PHILADELPHIA -- Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes in "the basketball gods" but doesn't think them capricious. He believes that if you play the right way, they'll tend to tilt events in your favor.
After Golden State won a 108-105 squeaker on Saturday night over the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, Kerr referenced these mysterious deities, thinking their measures too lenient. "The first five minutes of the third quarter, we completely messed around with the game," Kerr said. "And we probably should have lost if the gods delivered what should have happened."
Instead, the gods rewarded Golden State's final, beautiful possession. With the score tied and Stephen Curry dribbling out for the final shot, Sixers guard Isaiah Canaan raced over for the double-team. What followed was a quick pass to Draymond Green, who found Harrison Barnes in the corner for the game winner. Just like that, embarrassing crisis averted.
While winning might be "a great deodorant," as Bill Parcells was fond of saying, this victory wasn't without its shame. The Warriors view it more as a cautionary tale than a success.
Golden State was up 24 points midway through the third quarter and sat its starters heading into the fourth. The game was in hand before things got, well, out of hand. The bench unit, lacking Festus Ezeli (knee) and Andre Iguodala (rest), faltered. The starters had to come back in, but they weren't much better, committing unforced errors against a galvanized Philly squad.
Though there was a lot of blame to go around, Green sought to absorb it all. With uncommon honesty, he copped to chasing a triple-double to the detriment of a team effort.
"We definitely should have lost, and it was all my fault," Green said. "I was selfishly unselfish, if you know what [that] means. And so we started turning the ball over, due to my self[ish] unselfishness, and it was all downhill from there.”
Green then got more specific:
"In other words," he explained, "I was chasing a triple-double. Coach came to me at halftime like, 'You better get it in this third quarter, 'cause you ain’t playing in the fourth,' and it was all downhill from there. So definitely my fault, what went on tonight. Good thing we were able to get the win. Only right I was able to make a play after causing us to be in that position."
Credit to Green for admitting he was stat chasing and for being accountable for its effects. Still, other players had a hand in the near disaster. Curry, whose energy can wane in games that matter less, was sloppy with the ball from the outset, finishing with seven of Golden State's 23 turnovers. Andrew Bogut was missing shots directly at the rim. Barnes, the game's hero, was minus-16 in the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was a collective failure, though an understandable one. In theory, teams should play hard in every game. That theory doesn't survive an 82-game season, though. For Golden State, a team that has proved so much, motivation isn't always self-evident. The Warriors use certain buzzwords -- "playing to a standard," as they call it -- in pursuit of excellence. In every game, they seek to get 30 assists. In this particular game, they claimed 26 dimes by halftime.
The gap between this historic Warriors team and the Ish Smith-led Sixers shouldn't be closed by motivation, but in the NBA, margins are small. Saturday's close call was a reminder of that. The basketball gods sent an admonishment, sans punishment. Next time, they might not be so forgiving.