By Wes Goldberg
Special to S.F. Examiner
OAKLAND — The Golden State Warriors have had a tendency this season to dig themselves into holes early. Tuesday night’s 128-95 loss to the Boston Celtics was no different.
“Right from the beginning, just the level of competition wasn’t where it needed to be,” said Warriors head coach Steve Kerr. “It looked to me like we were jogging up the floor. You can’t play basketball jogging. You’ve got to sprint. Your cuts have to be hard and you got to be going all out and we did not go all out. It was embarrassing.”
Slow starts have dogged Golden State in recent games. Sometimes the Warriors can shoot their way out of it, having recently overcome an early deficit to beat the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to Stephen Curry’s fourth-quarter flurry. This time, however, it was too much.
Golden State fell behind 11-0 within the first three minutes, forcing Kerr to call an early timeout after Celtics forward Marcus Morris scored off a turnover.
“Tonight was mostly bad execution on the offensive end,” Curry said. “Didn’t really put any pressure on them in the first three or four minutes, and then you compound that with not getting any stops, a couple of breakdowns in communication and they made some tough shots. Then you look up and it’s 11-0.”
The Warriors entered halftime down 25. A brief run in the third quarter cut the lead to 17 but Golden State failed to get closer than that in the second half.
Tensions boiled over in the fourth quarter, as DeMarcus Cousins lowered a shoulder on Celtics center Aron Baynes. He picked up a technical foul after he taunted Baynes and shoved Celtics Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier. Both teams pulled their starters shortly after.
Turnovers (22 to Boston’s 11) and a bench weakened by the absences of Klay Thompson (right knee soreness) and Kevon Looney (right pelvic soreness) contributed to the lopsided loss, but a porous defense was the primary culprit. The Warriors left lanes to the rim and shooters beyond the arc open for most of the game.
“I have to do a better job as a coach of putting people in the right places and making sure we are in a position to succeed,” Kerr said. “Again, it starts with effort, it starts with engagement and the level of intensity to do anything. Doesn’t matter what you are doing or what the scheme is, you have to be able to get out there and compete. That’s where it starts.”
The Warriors were without Thompson for the second straight game, and Kerr’s rotation of shooting guards failed to yield many positive results. Alfonzo McKinnie, Damion Lee and Jacob Evans (called up from Golden State’s G-League affiliate in Santa Cruz Tuesday morning) combined to score 17 points on 8-of-23 shooting.
“There’s no replacement for a guy like Klay, you’ve got to try to do it by committee and tonight we didn’t,” Curry said.
Kevin Durant’s shooting struggles underscored Thompson’s absence. Durant didn’t convert his second field goal attempt until 3:53 left in the second quarter, and finished with 18 points on 5-of-16 shooting. Curry paced the Warriors with 23 points, but no other starter made more than one 3-pointer and the bench was outscored 68 to 32 against a Celtics team very much in line with what many NBA observers predicted in the preseason.
On a nationally televised stage, they took advantage of mismatches, willingly moved the ball in head coach Brad Stevens’ offense (38 assists) and leaned on their skill to make tough shots, led by Gordon Hayward (30 points on 12-of-16 shooting, seven rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (19 points, 11 assists).
“They were just moving the ball, everybody was a threat out there on on the floor and they were just making shots,” Curry said.
Golden State entered Tuesday night with a 4-4 record against the Eastern Conference’s top teams. The defeat gives them a losing record in games against the Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Toronto Raptors, Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers — teams they could potentially see in the NBA Finals.
On Friday, the Warriors will turn their attention back to the Western Conference standings, with a chance to extend the lead for the No. 1 seed at Oracle against the second-place Denver Nuggets. Thompson and Looney may be available, but it was the missing “intensity” that Warriors players and coaches pointed to after the game. With 19 games left before the postseason, the Warriors will have time to find it.
“There is a subtle confidence that we’ve been here before and that when the lights are bright we show up. There’s a balance somewhere in the middle there,” Curry said. “Can’t have nights like tonight though, when a team just pounces on you and embarrasses you on your home floor.”