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Warriors choke on 31-point lead as Clippers make history, seize home court

Six quarters. It took all of six quarters of playoff basketball for the Golden State Warriors to become bored with themselves — again.

Seventy-two minutes of laughing at Patrick Beverley antics, fast-paced scoring, and energized defense before the Warriors thought to themselves, yeah, we’re good.

The only problem is that, in the playoffs unlike the regular season, the opposition never stops playing, even when the game is out of reach. That’s how Golden State blew an epic 31-point lead to lose home court to the eighth-seeded Clippers 135-131 Monday night.

This story has been updated with quotes and post-game material from the Warriors’ locker room at Oracle Arena.

Steve Kerr said they simply stopped playing:

They scored 85 points in the second half. We had really done a good job defensively in the first half. So we kind of messed with the game a little bit. When you do that, you’re in some trouble, especially in the playoffs… Once you lose momentum in a game, against a really good team, it’s hard to get it back. So we really lost this game mid third quarter when we stopped playing.”

The Clippers put up back-to-back 40-point quarters to close out the defending champs in the most embarrassing way possible, an NBA record comeback. Lou Williams — who the Warriors kept in check for the first 24 minutes — scored 29 of his 36 points in the second half, and got help in the form of timely baskets from Montrezl Harrell and Danilo Gallinari down the stretch.

Kerr said it was like the team just stopped doing anything after halftime:

“Our defense was great for two and a half quarters, then we stopped defending. When I say ‘we stopped playing’, we stopped playing defense,
offense, execution-wise. We were not as engaged as we needed to be. We got exactly what we deserved.”

Two completely different halves were on display at Oracle as the Warriors came out on a mission to run the Clippers early, throwing the ball ahead constantly, even on made shots. And Los Angeles put up zero resistance, continuously walking back on defense.

Not only did it enable the Warriors to get out in space and play at a pace where they excel at getting open looks, it also engaged the most dangerous Draymond Green—the aggressive attacker.

Green, who’s admitted that his struggles this year have been linked to his passiveness, turns into a different player when he’s the aggressor. While he still has his incredible vision with either play style, he can’t take advantage of that when he’s roaming around the perimeter all game.

When he’s passive, he’s a good player. When he’s aggressive, he’s a top player.

Green has looked like the player in 2016 who shut down the opposing team’s offense while wreaking havoc as a playmaker. He showed it at times during the regular season, but it’s been on every possession in the playoffs. Every time he’s caught the ball in space it’s been a decisive attack, which immediately creates two-on-ones, which is an easy read for Green.

But once the teams came out from halftime, it wasn’t the same Warriors that showed up. It was the we-know-we’re-winning-so-time-to-mess-around Warriors.

Curry said the team just relaxed and didn’t play together:

“For six and a half quarters we played amazing. Had a 31-point lead. The wheels fell off. I know we can get it back. We obviously have shown that level of basketball is there for us. We got to put together 48 minutes of it,
just a collective energy, positivity around everything we do.”

Plus, the game became much more physical, something they seemed unprepared for. As fouls piled up, the flow of the game deteriorated and the Warriors couldn’t manufacture anything.

Kerr said it’s really the difference in playoff basketball, the physicality:

“He did a good job out there. In the playoffs, if you just foul every time, they can only call so many of them, honestly. I’m not talking about Patrick Beverley. I’m talking about everybody. You get more aggressive, you get more physical. It’s very difficult to keep control of the game if you’re an official.”

Their defensive energy was nowhere to be found and it trickled over to their offense. Stephen Curry went 2-of-9 in the final frame, Kevin Durant fouled out down the stretch, and the Warriors couldn’t get out of their own way.

Curry was ice-cold after starting the game on a tear, shooting 6-of-9 from the field through three quarters. But he picked up his fourth foul early in the third and was forced to sit on the bench for an extended period of time, and when he came back he was completely out of rhythm.

He shot just 2-of-9 in the fourth and missed a handful of key shots late in the game.

Durant had one of the weirdest nights as a Warrior. He shot just eight times, but also had nine turnovers. And he got caught up in trying to go at Beverley all game.

The Clippers strategy in putting the smaller guard on Durant isn’t that he can stop him one-on-one, but Beverley can try and bully him and get in his head, which is exactly what has happened over these first two games.

Durant’s been forced to leave both contests early after being ejected in Game 1 and fouling out Monday — both thanks to Beverley. And the Warriors star was visibly upset for a good portion of both of those contests.

That frustration has tickled over to the coaching staff as well, as when Kerr was asked about Durant postgame, it was the most abrupt answer he’s given about his star, simply, “He had a tough night.”

But the actual loss might not even be the worst news of the night. DeMarcus Cousins went down halfway through the first with a non-contact left leg injury.

It’s the same leg he tore his Achilles on last year and he was immediately ruled out for the rest of the game. The Warriors said that he will get an MRI on his quad within the next 24 hours.

A torn quad, which the team fears is likely, could knock Cousins out of the playoffs and onto the shelf for six to eight months. A rough break for the big man, especially since he was just starting to hit his stride conditioning-wise.

Klay Thompson said the team will support the big man no matter the diagnosis:

“We’ll rally behind him, tell him it’s far from the end of the world, tell him he has so much great basketball ahead of him. He believes that. It sucks. Injuries are part of the game, terrible part of the game. He’ll bounce back. I know he will. He’s a fighter.”

It’s hard not to feel for Cousins, whose Achilles injury sabotaged him of an extended Pelicans run last postseason, and now may have had his playoff debut halted after just four and a half quarters.

Now, the pressure of being the starting center is squarely on old friend Andrew Bogut.

What looked at the time like a 7-foot insurance policy is now being cashed in, with Cousins’ status not just for this series but the entire playoffs very much in doubt. Pressed into extended action, Bogut tallied three points and nine rebounds in 17 minutes.

While Bogut took over Cousins rotation spot as the starter, it was Kevon Looney who got the bulk of the minutes available—and just like Game 1, he showed his worth.

Looney put up a career-high 19 off the bench with five rebounds, shooting a perfect 6-of-6 from the field and was also near perfect from the line, going 7-of-8 after shooting just 61 percent there during the regular season.

But even that wasn’t enough, as the Clippers still outscored the Warriors bench 83-48.

And while the Oracle faithful stumbled out of the arena in a state of shock, the Warriors organization are there too—not just from the loss, but what playoff life without DeMarcus Cousins will look like.

Bogut said the mood in the lockerroom was obviously angry, and that’s not the worst thing:

“The mood’s shit. And that’s actually a positive sign in my opinion. It wasn’t something where we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll get them next time.’ We’re genuinely pissed off about it.”

Up Next

The series now shifts to Los Angeles, where the two teams won’t play again until Thursday. It’s a welcome travel schedule with the closest playoff series the Warriors have played in the Steve Kerr era.

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