Eight seconds left, down two with the ball in Stephen Curry’s hands. How fitting that a sloppy, frenetic game ended right there — with an unforced turnover.
It’s been the plague of this Warriors team all series, all season and throughout this four-year run of dominance, and it may have just cost them a chance at a back-to-back championship after falling 98-94 in Thursday’s Western Conference Game 5 at Houston’s Toyota Center.
Chris Paul willed the Rockets to the finish line, hitting dagger buzzer-beaters like they were uncontested layups and finishing with 20 points despite heading into the locker with zero first-half points. And while Paul and Eric Gordon will get all the accolades with their fourth-quarter heroics, it was the Warriors who gave this game away.
Kevin Durant scored 18 of his 29 points in the first half but he was really forcing the action. It’s a testament to how good of a scorer he is that he was still semi-efficient, going 6-of-13 from the field before halftime, while essentially just putting his head down and driving to the basket.
It helped a little as the Warriors came out with much better ball movement to start the second half, but once things got tight again it was all Durant isos. Curry took just 17 shots and spent close to 90 percent of the game off the ball.
And when he’s running around off screens without the ball the Rockets denied him hard.
It was like Kerr and the Warriors were allergic to running anything with Curry as the primary ball handler. He would dribble up, but then pass off to Durant to start the offense — and that’s exactly where it would stay for the rest of the 24 second shot clock.
The Curry-Durant pick-and-roll, which many thought we’d see unleashed to counter the Rockets switch-heavy defense, was nowhere to be seen. Klay Thompson played the role of the roller on some actions and got free for a couple of 3’s and finished with 23 points.
But even that simple action, which was successful for a handful of minutes, went right out the window once the Rockets answered with some timely 3’s. Mental mistakes devoured the Warriors chances late, like Draymond Green missing a pass in the closing seconds or trying to tip out a rebound instead of just grabbing it.
The Warriors looked like the team that had never been to an NBA Finals before, rushing shots, running head first into set help defenses and just generally panicking.
But the window for the Warriors isn’t totally closed, Paul came down awkwardly in the final seconds of the game and looks to have tweaked his hamstring. He had to sit out the final possession and it could be a huge loss for the Rockets as James Harden was downright awful Thursday going just 5-of-21.
If Paul is limited at all the Warriors could capitalize — if they can just avoid throwing their shot away.
The Warriors return to Oracle a battered and beaten team, fighting for their playoff lives. They’ll have just a day to rest up as Saturday could be the last Warriors game of the season.
With Klay Thompson’s four 3’s, he passed Paul Pierce for eighth place in all-time playoff 3’s made in NBA history. … Andre Iguodala missed his second-straight game despite the fact he was shooting jumpers before the game moving around pretty well. It’s a good bet he’ll return with the season on the line Saturday.