OAKLAND — After DeMarcus Cousins was helped to his feet by Golden State Warriors rookie Jacob Evans, having tumbled to the ground with what looked for all the world to be a torn quadriceps muscle, he made a point of walking on his own.
He refused the help of teammate Andrew Bogut, and limped, on his own, back to the Warriors’ locker room.
He left behind a Golden State team on its way to a 31-point lead, with the East Coast going to bed thinking the two-time defending champions would coast to an easy Game 2 win in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. When Cousins wakes up on Tuesday, he’ll head for an MRI to find out exactly the nature of his injury. It’s a bit easier to diagnose what went wrong for the Warriors in the largest playoff collapse in NBA history.
“I think we took our foot off the gas pedal and kind of coasted for a while,” Kevon Looney said. “It’s a playoff game and you can’t do that.”
Golden State was outscored 54-26 over a 14-minute stretch until there was just 5:26 to go. With Clippers owner Steve Balmer cackling and kicking his feet up, wildly gesticulating in his courtside seat, Landry Shamet hit a fadeaway three to give Los Angeles a 133-131 lead, their first since 8:18 in the first quarter, when they led 12-11.
Golden State shot 59% in the first half, turned the ball over just six times and out-rebounded the Clippers 21-15, and led by as many as 23. Once the second half dawned, they continued their assault, making their first eight shots — including a 3-pointer by Quinn Cook — to take a 30-point lead. A Durant free throw swelled the lead to 31, with 7:31 to go in the quarter.
From that point on, Golden State had no answer for Lou Williams, no response for Montrez Harrell and no guts. It was a truly, deeply, profoundly stupid game, and the Warriors knew it.
“Lack of focus, lack of effort,” said guard Klay Thompson, when asked what accounted for the turnovers and the defensive fog. He added another: Lack of heart. For a franchise renaissance that was built on heart, founded on joy, that’s the worst charge of all.
”We let our guard down,” Thompson continued. “We weren’t the aggressors anymore. We didn’t deserve to win that game. Basketball gods didn’t reward us. I had a wide-open look at the top of the key, in and out.”
Basketball gods don’t automatically reward talent — of which Golden State has plenty — but they do tend to automatically punish hubris.
On Monday morning, Kevin Durant spoke — seemingly in a genuine fashion — about not being a distraction, of not taking Patrick Beverley’s bait, of focusing on just playing basketball. On Saturday night, he said, “I’m in control.”
On Monday night, the Warriors — who at one point had a 99.9% win probability — didn’t have their best playmaker on the floor for the final 1:21 because he didn’t keep his word, or, perhaps more accurately, Beverley wouldn’t let him. Along with three offensive fouls, he had a career-high nine turnovers, as Golden State coughed the ball up 22 times — one more than Saturday, a game after which head coach Steve Kerr cited turnovers as something the team would focus on over the next two days.
Beyond the turnovers, Durant engaged noted pest Beverley, and took himself out of the game mentally, and eventually physically, because of it. An illegal screen by Durant as he tried to get Stephen Curry open served as his sixth foul. That was bad enough. Then, already with two technical fouls counted towards the seven that mandate a suspension, he started arguing with the officials. He didn’t pick up his third technical, but it wasn’t a good look, especially after the greatest scorer of his generation took himself — and Golden State’s most effective play — off the floor when they needed it most — the 1-3 pick and roll.
While Golden State looked like they forgot how to play basketball for large swaths of the third quarter, they looked completely out-of-sorts without their bread and butter, took ill-advised shots, threw ill-advised passes and rightly slinked off the floor to the sight of half-empty and silent stands.
“Beverley did his job,” Kerr said. “He made an impact on the game.”
Curry threw up a desperation three with just over six seconds left, only to see the rebound batted around until it reached Harrell, who drew a foul, and hit both free throws. Balmer put both of his hands to his face, giddily smiling and giggling, as the Clippers scored their 85th point of the second half.
“We stopped playing,” said Kerr. “We kind of disconnected kind of mid-third quarter, lost our defensive edge. They scored 85 points in the second half, we had done a really 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 trouble, especially in the playoffs … As soon as we got up 31, we shut down.”
Embarrassing doesn’t quite cover it. If anyone in the Golden State locker room is anything less than mortified, they’re not self-aware enough. This kind of performance was somewhat acceptable in the regular season, becuase obviously, the Warriors hadn’t activated playoff mode yet. The regular-season Warriors could get bored or disinterested andcstill pull out a win with a third-quarter flurry, and if they didn’t, oh well. There were other games to play.
Well, this loss came with playoff mode in full force — Golden State at one point was shooting over 60% from the floor, and having built most of that lead without an injured DeMarcus Cousins.
Players afterward said they weren’t bored or disinterested. Could’ve fooled me.
Maybe this can be a good thing. It certainly has to be.
“I guess we thought we were just going to cruise to the finish line,” said Andrew Bogut. “Those games are always tough to close out. They were in a rhythm. They knocked down shots. Got down 30, got down 20, got down 10. Then, all of the sudden, Lou Williams and a few of the guys were in a good rhythm. They made us pay. It’s a deserved loss for us.”
The locker room silent as a grave, but there’s no reason to bury the Warriors just yet. There’s a reason Golden State was a historically-huge favorite to win the series. Maybe this is the shock to the system that the Warriors needed, the right hook to the jaw, the spray of seltzer to the face.
“The mood’s shit, and that’s actually a positive sign in my opinion,” said Bogut. “It wasn’t something where we were like, ‘Oh, we’ll get them next time.’ We’re genuinely pissed off about it. We have a lot of work to do these next couple of days to get ready for them over there. They did their job. They split on the road in a playoff series, regardless of what the seeding says. If you can split on the road, go back home, you’re in good position.”