OAKLAND — The day after one of his worst losses as a coach — a 125-105 beatdown against the Oklahoma City Thunder — Steve Kerr cracked jokes.
“Is Ted Koppel going to have a special from the Bay?” Kerr said with a grin. “Crisis in the Bay. Warriors in peril.”
Kerr was sitting in the Warriors’ practice facility, talking to reporters, trying to explain why his team lost three of its past four games. Why it lost at home by 20 points against the rival Thunder on Tuesday night. Why it didn’t really show up.
At no point against the Thunder did the Warriors even have a lead. That was the first time they never led in a game since Kerr became the head coach in 2014.
“Just in a rut,” Kerr said, downplaying the recent crash. “This is how the NBA works. We haven’t felt this often the last few years, but we’ve felt it. We had a stretch last year that felt similar.
“Last year, we lost five out of seven. Then, we had a home game against Philadelphia right after a stretch when we were on the road, and we were down 12 going into the fourth (quarter). And it was like the sky was falling. Everybody was shocked. We couldn’t get anything going.
“We played a great fourth quarter and won the game by two points. We eked out a win. And then we won 15 out of 16 to end the year. Sometimes, that’s all it takes — a game or two where you have to really dig deep and defend at a high level.”
Last season’s slump may not be as relevant to the current slump as Kerr thinks. Last season, the Warriors lost five of seven games during late February and early March when Kevin Durant was out with a knee injury.
Durant is healthy now. The Warriors aren’t losing games because someone important is injured. They’re are losing games because they’re playing terrible defense.
“When your defensive rating is 25th in the league over the previous 18 games, you’re not scrapping and clawing,” Kerr said. “But we went 13-5 over the previous 18 games. We were fooling ourselves. It was all fool’s gold.”
The Warriors have given up more than 100 points 19 times in their past 20 games. Before this stretch, they had given up more than 100 points in only 10 of their previous 20 games.
“We have enough talent where we can win without playing our best,” Kerr said. “But we have developed some really bad habits, and those habits are starting to be exposed. Now we’ve got to get rid of those habits.
“It’s a collective will and desire to fight for each other. If I see his man driving, I’m going to be in there to help every time. And (Tuesday) night, there was one possession after another where we were just watching from the weak side and not helping.”
Kerr was getting worked up, getting critical. He changed his tone.
“There’s a fine line between winning and losing in this league,” he reminded himself and reporters. “I think we’ve in some ways made it look easy the last few years for our fans and ourselves. Sometimes, that can bite you.
“The calendar just turned to February. We had been doing great, so we just let our guard down. And we were winning games while we were letting our guard down. So, we’re fine.”
While the Warriors were letting their guard down, the Houston Rockets were gaining on them for the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. As of this writing, the Rockets had won nine of their past 10 games and were tied with the Warriors in the loss column of the standings. Both teams had 13 losses. The Warriors were two games ahead in the win column.
“I look at the standings every day,” Kerr said, “but I don’t obsess over them. I’m much more interested in our level of play, reaching our standards, which we haven’t done in quite a while.”
Kerr expects the Warriors will flip a switch and raise their level of play soon. Most expected they’d raise their play Tuesday night. Even the Warriors seemed to expect it. Before the game, they stressed the importance of playing well during this four-game home stand before the All-Star break.
And then they got blown out. Couldn’t flip the switch.
Does that concern Kerr?
He didn’t answer right away. For a few seconds, he stared across the room in silence.
“Not really. I mean, here we are talking about it. If we don’t turn up our defense over the next few weeks and we still haven’t done anything, then you can come talk to me. But again, we’re 13-5 over our last 18 games. That’s a pretty good record.
“And that’s what our guys feel. And that’s one of the reasons we have let our guard down. Now that we’re 1-3 in the last week, I think you’ll see a little bit of a change in our attitude.”
Time to see them flip the switch.