It’s not too difficult to figure out what’s plaguing the Golden State Warriors as their first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers drags on to surprising lengths. According to Klay Thompson, the champs were already looking forward to the Rockets, assuming a tidy Game 5 win. According to Kevin Durant, they relaxed too much. According to Draymond Green, he didn’t bring the requisite defensive intensity to get his teammates to try hard. According to their opponent Lou Williams, “It’s their mistake for looking ahead. So that’s on them.” All four players are right, and the problems they raise share a common root: effort.
However, what’s weird about the Clips’ 129-121 win Thursday night in Oakland is that it’s the second time in five games that L.A. has punked Golden State on its home court, overcoming superior talent by simply playing harder. One loss in a first-round series is forgivable for a four-time defending conference champion, but a pair of consecutive home losses speaks to a deeper malaise.
Three games ago, the Clippers rallied back from a 31-point third-quarter deficit to punk Golden State at home in humiliating fashion. After that ass-kicking, the Warriors made the same sorts of prognoses they did last night, and yet they allowed themselves to relax again. The Warriors got what they deserved and were alive in the next two games, but unlike previous times, they didn’t use that embarrassment as motivation to remove all doubt.
Steve Kerr’s diagnosis of the Game 5 loss aligned with what his players said. “It’s just defense,” he said. “We just did not defend.” Williams buried Golden State in both Games 2 and 5, and while stopping him and his fellow super-sub Montrezl Harrell is easier said than done, the Clippers didn’t run anything complicated. The pair spent most of the fourth quarter running pick-and-rolls and other little two-man actions to either get Williams some space or get Harrell the ball with momentum.