The Golden State Warriors' in-season tournament hopes were dashed on Tuesday in a hair-pulling 124-123 loss to the Sacramento Kings on Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center. Let's dive into three in-depth Warriors reactions from a second-half and late-game debacle that would push many struggling teams to a new nadir.
Turnovers and free throws, shocker, doom the Warriors
Golden State led by 24 late in the second quarter, pulling out its ballyhooed small-ball lineup with Gary Payton II next to Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green. The Dubs turned back the clock for an utterly dominant stint shortly before halftime, with Payton's game-wrecking defense igniting his team in transition while Wiggins and Thompson finally found the net from the perimeter.
The Warriors let go of the rope in the last 77 seconds of the first half, though, a disappointment that could've ended their hopes of advancing to the knockout stage in-season tournament. Instead, the same issues that have dogged them even during the brightest times of the dynasty—turnovers and free throws—reared their ugly head again, not just keeping Curry and company from Las Vegas, but sending them to a wildly frustrating loss to the rival Kings.
Sacramento closed its 17-point halftime deficit to nine entering the fourth quarter, not even fully capitalizing on Golden State's inability to stop fouling. The Kings took a whopping 20 free throws in the third quarter alone as the Warriors racked up 11 personal fouls. Just imagine how much more drained the road team would've been if Sacramento hadn't missed six of its freebies.
Those foul shooting woes somehow extended to the final stanza for the Kings. When De'Aaron Fox made one of two at the line with 51 seconds left, his team now trailing 123-119 and just 5-of-10 at the line in the fourth quarter. But it didn't up killing the Sacramento because the Dubs repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.
These subsequent turnovers from Curry and Green—sandwiched by a pivotal side-step three from Malik Monk—are absolutely inexcusable, yet hardly surprising. After all, the future Hall-of-Famers have been committing self-inflicted giveaways in crucial moments for more than a decade.
You know what happened next. Monk banked in a wild, flailing runner to give the Kings the lead with seven seconds on the game clock despite being hounded by Wiggins, then Curry's long attempt at a game-winning buzzer-beater fell just short after he initially lost the ball, content to play hero rather than find Thompson on the other side of the floor.
Could the Warriors have gotten a better shot with the game suddenly on the line? No doubt. Curry's blame there is subjective, but what's not is Steve Kerr's.
Golden State didn't have any timeouts remaining for the two minutes and 50 seconds of the game because Kerr felt compelled to issue a hopeless challenge after Curry was called for an offensive foul while kicking his legs out on a missed three-pointer. There's just no way this was ever going be overturned.
In-game injuries played a major part in the Warriors' second-half collapse. Partisans will insist a one-sided whistle unfairly benefited the Kings, too. Even facing those challenges as Sacramento ran frequent double-teams at Curry and Thompson suddenly lost his touch from the perimeter, though, Golden State still had every chance to leave Golden 1 Center with a win.
No single player or coach is responsible for the Warriors' loss. But Curry, Green and Kerr will no doubt be questioning their decision-making as the game hang in the balance, and rightfully so.
Andrew Wiggins gets physical
Wiggins' broken jumper has been the most jarring aspect of his widespread early-season labors. He was never considered a shooter before arriving in the Bay, only becoming a high-volume spot-up option from deep once traded to the Warriors. Wiggins doesn't have the smoothest stroke and doesn't consistently repeat it when launching, also lacking the natural touch and ball flight reserved for true marksmen. Rough as his jumper has been over the first few weeks of 2023-24, streaky shooting isn't exactly surprising given Wiggins' career-long track record.
Much more unsettling is just how average at best Wiggins has looked physically, either tame yet wildly out of control in traffic or avoiding it altogether. He was still a bit shaky as a ball-handler under that duress on Tuesday. But the way Wiggins sought out and finished through contact from the very beginning of this game is an extremely encouraging sign for the Warriors, especially because he did it from multiple spots on the floor in varied scenarios—evidence of burgeoning confidence.
Wiggins isn't bothered by Fox's initial double-team nor Trey Lyles' late dig on these left block post-ups. He's just too patient, long and strong for Kevin Huerter and Chris Duarte down there.
Even more telling of Wiggins coming into his own physically: His show-go, and-1 take right through Domantas Sabonis in the second quarter. When was the last time you saw Wiggins overpower a big man at the rim with such pointed ease?
This is exactly what the Dubs need from Wiggins when opponents run two defenders at Curry and no easy extra pass materializes.
Wiggins isn't reaching his vaunted 2022 playoffs peak without re-emerging as one of the game's top wing defenders. He flashed several times on-ball in Sacramento, fighting hard to keep Fox and Monk contained off the bounce. Wiggins' jump shot was working from all over the floor, too, resulting in pull-up makes from mid-range as well as catch-and-shoot threes and 5-of-6 shooting from the free throw line.
But it's his palpable physicality as a scorer that stuck out most in a breakout performance, one that shows just how much Golden State misses Wiggins' overall athleticism on both sides when he's not putting it to use.
Moses Moody makes the most of it
Let's get real: The Warriors probably beat the Kings on Tuesday night if just one of Chris Paul or Gary Payton II is available for the fourth quarter. Paul left before intermission with left leg soreness while Payton exited late in the third quarter due to a right calf injury.
Neither Paul nor Payton is a panacea for what plagued Golden State during its late-game unraveling. That player isn't on this roster, and frankly, may not exist at all. But Sacramento continually leaving points at the free throw line ensured the Dubs not only remained close, but had every opportunity to win.
Do you think they would've committed those back-breaking crunch-time turnovers with Paul on the floor? Might Payton have been better able to corral Fox or Monk off the bounce than Curry, Thompson or Kevon Looney? The answers are just as obvious as Moody deserving more playing time going forward following yet another eye-opening performance.
The 21-year-old didn't play in the first quarter, his on-court time more affected by the return of Green than anyone but Brandin Podziemski's. Moody played well once he finally got the off the pine in the second quarter, finding Curry for a catch-and-shoot three after driving baseline out of split action and forcing Fox into a missed runner with stout one-on-one defense.
But Moody really came alive in the fourth quarter, when Golden State needed points most to both stem the Kings' budding momentum and make them pay for sending two defenders at Curry. This baseline rip-through and two-handed power dunk is a tantalizing glimpse of the rim pressure Moody could provide attacking bent defenses once he's more comfortable and confident with his handle.
The jumper has never been a question mark for Moody. Well, that's not entirely true—there have been times in his career Moody doesn't let fly with the aggression befitting his shot-making talent.
Let's just say Tuesday night wasn't one of them.
Moody bothered Monk enough on Sacramento's ensuing possession to help get Golden State a stop, too.
Wiggins came in for Moody about 20 seconds of game time later, ending his night for good. Could Kerr have kept him on the floor instead, going small in the clutch with Green as his team's lone big? Looney getting absolutely roasted off the bounce by Fox on a switch shortly thereafter lends credence to that option, as did the Dubs' struggles to create clean looks down the stretch with two non-shooters on the floor.
But they were getting beaten up on the glass playing two bigs and Moody was understandably gassed from helping keep the Warriors afloat earlier in the fourth quarter. Payton likely would've been Kerr's choice as fifth closer if he was healthy anyway.
Big picture, though, Tuesday's game is just more ammo supporting the notion that Moody must be a part of Golden State's regular rotation, sometimes mixing in with the starters. No other reserve on the roster right now comes close to giving the Warriors his blend of shooting dynamism, offensive decision-making and defensive playmaking. Fortunately, Moody's fourth quarter performance against Sacramento was so loud there's no way that Kerr and his coaching staff didn't hear it.