If there is such a thing as a good defeat, and there is reason to believe there is, the Warriors experienced it Friday night.
Their 124-116 loss to the Hawks at Philips Arena in Atlanta was a 48-minute seminar on how to beat the Warriors. The Hawks did three things in particular that left the Warriors on the joyless end of this much-anticipated game between conference leaders.
One: give the Warriors a chance to commit turnovers, and if they don't comply start forcing them to commit turnovers.
Two: stretch the Warriors' highly regarded defense, find a weakness and scorch it.
Three: neutralize the rim-protecting skills of 7-foot center Andrew Bogut.
Not many teams can accomplish this trifecta but it can only help the Warriors to realize it can indeed be accomplished.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors fall to Hawks in matchup of NBA's best]
"It was good for us to get a look at the Hawks and see the matchups and see how it all played out from our end," coach Steve Kerr said. "We knew there were going to be some tricky substitution patterns for us because they have shooters at every position. It kind of altered some things for us. It was a good game for us to get ready for the next time we see them.”
The Warriors (39-9), leading by as much as eight, seemed on the verge of taking control in the second quarter before the Hawks charged back in the final minute of the half to pull into a tie (52-52) at intermission.
Once Atlanta (42-9) blasted out to a 61-54 shortly after halftime, the Warriors spent the rest of the night trying to come back. They tied it but never again took a lead.
"We made a lot of mistakes," forward Draymond Green said. "If we take a lead into the half it’s a completely different ball game."
Maybe. The Hawks disrupted the Warriors' offense, nabbing 13 steals, and completely obliterated their defense in the second half, shooting 67.7 percent (21 of 31). Atlanta shot 80 percent on 3-pointers in the second half.
That's how the Eastern Conference leader took down the best in the West.
“We can’t turn the ball over, especially in the frontcourt," Stephen Curry said. "We did that and they got too many easy buckets. The tough shots they made tonight hopefully won’t go down.”
If point guards Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroeder weren't slashing through the defense in the absence of Bogut, who isn't agile enough to stay with Atlanta's mobile big men, it was the likes of Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore lighting it up, coming off the bench to combine for 28 points on 9-of-13 shooting – 6-of-6 from deep.
The Warriors looked nothing like the team that leads the league in field-goal defense.
Didn't look much like the team that leads the league in offense, either.
“Playing against (the Hawks), they play sort of like the Spurs do," Green said. "They don’t make many mistakes. You have to cut down on your mistakes when you’re playing against them, and then capitalize when they do make mistakes. But give those guys some credit. They made the necessary plays during the game."
Again, the Warriors saw the best team in the league play a very good game at home. Atlanta executed, forced the action, got to the foul line and hit 15 3-pointers, most of them uncontested.
That's not going to happen very often. That it happened Friday is something that should stick with the Warriors for a while.
"It’s one to learn from," Green said. "We just have to shore up on a few things. There’s no reason to hang our heads. They’re a very good basketball team, which is why they have the record that they have."
Green was heroic, as he outworked taller Hawks for 20 rebounds and outsmarted smaller Hawks to ring up six assists.
Klay Thompson (game-high 29 points) supplied the most effective offense, starting quickly and shooting well throughout. He got the better of Kyle Korver when both were on the floor.
Though he's the primary ball-handler, Curry had only one turnover – and nine assists. He also scored 26 points.
David Lee was horrid on defense, and the Hawks exploited him with extreme malice, designing plays to leave him on an island, and then destroying him.
Green's 3-point shot, so integral to the Warriors' spacing, has disappeared. He was 0-for-2 Friday and has made only five of his last 28 attempts.
Bogut was off his game, with almost as many turnovers (four) as points (5) and rebounds (seven) in 22 minutes.
The Warriors bench was outscored in the second half 26-12.
This is the kind of game Kerr and his staff should love. There is so much to examine and analyze. The Warriors entered with the best record, best defense and best offense – and still came up short.
Why? Because the NBA is about matchups, and the Hawks, like the Spurs, are difficult for the Warriors. Atlanta's big men are good enough to put Bogut in foul trouble or keep him off the floor. Either way, the Warriors defense pays a price. If Green's 3-point shooting isn't a threat, defense will jump all over Curry and Thompson. There is a lot to look at for coaches and players.