PORTLAND, Ore. -- The Golden State Warriors tend to lose when you’d least expect.
Before their 137-105 obliteration Friday at the hands of the jubilant Portland Trail Blazers, the Warriors had lost to Detroit, Denver, Dallas and Milwaukee. Golden State’s five losses have come from teams that are a combined 19 games under .500.
On Friday, Damian Lillard’s 51-point, 31-minute opus not only put his All-Star snub in stark relief, but also served as an emphatic reminder of why the Warriors, for all their winning, can’t get too comfortable.
That might sound too cautionary for a team with five losses by late February, but consider this: Golden State will play two games in San Antonio, both on the second night of back-to-backs. The Spurs might have more road games on their docket than Golden State, but they’re now merely three games behind the Warriors. Golden State certainly needs to keep pace if it is to achieve 73 wins, but there’s a more practical goal that has yet to be assured: home-court advantage.
Perhaps that’s too ominous a forecast for a squad that seems to turn it on when tested -- or, as coach Steve Kerr sometimes puts it, plays at its “best when threatened.” These five losses have qualified as surprising skirmishes. Suddenly, a lesser-billed game thrills a wild crowd as the opponent rises to an unexpected occasion.
“We come to town, especially for a team like that, [and] it's their biggest game of the year, so we've got to understand that,” Klay Thompson said postgame Friday. “They just caught us on an off-night.”
It was an off-night and a particularly ugly third quarter. The quarter featured two inspired interceptions by Lillard but also was replete with haphazard Golden State plays that put the game out of reach.
Kerr said after the game, “I’m OK with the other team making shots. What I’m not OK with is losing our poise in the third quarter and making 13 turnovers in one quarter.”
The Trail Blazers had jumped the Warriors early and shot their way to a 19-point lead in the second quarter. The Warriors whittled that down to six points at the half before squandering it all.
Stephen Curry described the collapse by saying, “It’s just frustrating the way we played in the third quarter, after we did all that work to get back in the game. I made a comment in the timeout, like, reward our hard work that got us back into the game by taking care of the ball and getting good possessions. And we didn’t do it.”
He followed that statement with a summary: “We deserved to lose tonight.”
This was just one game, and the Warriors are permitted the occasional, deserved stomping. Still, it was a loss that conveyed why the reigning champions might add to their lauded roster. Before the game, ESPN’s Marc Stein reported Golden State’s interest in possibly acquiring Anderson Varejao, who was recently traded by the Cleveland Cavaliers and waived by Portland.
When informed of Stein’s report, Kerr said, “I have not been notified of that, but it makes perfect sense, right?"
For this team, it could. Friday provided a reminder of what the Warriors are missing while Festus Ezeli recovers from arthroscopic knee surgery. Golden State is now heavily reliant on Andrew Bogut at center. Bogut is having a fine season, but he’s not exactly an every-game player at this point. Marreese Speights provides spacing off the bench, but when a team is shelling your defense, as the Blazers were Friday, he’s no bulwark against the artillery.
In short, the Warriors might need a big. They’re loathe to mess with success, but complacency can be just as dangerous -- even when you’re great. Slip a bit, and suddenly you’re losing the “biggest game of the year” multiple times.