In Game 2 of the opening round of the 2019 NBA Playoffs against the Los Angeles Clippers, the Warriors blew the greatest single-game lead in the history of the NBA. The Warriors dominated the early part of the game, leading by as many as 31 points and ready to turn the entire fourth quarter into garbage time. But whether because of an impressive Clippers comeback or a horrendous Warriors collapse, the defending champions gave up that lead and were handed a humbling 135-131 defeat. That defeat tied this best-of-seven opening-round series up at one game apiece. The Clippers’ comeback from that 31-point deficit was the largest comeback in NBA playoff history.
An enormous loss early in the game
The biggest story, though it didn’t directly result in the Warriors blowing this game, was the injury to DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins went down in the first quarter on a non-contact play, leaving the game and not returning with a quad injury. After the game, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr described it as “ a pretty significant quad injury” and that the big man is “going to be out for a while” and the concern seems to be that this will be a season-ender for the beleaguered Cousins.
While the Warriors did get good games from Andrew Bogut and Kevon Looney (who scored a career-high 19 points, which ended up being a footnote in this ugly loss), losing Cousins that early perhaps imparted a bad energy onto this game, casting a pall upon Game 2 that didn’t reveal itself until later. I don’t know if Cousins being on the court would have made a difference in the outcome of the game, but his absence certainly did not help the Warriors’ cause.
Giving up the ball
But the biggest reason the Warriors gave up that enormous advantage and lost this game was their propensity for turning the ball over. The Warriors turned it over times 22 against the Clippers, which resulted in 34 points. This came after a Game 1 in which the Warriors turned it over 21 times. But in Game 2, those turnovers were much more costly (those 21 turnovers in the series’ first game only resulted in 15 points). 16 of those Warriors turnovers came in the second half of the Game 2 loss, allowing the Clippers to attempt nine more field goals than the Warriors during that stretch, which gave their offense more opportunities to score.
The Warriors clearly took their eye off the ball/foot off the gas in this game, letting the Clippers get back into it to a point that they couldn’t just turn it back on and pull away. As Kerr simply said about his team in his postgame interview: “We stopped playing.” That’s exactly what happened—the Warriors stopped playing after holding that 31-point lead and merely tried to run out the clock. That resulted in careless play, lazy passes, and poorly thought-out decisions, all of which let the Clippers come back to not just make this game close but steal the win.
Kevin Durant led the team with nine turnovers, bothered by Patrick Beverley’s incessant pestering (and perhaps worrying about responding and picking up another technical) and subjected to questionable offensive foul calls (four were called on him in the second half). Stephen Curry and Draymond Green each had four turnovers of their own in the Game 2 loss, making numerous passes that were too risky or under-considered, particularly as the game started to get close again.
Even when the Warriors have played well during these first two games, they’ve still been too careless and accumulated way too many turnovers. Eliminating that is what the team must focus on in the days before Game 3. If they can cut down on those turnovers, they’ll look like the Warriors team we’re accustomed to seeing in the playoffs.
Defensive lapses allow Lou Williams to get going
The Warriors’ defense also decided to take off the second half on Monday night and it ended up costing them a Game 2 win. After holding the Clippers to 50 points on 45% shooting in the first half of Game 2 and showing that great playoff defensive intensity, the Warriors allowed the visitors from Los Angeles to score 85 points in the second half, the second highest-scoring second half in playoff history. In that second half, the Clippers shot 66.7% from the field and 57.1% from three-point range, their effort clearly lacking as they felt they had the game won and wrapped up midway through the third quarter.
Leading the way for the Clippers was their weapon off of the bench—Lou Williams. Williams scored a game-high 36 points against the Warriors, including scoring 29 points in the second half and 12 in the fourth quarter. This isn’t the first time Williams has burned a team— it’s not even the first time he’s torched the Warriors— but his ability to get into that kind of rhythm and lead his team to that shocking victory was pretty remarkable. At some point, you just have to tip your metaphorical hat and say “You had a sensational game and got your team a win they would not have won otherwise.”
The Warriors didn’t have an answer for Montrezl Harrell in the second half of Game 2 as well. Harrell scored 17 of his 25 points in the second half, building off the 26 points he scored in Game 1 as he provided the Clippers with enough scoring to compliment Williams. Danilo Gallinari also got going in the second half of Monday night's game, as he scored 17 of his 24 points while going 2⁄3 from three-point range. With the Warriors’ defense not bringing the same intensity, that trio for the Clippers was able to play better and steal the game away from the Warriors.
The Warriors’ offense disappears
The Warriors led this game by 23 at halftime by points and 31 points at one point in the third quarter. For the first half of Game 2, they displayed the potent offensive attack that earned them three titles in the last four seasons. The Warriors’ offense was especially hot in the second quarter, in which they outscored the Clippers 40-25. In that second quarter, the Warriors went 71.4% and 83.3% from beyond the arc.
Setting the tone for the Warriors in that second quarter was Curry. Curry scored 11 of his 29 points in the second quarter while going 3/3 from long distance. Curry made this three-pointer at the very end of the second quarter to secure the Warriors that 23-point advantage at the half.
But in the second half, the Warriors came hurdling back down to Earth. The Warriors shot 47.2% from the field and 30.8% from three-point range in the game’s final two quarters. Curry dramatically cooled off, scoring just 7 points on 2/9 shooting in the second half (while going 1⁄4 from three-point range). Only Durant scored in double digits in the second half of the Game 2 loss, as he dropped in 13 of his 21 points during that stretch.
Durant’s field goal attempts were something of an issue with some game-watchers (he attempted just 8 before fouling out). But Durant’s taking limited shots worked pretty well for the team in the first half when they jumped out to the big lead. Durant also attempted a team-high 12 free throws on Monday night, including 8 in the second half. So while Durant wasn’t attempting field goals, he was still getting opportunities to score and thus the criticism levied at him from certain corners raised a few eyebrows.
Well class, what did we learn?
What does this embarrassing loss mean in the big scheme of things? I’d argue something... but not everything. The Warriors have to be better about not turning the ball over and being more focused and deliberate. I also think they need to change how they use Durant given how Beverley is guarding him. In his recap for The Athletic, Anthony Slater wrote:
That’s the added advantage of Beverley’s extreme physicality. He creates an environment where the referees are looking harder at each off-ball touch, which means quick Durant shoves like this are easier to catch.
Perhaps putting Durant off-ball even more, getting him moving and occasionally away from Beverley, might be the answer.
But while there are things to take away from Game 2, one shouldn’t read too much into it. It is ultimately one game in a series and great teams in the past have had ugly or mystifying losses even in the early rounds of the playoffs. Yes, this one was especially ugly and you never want to give up games in the playoffs. No one should be happy or ok with this. But the sky is not totally falling, not yet at least. The things that cost them this game can be dealt with and I have no reason to think that Kerr and his coaching staff won’t address these things in the coming days.
What everyone in Dub Nation should focus on is this—it is a series. This isn’t March Madness/single elimination. If the Warriors play well at Staples Center starting on Thursday, all this is forgotten. It becomes an aberration, an outlier that people only discuss as a random remarkable occurrence. Given how often this Warriors team has risen to the challenge over the past 5 seasons, I fully expect that starting with Game 3 in Los Angeles on Thursday night.