OAKLAND — After watching Clippers center Montrezl Harrell waltz to the basket untouched in third quarter, Warriors guard Klay Thompson shook his head with a look of disgust.
Thompson had publicly admitted Sunday, after the Warriors eight-point, Game 4 first-round playoff win in Los Angeles, that the he was already looking ahead to the second round matchup against the Houston Rockets. But as Harrell slammed the ball through the hoop, hanging on the rim in the process, his focus was altered.
“I thought we were going to come out and win tonight,” he said after Wednesday’s 129-121 loss in Game 5. “But sometimes life doesn’t go as planned… They’ve been pesky. They’ve been tough.”
Falling to the Clippers on Wednesday night, Golden State’s lack of focus surfaced. Thanks to a subpar effort defensively, they’ll now have to prepare for a Game 6 in Los Angeles rather than resting up for a Sunday start to a second-round series against the Rockets.
“We weren’t right from the beginning,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “I expected us to come out and play better and to win the game. But it’s the NBA playoffs… You’ve got to play. You’ve got to defend with some urgency.”
For Golden State, urgency seemed to be a word left out of its vocabulary Wednesday night. Despite scoring 41 points in the first quarter, the Warriors allowed the Clippers to stay within striking distance after giving up 37 points defensively.
Allowing Los Angeles to shoot 50% from the floor, the Warriors also afforded Clippers guard Patrick Beverley an abundance of space, giving him room to knock down a trio of wide-open 3-pointers.
In his first 11 minutes on the floor, Beverley, who failed to score more than seven points in two of the previous four games in the series, put up 11 points.
“We just did not defend,” Kerr said. “And the playoffs are all about defense. I just think we let our guard down.”
Despite Beverley’s hot hand early, Golden State failed to adjust, even forgetting to rotate over as the Clippers starter stood alone on the right wing and cashed in his fourth three in the second quarter.
The Warriors didn’t just have issues with Beverley. Los Angeles’ bigs were more productive than usual: Harrell and forward Danilo Gallinari combined for 50 points on the night.
In the previous four games of the series, Golden State had done a good job defending Gallinari as they held the former Denver Nugget to 29.2% shooting (19-for-65) and just 16 points per game.
Turning Gallinari into a volume shooter, the Warriors were able to force him into tough shots, especially late in the shot clock. But on Wednesday, Gallinari, too, found himself left open and was able to cash in on the Warriors mistakes.
“We’ve been taking his volume all series,” Warriors forward Kevin Durant said. “He’s going to get loose. He’s going to get shots.”
Harrell finished with 26 points and was an ultra-efficient 11-for-14 from the field. Most of those shot attempts came inside of the paint, as without the injured DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors had no answers on the interior.
At times, the Warriors didn’t even try to stop the lumbering scorer. In the third quarter, he strolled by Thompson and Golden State center Andrew Bogut for the two-handed jam to put the Clippers up by 12.
While the Warriors trailed by double digits for most of the game, they were able to close the gap and even take a one-point lead with 2:40 to play thanks to a one-handed slam by Durant, who scored a game-high 45 points on the night.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, their efforts would be rendered useless after their early lack of focus came back. This materialized as an 8-0 run courtesy of Clippers guard Lou Williams, who finished the game with 33 points of his own.
“Numbers don’t lie,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “The matter of our intensity or our lack of intensity to start the game came back to bite us. They had confidence all throughout their rotation. And they fed off of that.”
Taking their second loss at home in this playoff series, the Warriors will now have to board a charter flight to Los Angeles and play a Game 6 rather than prepare for Houston, who beat the Utah Jazz on Wednesday to close out their first round series 4-1.
While the Warriors are still the favorites to win their series, and lead 3-2, their issues on the defensive end of the floor will need to be addressed before they can even consider taking on Houston.
In the regular season, the Rockets averaged nearly 114 points per game, just under three more points than the Clippers. And with a volume shooter like James Harden, who takes, on average, 24.5 shots per game, being able to hone in on his relentless effort is key if Golden State hopes to advance in their goal of a three-peat.
During their post game press conference, Rockets center Clint Capela told the media that he is ready to take on the defending champions once again.
“That’s what I want,” he said. “I want to face them.”
But before they can grant Capela and his Rockets’ wish, they’ll need to take a look at their defensive deficiencies first.