Steve Kerr watched in dismay Thursday night as the typically highflying Golden State Warriors shot 6 for 30 from three-point territory, the second worst clip of the season. His twin snipers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, were a combined 3 for 22.
All this against a team the Warriors waxed by 31 points less than a month ago.
The defeat was Golden State’s second consecutive, snapping a league-record 146-game regular-season streak without consecutive losses.
As Kerr put it, “It was a hell of a run.”
Golden State is a very different team in its losses than its victories the last two seasons. The Warriors become particularly vulnerable when the game is kept low scoring, when three-point attempts fall off the mark and when turnovers infest the offensive ecosystem.
The Warriors have comfortably led the league in offensive rating and points per possession the past two seasons, rarely breaking a sweat while crossing the 100-point threshold. The Warriors have eclipsed that mark a league-best 133 times the last two seasons. However, in the team’s 20 regular-season losses over that stretch, points have been at a premium.
Golden State is averaging 104.8 points per contest this season in losses; 15.5 points fewer than it averages in wins. Last season, the split was even more glaring: Golden State averaged 99.2 points in losses and 116.9 points in wins. On Thursday night, the Bulls squelched the Warriors’ free-flowing offense to a season-low 87 points. Golden State is 2-7 over the last two seasons when it fails to exceed 95 points in the scoring column, and 121-13 when it does.
The Warriors led the league in three-point percentage over the 2014-15 and 2015-16 campaigns. Equipped with two all-time marksmen, Kerr’s Warriors led the league last season by hitting a scorching 41.6 percent of their attempts. In losses, however, Golden State shot just 32.7 percent, nearly 10 percentage points lower than the team’s season average.
The Warriors have seen mitigated returns this season, averaging 38.2 percent from beyond the arc, still good for the third-best clip in the league. In losses, though, Golden State is averaging 26.2 percent from three-point territory.
In wins this season, Thompson shoots 44.2 percent from deep, a staggering figure for an otherworldly shooter. In losses, however, he makes just 26.1 percent of his looks.
Consider that when Thompson shoots worse than 25 percent from beyond the arc, Golden State is 8-6 this season. When he hits at least one-fourth of his three-point attempts, the Warriors are 41-4. Last season, more than half the team’s regular season losses came when Thompson failed to hit one-third of his three-point attempts.
It’s not just his shooting this season, either. Thompson’s overall production falls off a cliff in losses: His true-shooting percentage drops from 62.2 to 41.9, his plus-minus craters from plus-21.9 to minus-11.7 and his offensive rating dips from 114 to 81. He grabs fewer rebounds and tallies fewer assists. Even his free throw percentage plummets nearly 20 percentage points.
Especially when the shots aren’t falling, the Warriors tend to get sloppy. Kerr’s team has a penchant for turnovers, ranking in the top 10 each of the past two seasons.
“There’s always going to be turnovers,” he said in December. “Over a 48-minute game, you’re going to have some you can’t control. When you watch the tape, there’s ones that are easily avoidable. You have to avoid those.”
Last season, the Warriors averaged nearly two more turnovers per game in losses vs. wins. That divide has grown this season, with Golden State averaging 16.8 turnovers per contest in losses and 14 in wins. The numbers bear that out when looking at turnover percentage, or the estimate of turnovers per 100 plays: Golden State’s turnover percentage this season is 13.9 in wins and 16.1 in losses.
Coughing the ball up more often causes the team’s assist-to-turnover ratio to plummet. Last season, Golden State’s mark dropped from a league-best 1.96 in wins to 1.49 in losses, which would rank in the bottom 10 if maintained over an entire season. This season, the team’s 2.25 assist-to-turnover-ratio in wins would be a league high; its 1.44 in losses would rank in the bottom five.
The Warriors may play a beautiful brand of basketball, but they aren’t perfect. And their two-game losing streak shows some of the same flaws from the last two seasons still haven’t been fixed.