The Golden State Warriors kicked off the post-All-Star portion of their season by extending their season-worst losing streak to six, falling 115-101 to the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City.
Utah knocked down exactly 50 percent of its field goals, hit 10-of-21 from long range and made 27-of-33 from the line. Those offensive numbers were good enough to compensate for a minus-seven disadvantage on the boards.Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 29 points on 12-of-22 shooting, and Jarrett Jack put up 19 points and nine assists to pace the bench. But the Jazz simply outshot Golden State from every area of the floor en route to a 14-point win.
But enough about the numbers. The Warriors lost this game for reasons that can’t be easily gleaned from the box score.
The biggest issue? David Lee played one of the worst defensive games of his career. And if you’ve been following the Warriors over the last three seasons, you can appreciate the significance of that statement. Lee was so clueless, so bereft of effort that it almost appeared as though he was actively trying to sabotage the Dubs’ defensive schemes.
Nobody’s accusing Lee of point-shaving or anything quite so unseemly, but his defensive failures were so egregious that all logical explanations seem wanting.
When Paul Milllsap popped up on a third-quarter pindown screen, Lee had the option of running around the pick to the left or right. Instead, he jogged right into Al Jefferson’s chest, feigning an attempt to fight through. Millsap buried the wide-open jumper.
Earlier, Lee blew two assignments within the span of a couple of minutes, allowing Millsap to slip right to the hole. On the second, Jarrett Jack could be heard audibly screaming at Lee that the roll man was his responsibility. The courtside mics picked up a pair of choice expletives from a clearly incensed Jack. Check your DVRs, folks; I’m not unfairly targeting Lee here.
And when the Warriors played zone, things got even worse.
At least in a man-to-man scheme it’s somewhat obvious when you’ve made a defensive mistake. But in a zone, it’s much easier to hide as a defender. Lee specializes in this sort of disappearing act, always coming a step late or—even worse—mystifyingly choosing to guard an opponent that’s nowhere close to being in a threatening position instead of picking up cutters at the rim.
It’s baffling the way Lee manages to consistently appear unwilling or unable to grasp the simplest concepts of team defense. And although his play on that end has been admittedly better this season, his very worst habits were on full display against the Jazz.
If you’re into the superficial numbers, you’d never think to blame Lee for what happened in Utah. After all, he put up 18 points on 9-of-13 shooting. And hey, he grabbed nine boards!
Don’t be fooled. Lee’s total lack of intensity and inexplicable mental errors paved the way for the Jazz to have a ridiculously easy offensive night.
Now, to be fair, Lee wasn’t the only reason the Warriors lost their sixth consecutive game. But it’d be shortsighted to cite Andrew Bogut’s 0-of-5 night and the utter torching he suffered at the hands of Jefferson. One could also point to Harrison Barnes’ altogether insignificant 19 minutes as a key factor in the loss.
Pinning the blame on those two isn’t fair, though. Bogut is still clearly nowhere near being physically ready to play a significant role and Mark Jackson has all but stopped including Barnes in the offense. If those guys failed (and they most certainly did), it was because of forces at least partially beyond their control.
Lee had no such excuse.
The loss drops the Warriors into a virtual tie with the Jazz for the No. 7 spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
Golden State will be right back at it on Wednesday, when the Phoenix Suns come to Oakland. If the Dubs can’t right the ship against the Pacific Division’s very worst team, it’ll be time to hit the panic button.