In Washington tonight, the Warriors played a bad game of basketball. After 44 minutes of the game, the Warriors had played the worst team in the NBA to a stalemate, 84-84. They had regularly extended their lead only to see Washington return again and again. From turnovers, to bad fouls, to missed shots and poor execution, Golden State had found way after way to let the Wizards back into the game. After building yet another lead, this time of 6 points, the Warriors found themselves up just 1 with 8.8 seconds left. They had just allowed 7 points in 3 possessions, including a foul and 2 from beyond the arc. The Wizards fouled and Stephen Curry went to the free-throw line, converting on his 4th consecutive attempt in the final minute.
It was on this final Wizard possession that the Dubs demonstrated for all the late-game League Pass watchers what they had been doing all night. In about 6 steps, Wizard’s rookie Bradley Beal raced up the court and was fouled on what appeared to be a 3-point shot. Meaning he could tie the game with free-throws. On his trip up the court, Charles Jenkins had tried to intentionally foul him twice, not doing so with enough force to draw the call from the officials. Instead of wrapping him up, he allowed Beal to go right by him and compounded his mistake by continuing to try to foul Beal after he began his shooting motion. This one, the referees called. And so Beal was headed to the line for 3 shots.
Or so we thought. This time, the Warriors were on the receiving end of a recurring theme of the game. They got a break. To be more specific, they got YET ANOTHER break. On a night that saw the Wizards blow fast-break opportunities of Warrior turnovers (19 total to WAS’s 8), and reliable big man Nene missing open 1-footers, and regularly splitting free-throw opportunities down the stretch, the Warriors again benefited from something they did not cause.
The officials reviewed the play, and Beal had stepped on the line. It would only be 2 free throws, and fans could take a deep breath. Things looked to finally be in the clear. They need only hit 2 more foul shots of their own and that would be the game.
But Beal stepping on the line would not be the only game-saving break they would receive in the final seconds. After knocking down the first, Beal missed the second and ending up with the rebound on his own miss. No one had blocked him out. Looking at a clear shot at the rim from 2 feet, he went up, and he missed the game-tying layup. The box score credits Festus Ezeli with a blocked shot, but even if he got part of the ball, it was minimal. There was absolutely no way Beal should have missed. But he did, just as the Wiz had missed all night, and with 2 second to go, Carl Landry knocked down both of his shots from the line, giving the Warriors a 4-point and final game lead.
It was ugly basketball. It was a Warrior team playing down to a bad team yet again, reminiscent of the losses to both the Kings and the Magic. It was mistake-heavy basketball. But you can say that about the Warriors a lot this year. You can also this a lot: It was winning basketball. In a season that has seen the Warriors finish just one of their 13 wins with a lead greater than 10 points, expecting them to beat anyone by a considerable margin would be expecting too much. That sole game, an 11 point win over the Timberwolves, actually saw the Warriors trailing by 5 with 10 minutes left in the 4th. To say the least, they’ve won a lot of games that have been up for grabs.
And that, actually, is what has been most impressive about this Warrior team. In games decided by less than 10 points, the Warriors are 10-3. In games decided by 5 or less, they’re now an incredible 6-1. A year ago these same Warriors were 5-12 in games decided by 3 points or less. That’s significant for a couple reasons. Not only was it the most such games played, it was also the 3rd worst record in those games. This year, they’ve played just 3, and are 2-1, with the lone loss coming at Sacramento. Needless to say, they’re much improved in tight games.
But why can’t they put distance between themselves and bad teams? I know this game came on a back-to-back in the 3rd game in 4 nights, but it’s been a trend this season. Against teams .500 or better, they’re 9-4, tied for the best record in the league with the Los Angeles Clippers. Not just among the best. THE best. Better than all of San Antonio, Miami and New York, who are each 8-4. What separates them from the elite teams in the NBA? Well, so far it’s been ability to take care of business against bad teams. The Warriors are actually worse against teams under .500, at just 4-3. It really is inexplicable. Sure, the Warriors dating back years, have always had a thing of winning games they shouldn’t. But it’s not happened this regularly, ever. If they’re really good enough to hang with the better teams in the league, why can they not beat teams like Orlando and Sacramento?
That the word “trap game” is even being thrown around is great news. It means the Warriors are good enough to have them. But have they really ascended that quickly? It will probably be a season long question. Nobody expected the Warriors to be this good without Bogut. Well, nobody that hasn’t expected them to be this good every year, at least. Still, it’s amazing what they’ve done a quarter of the way into the season. I’ll take a .500 record against bad teams all year if it means they keep beating good ones. Jokes and pipe dreams aside, though, something does need to change there. But tonight, Warriors fans will take it. They’ll have another chance to prove themselves Monday at Charlotte. Maybe they’ll net their first blowout of the season. Maybe they’ll return to .500. Whatever, happens, the Warriors remain an enigma. As long as they’re an enigma that’s winning, though, it just doesn’t matter.