guard lineup down the stretch of Curry, Jack and Thompson. Only Thompson is a good defender. Curry and Jack are regularly beaten. And oh yeah, when David Lee was healthy his defense wasn’t too hot either.
Mix this with some rookie mistakes and shaky coaching decisions, and you get 21 heart-attack inducing games for Warriors fans. Many of the issues can be fixed with coaching and player experience. While Lee’s defense is probably about as good as it’s going to get, Curry could benefit from an offseason of healthy ankles and joining Klay during his one-hour a day defensive regimen. Curry also needs to improve on his careless turnovers.
It’s been a crazy roller-coaster season for Warriors fans, with far more highs than expected. It’s only fitting that they continue this irrational style in the postseason. But let’s end it there and hold onto leads better next season. Cool? Cool.