The Warriors were already on the floor for warmups Wednesday when the Houston Rockets clinched their trip to the second round.
A confident capacity crowd of nearly 20,000 at Oracle Arena expected their Warriors would host Houston the next time they took the floor. The only problem was, Golden State was unable to handle adversity as well as the Rockets had earlier in the evening, and the Clippers were up for more of a fight than the Jazz.
It was a pathetic defensive performance by the Warriors — at least for the first 42 minutes. That type of effort would have been bad for a regular season game in January, let alone a closeout game in the playoffs.
Steve Kerr was visibly angry with his team’s defense:
“It’s just defense. We just did not defend. And the playoffs are all about defense. And we had two great efforts down in L.A. … I just think I didn’t have them ready to fight, obviously, because we didn’t fight.”
It was evident from the first few minutes that Golden State’s energy wasn’t there.
The Warriors barely made an effort closing out on the initial pass, and as the Clippers swung the ball around the perimeter there was no chance they were going to make second and third efforts.
Kerr was about the most upset he’s been all season in the postgame press conference:
“Everything we did in L.A. we did not do tonight. We sort of seemed to take it for granted that we were going to be okay. But I said it before the game, this Clipper team has been scrapping and clawing all year. And you knew they weren’t going to go down without a fight.”
Luckily for Kerr’s squad, the Clippers couldn’t really cash in on their open looks, shooting just 13-of-34 from deep. But while the Warriors hot shooting from 3 kept the game close, in the second half they became thirsty for dagger 3’s, casting despite being in the bonus for much of the night.
But the early 3’s didn’t really matter at all since they couldn’t stop anyone. Patrick Beverley had a series-high 14 points and nine rebounds with four 3’s — in the first half. He finished with 17 points and a game high 14 rebounds, the closest Warrior, Draymond Green, grabbed just seven boards.
Kerr said Beverley was the key early for the Clippers:
“I thought Patrick Beverley came in, just kicked our butts right away. He got, like, three offensive rebounds and he came out with more energy than we had. And that set a tone.”
It was all effort — or lack thereof — as the Warriors played lazily for 90 percent of the contest.
Green went to his old bad of tricks to shake the Warriors out of their slumber, picking up a T, yelling to the crowd and hounding Shai Gilgeous-Alexander full court.
It worked, to an extent. The Warriors were able to bring up the intensity on offense with Durant taking over.
But it wasn’t the offense that was the problem, it was the defense, and that never really got going.
Klay Thompson was also noticeably mad after the game, and said that there was nothing to build upon after this game:
“Shoot, there’s no building, we just go do what we do. Like, build from this game? This game sucked. We lost. Let’s freakin’ win by 30, like we’re capable of. But it’s basketball. So I’m excited for Friday.”
Williams ate up the Warriors on pick-and-rolls, finishing with 33 points and 10 assists, and his partner in those plays, Harrell, went for 24 himself. That duo finished a combined 23-of-33 from the field and abused the Warriors down the stretch.
While this is undoubtedly a problem now, in the grand scheme of the series it has little effect. But looming in the second round is James Harden and Houston’s pick-and-roll-you-to-death offense. So, if the Warriors are having big issues corralling Williams and Harrell, it doesn’t bode well for their chances with Harden and Clint Capela.
But Thompson said looking ahead to the Rockets cost them Wednesday:
“Yup, start with me, I was. I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. We’re still in a great position with hopefully only 48 minutes left to close these guys out. They’ve been pesky. They’ve been tough, but now it’s time to do what we do.”
It started early as for the second game in a row the Clippers start small with JaMychal Green inserted as the team’s starting center and Ivica Zubac moving to the bench. The Warriors and Andrew Bogut shut down Zubac, who was a DNP-CD in Game 4.
And while that matchup has been obviously won by the Warriors’ centers, the Clippers going small is another story. Bogut still started the game but was targeted on every possession with a pick-and-roll.
He couldn’t contain the ball handler and was unable to close out on the pop, which made this a Kevon Looney game pretty early on.
But no matter who subbed in, it made no difference to the team’s defense. And on top of that the team was rushing into 3-point looks and not connecting on any of them.
It’s what ultimately doomed them, as the Clippers scored the last 10 points to close the game, excluding a meaningless Curry 3 with 28 seconds to go.
Durant said that stretch is the worst feeling on a basketball court:
“That’s worst-case scenario for any team. You missing shots and can’t get stops. You feel like you’re in a bottomless pit. So hopefully we knock down shots and get stops the next game.”
With their disappointing showing Wednesday, the Warriors are forced to travel back to Los Angeles for Game 6 Friday, where they’ll look to actually put away the pesky Clippers.
Kevin Durant’s 45 set a new playoff career high, and was his ninth career playoff game with over 40 points.