DETROIT -- After absorbing a decisive 113-95 loss to the Detroit Pistons, interim Golden State Warriors coach Luke Walton reminded reporters of his team's mortality: "This is the NBA. Everyone gets blown out."
Reminiscent of the "All Men Must Die" slogan from "Game of Thrones," "Everyone gets blown out" is a signal that the Warriors aren't impervious to negative consequence, even if early season returns suggested an unblemished, historic conquest of basketball.
This has been especially true of late, as Golden State hasn't been playing its best. Andre Drummond's dominance on the boards, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's offensive explosion and Aron Baynes' perfect scoring night (6-of-6) put the Warriors' current state into stark relief.
They might not have been asking for Saturday night's "ass kicking," as Walton termed it, but they were trending toward it. The Warriors have had bouts of flat play. Among the examples: Much of Monday's home game against the Miami Heat, the disjointed loss in Denver and the first half of Thursday's hosting of the Lakers.
After Saturday night's blowout, center Andrew Bogut referenced the team's recent shortcomings on defense. "That's where the most slippage is. We're going to score points. Our defense has been horrendous, even in the past couple wins we've had."
Draymond Green had similarly harsh words for Golden State's resistance. "We got punked," he said bluntly to begin his postgame news conference.
While Golden State's defense was far from exemplary, their offense might have been worse Saturday. Apart from Stephen Curry, who scored 38 points on 26 shots, not including two 3s that offensive fouls wiped out, the Warriors were collectively off. Minus Curry's attempts, the Warriors were a brutal 21-of-68 for 57 points.
There were moments that encapsulated Golden State's deep morass this game. Andre Iguodala attempted a reverse layup that air-balled back over the backboard like a boomerang. Festus Ezeli air-balled a free throw short. Curry motioned that Klay Thompson should kick the ball back out to an open Bogut to restart the offense. Thompson either didn't notice or called his own number, as he went isolation and missed a jumper. Detroit repeatedly deflected passes and smothered whatever glints of inspiration the Warriors occasionally came across. The Warriors noticeably squabbled with each other, as teams do when they're down big and can't get stops.
Overall, Golden State looked a new level of frustrated. Curry got a technical foul after Detroit backup center Baynes landed on him to nary a whistle. Green got a technical foul, then later flirted with an ejection when he shoved Andre Drummond after a free throw. Walton got a tech for his reaction to a non-call on a block of Harrison Barnes.
Speaking of Barnes, this was his first taste of the starting lineup since November's ankle injury, and it was an inauspicious return. Barnes went 2-of-11 for five points and a minus-26 on the evening. If he's healthy, there's little reason to doubt that Barnes can mesh with the starters as he once did. Still, this game spoke to why the Warriors were cautious about bringing him fully back into the fold.
This is just one game, and perhaps it's the "wake-up call," Golden State needs. After the action, multiple players suggested as much. It's difficult to know if Golden State's mini malaise is concerning or just jarring compared to the harmonious dominance that preceded it. After all the talk of historic streaks and the 72-win Bulls, one could be swayed into beliving perfection. It might even be possible to dismiss this recent "slippage," if not for the competition that creeps closer.
The San Antonio Spurs have a better point differential than Golden State and are now a mere two games back in the standings. Simply by existing, they're a refutation of Warriors exceptionalism, a reminder that a repeat title is far from assured. True, Golden State has lost a mere four games. At this juncture, in any other season, "four losses" would be a succinct way to quiet concerns. But it just so happens this is a season in which the San Antonio Spurs have also made others seem vulnerable by comparison.
After this wake-up call, Golden State soldiers on to Cleveland to play a team that has lost only one game at home this season. The Warriors play San Antonio at Oracle a week after that. The team that once looked infallible is about to face its biggest test, right when it looks vulnerable.