OAKLAND -- With the game and a playoff berth on the line, Warriors point guard Stephen Curry got three shots in the first 11 minutes, 59 seconds of the fourth quarter against Utah. Three shots.
For the guy widely regarded as the team's best player, and the best shooter in the league, that seems awfully low. Especially considering the Warriors had two lengthy droughts in the fourth quarter and managed just 21 points in a 97-90 loss Sunday.
"We've got to be more physical in getting him open, getting him his looks and getting bodies off of him," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "You respect the game plan, what people are going to try to do, but we don't want to surrender to it."
The Warriors have a get-well game Tuesday against visiting Minnesota, which is 18 games under .500. A win coupled with a loss by Utah or the Los Angeles Lakers would clinch the Warriors' first postseason bid since 2007. But success against the Timberwolves won't answer an emerging concern.
If you let Utah, a bad road team on the cusp of missing the playoffs, shut down Curry and the Warriors offense at the most critical of times, will Golden State be able to score in the postseason?
Sunday night was less an anomaly and more like a trend. The Warriors have lost seven of their last 10 games against winning teams, including Sunday's home loss to Utah. In those 10 games, the Warriors averaged 22.4 fourth-quarter points. That includes a 17-point fourth quarter in a blowout of visiting New York, but finding offense against stiff defenses has been a major problem.
"We just have to make the right plays out of whatever we're running. We haven't done that as a group," Curry said. "As long as that ball is moving, we should be able to make plays ... We've just got to execute at a high level, especially in the fourth quarter when things get tight and the moment builds up. ... No magic answer for it. Just make plays."
Part of the difficulty, illuminated by Utah, is the Warriors' small lineup. When Jackson puts Jarrett Jack at point guard, Curry at shooting guard and shooting guard Klay Thompson at small forward, it creates two problems, one of which is caused by forward Carl Landry replacing 7-footer Andrew Bogut at center in the three-guard lineup.
"I think it's easier to take me out of plays, because you know where my options are," Curry said of playing off the ball. "If you set good screens it will work and if I do my cuts hard it will work. But there is not as much creativity you can use with that."
Jackson likes having Jack on the floor, so the three-guard lineup isn't going anywhere. That makes sense considering the way Jack has played this season. Jack is more secure with the ball than Curry, and defenses have aggressively double-teamed Curry late in games, something harder to do when he's playing off the ball.
This quandary will continue into the postseason when the defenses step up a notch and coaching chess matches ensue. Because, no doubt, as goes Curry, so goes Golden State.
Minnesota (29-47) at Warriors (44-33), 7:30 p.m. CSNBA
Warriors magic number
Combination of wins or Utah Jazz or Los Angeles Lakers losses for the Warriors to clinch their first playoff berth since 2007.