OAKLAND — Reflecting on this particularly sadistic portion of his team’s schedule before Wednesday night’s game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said this tilt against the Boston Celtics — sandwiched between road trips — was more like a road game than a home date. He laughed. The reporters laughed.
But as the night wore on, the Warriors looked more and more like a road team. Their intensity waned. They began to throw lazy passes and to dribble the ball off their feet. And the Celtics took advantage, using a 21-5 run starting the fourth quarter to hand Golden State a damning 99-86 loss at Oracle Arena, with an appreciable number of Boston fans in the seats.
It was the Warriors’ lowest scoring output of the season.
“The travel on the last trip, just all the miles in the air, probably doesn’t help,” Kerr said afterward. “Let’s be honest.”
While we’re being honest, we can add that the Warriors got to the foul line just nine times Wednesday. And after giving away just nine turnovers in the first three quarters, they lost the ball eight times in the fourth. Oh, and this: Golden State clearly misses the scoring punch of Kevin Durant, who is out four to six weeks with a knee injury.
Making everything seem more urgent, the San Antonio Spurs rallied from 28 points down to beat the Kings on Wednesday. The Spurs are now just one game behind the Warriors in the loss column as they battle for the best record in the Western Conference, and home-field advantage in a potential West final series.
The two frontrunners play in San Antonio on Saturday, and the run-up couldn’t be any more daunting for the Warriors. Their current schedule is like a frantic round of errands, with a quick trip home in the middle when you realize you left the oven on. They visited Philadelphia on Feb. 27, Washington on Feb. 28, Chicago on March 2, New York on Sunday and Atlanta on Monday. Oakland will seem like just another stretch of airport tarmac when the team heads to Minnesota for a game Friday, then to San Antonio on a back-to-back.
Kerr will now have to balance two opposing needs: getting his veterans some much-needed rest, and hanging on to that top seed.
“We still want the No. 1 seed,” the coach said. “I’m not gonna run guys ragged to get it.”
“I know every guy in that locker room wants to play,” point guard Stephen Curry added. “At the end of the day, that’s our mentality.”
In a back-and-forth game, the Warriors twice seemed to steady themselves with quarter-closing statements. They regained a lead just before halftime when Draymond Green took off running after coming out to the 3-point line to defend, and caught a football pass from Curry for a layup that put the home team up 48-46. Golden state finished the half on a 10-1 run and led 50-46.
It didn’t take, as the Celtics started the second half with a 5-0 run, leading to an immediate timeout by Kerr.
Later, at the end of the third quarter, Curry got Jaylen Brown in the air at the arc and beat the buzzer with a 3-pointer that gave Golden State a 74-72 lead. Curry even taunted the rookie a little for his mistake.