OAKLAND — After the Golden State Warriors responded to a stunning Los Angeles Clippers win in Game 2 by taking two at Staples Center, and after a personal 32-point assault on Easter Sunday, Klay Thompson admitted that the Warriors were already looking ahead to the Houston Rockets. The same team that took them to seven games in the Western Conference Finals last season. The same team built to beat them. The same team that, just minutes before Golden State tipped, eliminated the Utah Jazz in five games.
“We have our eyes on the other teams playing,” Thompson said on Sunday. “We see Houston being up 3-0, a chance to close it out.”
In their own Game 5, Golden State looked horendous on defense against a vastly inferior Clippers team, displaying the same kind of indifference and enoui we’ve seen from Golden State throughout the regular season, and in that 31-point collapse in Game 2. If they can’t get up for a close-out game — Golden State went 11-of-32 in the fourth quarter to go along with their defensive struggles — you have to worry. Not just about the Rockets, but about the psyche of the team in a series that wasn’t even posted at some Vegas books because Golden State was the biggest favorite in 30 years, a series that will return to Los Angeles after Wednesday’s 129-121 Golden State loss.
“Yup, start with me; I was,” Thompson said, when asked if the Warriors were looking ahead to Houston after Wednesday’s debacle. “I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn’t go as planned.”
Stephen Curry disagreed. He said the team wasn’t looking ahead, but should be looking in the mirror. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Because of their wandering attention, Golden State finds itself in a situation where, even if they take care of business in Los Angeles in Game 6, they will have just one day of rest before facing Houston, which will have been resting for three days.
“That’s what I want,” Clint Capela said after the Rockets finished off the Jazz. “I want to face them.”
Chris Paul — whose balky hamstring has been cited as the reason Golden State was able to triumph in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals last season, paving the way for a Finals sweep of Cleveland — cautioned his center.
“Oh, man, you’re going to be all over Bleacher Report,” Paul said.
Capela’s response: “If you want to be the champion, you’ve got to beat the champion.”
“We’re still in a great position with hopefully only 48 minutes left to close these guys out,” Thompson said. “They’ve been pesky. They’ve been tough.”
And therein lies the rub: Toughness. This is a team on, as Pat Riley said, the innocent climb. When asked about Golden State’s identity, head coach Steve Kerr said it all: “Back-to-back champs … We’re hanging banners.”
This isn’t a team on the climb anymore. It’s a team that has to fight against complacency, and right now, they’re losing. The Clippers came out swinging, shooting 6-of-15 from 3-point range in the first quarter, and they finished the game 54.1% from the floor and 38.2% from beyond the arc. Five players finished in double-figures in scoring, and three finished with at least 24 points.
“I spent a year where things haven’t gone exactly smoothly all the time,” Kerr said. “I’m not surprised by anything. But, I expected to come out and play better to win the game … You’ve got to defend with some urgency, and we gave up 129 points on our home floor. And they shot 54 percent. And we weren’t right from the very beginning — 37 points we gave up in the first quarter.”
As the clock wound down to halftime, and the Warriors fell behind, they made silly mistakes — a backcourt violation on Stephen Curry, giving easy lay-ups to Lou Williams (who scored 33 points) after holding him to just six points in the second half of Game 4.
Immediately after the Warriors gave up a wide-open transition 3-point look to Patrick Beverley — noted pest and instigator — with 4:26 left in the first half, right in front of the Golden State bench, Kerr called a time out. He’d seen plenty. Beverley was so wide open that he even took a dribble to line up his shot. The Warriors — inarguably the most talented roster in the NBA — certainly showed great interest on the offensive end of the floor, scoring 41 first-quarter points against Los Angeles, but they allowed the Clippers — a team that backed its way into the No. 8 seed — to shoot 28-of-50 from the field (56%) and were out-rebounded 21-16 before the break.
“We just didn’t start the game with the type of defensive intensity that we need to, and they got going,” Draymond Green said. “We gave up 37 points in the first quarter, and that set the tempo.”
“They’re already playing loose, with nothing to lose,” said Kevin Durant, who scored 45 points. “They don’t have no pressure from the start to the finish, especially as an eight-seed.”
Coming out of the break, Green elbowed Beverley in the chest for a charge, and then stepped over him on the ground. Andrew Bogut had to pull Green away from referee Marc Davis to avoid an ejection for arguing the call, as Green insisted, “I’m OK.” Green, for his continued protestations, was called for a technical. Danillo Gallinari, who had played poorly most of the series, had just banked in a three, and thanks to Green, added a technical free throw. He finished with 26.
The next trip down the court, Green drew a foul from JaMychal Green on a rim run, and ran past the stanchion, nearly into the tunnel, waving his arms as the crowd roared. Beverley answered with a 3-pointer.
“I was edgy? That was edgy? You think I give a damn about getting a tech?” Green said, defiantly, when asked if he thought he was a bit edgy on the night. “You consider that edgy? You should watch some of my past games if you want to see edgy.”
Energy is great — it’s what Oracle provides, and it’s what fuels Golden State when its at its best. Petulant, petty energy, though, that’s a toxic brew, and the Warriors were gulping it down as they repeatedly argued fouls, Green in particular. A 71-63 halftime deficit ballooned to 81-66 with nine minutes to go in the third after a JaMychal Green three. This wasn’t an isolated pocket of defensive slumber. It was yet another instance of the Warriors thinking they could win on talent at home, just because.
“They play hard,” Thompson said. “They play hard.”
What a novel concept. Golden State tried it down the stretch, thanks to a spurt from Durant, but once the Warriors cut the lead to three with 1:41 left in the third, Durant headed to the bench to rest for the start of the fourth quarter. The Clippers proceded to stretch the lead back to 10, up 104-94.
Thompson, with four minutes left, hit a 3-pointer from the right corner, his first since 9:08 in the second quarter. He had gone 2-for-8 from the floor and 0-for-3 from beyond the arc between those triples. The Warriors had missed four straight 3-pointers in the fourth quarter, and three straight triples in the third. A Durant dunk tied things at 116-116, but a 7-2 Clippers run all but iced the return to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Friday.
“I thought we were in a rush in the second half,” Kerr said. “I thought we were a little anxious because we were behind, and even when there was plenty of time left, I felt like we were rushing things. You can’t play that way.”
In the locker room, the Warriors pursed their lips and stared at their phones. Durant slumped in his corner, Green’s brow furrowed as he scrolled on his screen. Curry stared straight ahead as he rode a stationary bike. There wasn’t the stunned silence that followed Game 2. There was just frustration.
“It’s very disappointing, and that falls on me,” Green said. “If I bring the intensity from the start, everybody else usually falls in line on that side of the ball. That’s my fault. I’ve got to do better.”
They all do. The Rockets will get the Warriors again, there’s little doubt of that. But, if Golden State repeats this performance against James Harden, there’s a very good chance a Chris Paul hamstring won’t keep them from the Finals.
“There’s no building [from this game],” Thompson said. “This game sucked. We lost. Let’s freaking win by 30, like we’re capable of. But, it’s basketball. So, I’m excited for Friday.”