There are any number of issues to point to after the Warriors’ 135-131 loss to the Clippers on Monday night, the biggest collapse in playoff history, after LA trailed by 31 with 7:30 left in the third quarter.
There was the DeMarcus Cousins injury, though that’s more an issue for the future (and a different column). There was Kevin Durant’s apparently lackadaisical approach (with just eight field goal attempts) and late-game foul-out (with one or two tough calls mixed in), not to mention his game-high nine turnovers.
There was even foul trouble for Steph Curry that created some disruption in the rotation. It looked like it disrupted Curry’s shooting rhythm too, as he was just 2-for-9 in the fourth quarter and missed a decent look — by his standards, anyway — at a go-ahead three-pointer in the final seconds.
Ultimately the Warriors’ struggles are most clearly expressed in the statistic that so often tells their story: turnovers. They coughed the ball up 16 times in the second half alone — their target maximum for an entire game — and gave up 29 points off of those turnovers, many of which were the product of carelessness.
This is why it’s almost pointless to discuss turnovers specifically. This is why it’s almost pointless to discuss any of this team’s specific problems. They were outscored 72-37 over 19:30 of game time by a team that traded its leading scorer in February — I’m quite sure that the Clippers did not solve the Warriors.
More than one talking head suggested yesterday that Kevin Durant is passing too much, that the Warriors’ vibe is off and his “lack of aggressiveness” is proof. But some of the team’s best, most beautiful basketball came when KD looked to create for others more than himself.
When Golden State won nine of 11 late in the regular season, Durant averaged 7.3 assists, shot 59% from the field and only took more than 14 shots twice — in the two losses, which saw him shoot a combined 17-for-47. Of course the Warriors can win with KD shooting 20-plus times each game, but to suggest that he must do that is to fundamentally misunderstand this team.
The fundamental problem is clear because it hasn’t changed: The Warriors’ attention has waxed and waned throughout the season, but that was supposed to be over as of 5 p.m. on Saturday.
“We stopped— uhh, we stopped playing,” Steve Kerr said, apparently surprising himself with his own frankness. “Disconnected mid-third quarter and lost our defensive edge … We kind of messed with the game a little bit, and when you do that you’re in trouble. Especially in the playoffs.”
“Once you lose momentum in a game against a really good team, it’s hard to get it back,” Kerr continued, before seeming to overshare again: “We really lost this game mid-third quarter — when we stopped playing.”
It became noteworthy how aggressively and directly the head coach repeated his belief that his team’s failure was one of effort and focus: “As soon as we got up 31, we shut down.”
Even when a reporter asked about Lou Williams, Kerr beat the drum on his own team’s lack of intensity: “Our defense was great for two and a half quarters, and then we stopped playing. When I say we stopped playing, we stopped playing. Defense, offense, execution-wise — we were not as engaged as we needed to be, and we got exactly what we deserved.”
The players were equally honest.
“We took our foot off the gas pedal and kind of coasted for a while. It’s a playoff game, you can’t do that,” Kevon Looney offered. “We didn’t bring the energy that was required to win that game, and that’s what happens.”
“I guess we thought we were just going to cruise to the finish line,” was Andrew Bogut’s psychoanalysis. “They made us pay, it’s a deserving loss for us.”
Klay Thompson stepped to the mic with refreshingly unminced words as usual, but also with confidence: “Lack of focus. Lack of effort. Just playing with heart. Those three things. And we’ll come back, and we’ll bounce back and play with great passion in a few days.”
“We didn’t deserve to win that game,” Klay admitted. “The basketball gods didn’t reward us.” But every answer ended the same way — “I know we’ll bounce back. We’re too prideful not to.”
It’s pride that’s going to have to carry them through another long playoff run, a run that could be somewhat more arduous without the injured Cousins, but should be no less likely to end in a title. They have to commit to staying locked in for 48 minutes on game night, even if they can usually win with 24 or 36 good ones.
In the best times, the Warriors talked about playing to their own standard. The idea was that they would win more than two-thirds of their games regardless, but whether they were really rolling was a matter of rhythm and flow, of constant focus and execution.
That consistency has been missing for nearly two years. The last time it felt truly unsullied was the 2017 playoffs, and the result was a veritable smackdown of the entire league as they stormed to a 16-1 postseason.
It still feels like they have the talent for that level of greatness. The question is whether they can recapture the spirit, the motor that propelled them night after night without so much as a hiccup.
“Between now and Thursday, [we have to] be real honest about what went wrong in that second half, make adjustments, hold ourselves accountable,” Curry said. “When we get on that plane, it’s a fresh start for us to take control of the series.”
If they really are honest — as they seemed to be on Monday night — there will be more accountability than adjustments. If they really are accountable, taking control of the series will be no problem.
Matt Kolsky is a sports media professional (or something like that) and lives with an aging Shih Tzu/Schnauser mix in Berkeley. You can hear him on the Bay Area sports radio station 95.7 the Game, 5a-6a every weekday morning. You can listen to his podcast, The Toy Department, on iTunes or wherever else fine podcasts are free. You can find him on Twitter @thekolsky to share your personal feelings about this article or any other topic, he will respond to most tweets that do not contain racial slurs.