Kurtenbach: The deeper meaning behind the Warriors’ embarrassing Game 5 loss

The Warriors were caught sleepwalking in Memphis Wednesday.

Losing a game is one thing. Anyone can lose a playoff game.

But to lose a series-clinching game by 39 points and that for that be a nice turnaround from the 55-point deficit your team faced a quarter before is a truly different beast.

There’s a deeper meaning to a beating like that.

And no matter what you or the Warriors call the Game 5 loss — awful, embarrassing, a butt-kicking — it was not the performance of a championship team.

There’s no flushing this one away; no clean advancement to the next game.

The scoreline was spectacular — downright singular — but this game was hardly a one-off.

The Warriors have been telling us that such a thing was possible all series, and for weeks and months before that.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - MAY 11: Golden State Warriors' Jordan Poole and Stephen Curry watch as the Memphis Grizzlies build a 50 point lead in third quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – MAY 11: Golden State Warriors’ Jordan Poole and Stephen Curry watch as the Memphis Grizzlies build a 50 point lead in third quarter of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

This team’s turnover issue isn’t new. Neither is their lack of size. The team’s defensive ineptitude has shown up more frequently as the season progressed. Their rotations have been a hot, ever-changing mess since the campaign tipped off in October.

Now, the Warriors can absolutely bounce back and win another game against the Grizzlies to claim this series.

And this team still has a high ceiling — one capable of winning a championship.

But this Warriors team keeps falling through the trap door they built on their floor, and that’s anything but a championship characteristic.

Some ugly wins on top of ugly losses make it feel as if this Warriors team is not built for sustainable postseason success. The truth is found in the margins, and the Warriors’ margins indicate that they’re operating on borrowed time.

And that’s not even taking into account this team’s injury woes, which were added to Wednesday with Otto Porter proving unable to play in the second half with a foot injury.

This goes beyond mere fallibility — a new concept for Dubs fans to reckon with during this playoff run.

No, this speaks to this team’s collective mentality.

The Warriors seem intent on showing their fundamental flaws on a near-nightly basis.

They simply can’t get enough of early deficits and the necessity of late comebacks.

Are they bored daredevils or a fundamentally flawed operation?

I’m sure someone will make the case for the former, but the Warriors don’t deserve that benefit of the doubt. No, this Dubs team is running on a past reputation that simply doesn’t apply to the year 2022.

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - MAY 11: Golden State Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown had few answers against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE – MAY 11: Golden State Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown had few answers against the Memphis Grizzlies during the first half of Game 5 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series at FedEx Forum in Memphis, Tenn., on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

These 2022 Warriors are a deeply unserious basketball team. They have averaged 18 turnovers per game against the Grizzlies. The forced change of head coach has only further exposed this squad’s lack of focus over the last two games.

Yes, this is a Warriors team that needs active coaching. That’s why Steve Kerr has aged as much in this past season as he did between 2015 and 2019. Junk defenses and aggressive timeouts are part of the Dubs’ game plan now.

Meanwhile, in the last two games, acting head coach Mike Brown has fulfilled the stereotype of the substitute teacher.

He had a great view of Thursday’s game from the sideline. I wonder if he ever thought “maybe the Warriors coach should call a timeout” as the team in black slid further and further into oblivion.

It’s hardly all Brown’s fault that the Warriors had their teeth kicked in Wednesday, but bad coaching was part of the problem. With Kerr sidelined by Covid, Brown is expected to stay in this oxymoronic “acting head coach” role for the remainder of the series.

When the Warriors come back and win games they mess around in, it’s so often attributed to their “championship DNA.” And while their unflappability is a positive quality, it should be noted that champions also know how to start a game strong, too. They certainly know that you don’t miss opportunities to end a series — the Warriors have dropped two elimination games this postseason. They dropped three, total, in the Kevin Durant years of the Dubs dynasty.

Regardless of who the Warriors might play — and I still expect them to win one of the next two games — the next round of the playoffs will only bring steeper competition and a slimmer margin for error.

For a Golden State team that has become used to serious leniency over the course of this season, it’s hard to imagine that going well.

If the Warriors are going to make this season an extension of their dynastic run, they will have to get serious starting Friday. A first punch would be a welcome concept.

Now, everyone can get a slice of this blame pie following the most embarrassing loss of the season Thursday — Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Jordan Poole, Brown, the full lot.

But special attention needs to be paid to Draymond Green.

The Warriors’ heartbeat has been faint this series.

We can all empathize with the personal tragedy Green experienced before Game 4 — the tragic killing of his college teammate Adreian Payne — but this is the playoffs and no one is graded on the curve.

And in this series, the Warriors forward is averaging 4.8 points, 5.6 assists, and 4 turnovers per game, all while Memphis has been able to defend him like Tony Allen in the 2015 playoffs.

Defensively, Green has flashed, but the unmistakable impact that he can make on that side of the court has not been present.

This is not winning basketball from Green. It’s out of control.

The only thing consistent about Green in his series has been his podcasting output. There seems to be more soul into his post-game comments than the game itself.

And with Green playing like that — when he’s playing, of course — is it any surprise the Warriors are only sporadically excellent?

The Warriors are too good a team to play this poorly, but they’re not too good a team to be beaten on the up-and-up.

This is their new reality, one they never had to inhabit when they were forming that “championship DNA.”

This moment calls for professionals — ruthless operators. Players and coaches can tilt the floor to their team’s advantage.

The Warriors should ostensibly possess such abilities. But that’s only a guess.

After eight years of the Kerr era; after eight months of watching this team play, that’s what we’re left with — a guess.

Doesn’t that say it all?

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