Without taking a look at the final score of Game 2 between the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers, the final stat lines for the Warriors’ players stand out like normal, “another day in the office” types of performances. Stephen Curry scored 29 points; Kevin Durant had 21 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists; Draymond Green almost had a double-double with his 14 points and 9 assists; Klay Thompson chipped in 17 points; and Kevon Looney had a career-high 19 points.
At around the 7:31 mark of the 3rd quarter, the Warriors established a 31-point lead. It would be the largest lead of the game for them. The Warriors would finish the night with 131 points, which on most nights would be more than enough to seal the deal.
Not on this night, though.
That same 31-point lead soon became a 31-point nightmare, in the form of the Clippers coming back from 31-points down to score 135 points by the end of the night — and as we all should know, 135 > 131.
The numbers 3 and 1 made a furious return for one night, coming back to haunt the Warriors on the same court where the biggest heartbreak in franchise history occurred. The memories of that Game 7 against the Cavaliers in 2016 have mostly been shoved into the deep recesses of Warriors fans’ collective subconscious, and while this recent setback has relatively much lower stakes, the circumstances surrounding it has brought back symptoms of some sort of mild PTSD for Warriors fans.
The Warriors had this game won. A 31-point lead for one of the greatest teams of all time should’ve been easy to hold on to, especially against an 8-seed Clippers team with an enormous disadvantage in terms of talent and skill.
But talent and skill can only go so far if the focus isn’t up to par. Focus — or the lack thereof — is the great equalizer. The Warriors have often displayed an affinity for losing focus and being lackadaisical in their approach to games they should’ve won. Most of those happened during the regular season, and while those games do matter, it does provide them with a bit of a leeway in that they are capable of turning on the switch whenever the need arises.
The playoffs are a whole different animal. As opposed to the regular season where the Warriors are given the benefit of the doubt, they cannot afford to revert to their “we don’t care” persona during the playoffs. The proverbial switch they turned on for the playoffs has to stay on at all times.
But alas, the Warriors couldn’t keep their fingers from turning the switch off, and it burned them in more ways than one.
The Warriors’ second half defense
Let’s look at the Warriors’ defensive numbers at halftime.
They held the Clippers to 45 percent shooting overall from the field — by no means a number indicating that the Warriors locked them down, but also not that bad of a percentage allowed by them. They held the Clippers to 35.3 percent from beyond the arc, a decent defensive job considering that the Clippers were the number 2 team in terms of three-point field goal percentage during the regular season (38.8 percent). The Warriors forced 9 turnovers. All of these combined held the Clippers to just 50 points at halftime, against a humming Warriors offense that produced 73 points with an offensive rating of 137.7.
A switch was indeed turned after halftime. Only it was turned the wrong way.
The Clippers scored 85 points in the second half, thanks in large part to the efforts of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell. In Game 1, the duo combined for 51 of the Clippers’ 104 points, and it was a point of concern for the Warriors going into Game 2. It was clear by the end of Game 2 that it was a concern largely left unaddressed, as Williams and Harrell combined for 61 of the Clippers’ 135 points, aided by Danilo Gallinari chipping in with 24 points of his own — a nice bounce-back effort from the veteran, who had a tough outing during Game 1.
If there is one pressing matter that needs the Warriors’ immediate attention, it’s the matter of finding a way to limit Williams and Harrell from wreaking havoc on their defense. The Warriors will have to find a way to push Williams out of his comfort zone as much as possible. Exceptional scorers such as him are nearly impossible to completely shut down — Kevin Durant is a testament to that — but as Patrick Beverley showed tonight, they can be thrown off from their lofty scoring perch, forced to bleed for their points, and otherwise be made as inefficient or ineffective as possible.
Defending Williams in this manner isn’t the way to go.
See the common pattern in these clips? With the exception of a couple of sequences, where Williams managed to score despite great defense being played on him, the Warriors allowed Williams to go to his right side, which is his preferred direction of attack. Once he is allowed freedom to move to his right, he either drives all the way to the rim for the finish, goes up for a jumper, or attracts enough attention to himself to drop a pass to Harrell, who is left alone for the easy finish.
It’s becoming more than just an annoyance for the defending champions — it’s turning into a legitimate threat that could very well turn into another potential victory for the Clippers should this remain a thorn on the Warriors’ side. At this point, Williams is the proverbial head of the snake that is the Clippers’ offense; once the Warriors find a way to cut that head off, the Clippers’ offense will wither away along with it.
The Warriors’ turnover problem
The Warriors had 21 turnovers in Game 1, a problem they needed to rectify despite winning comfortably; their offensive explosion and defensive acumen during that night were able to mask that egregious statistic, to the point that it was a mere afterthought.
In Game 2, the Warriors were well on their way to a low-turnover night, having turned the ball over only 6 times in the first half. But as mentioned above, the Warriors took their foot off the gas pedal, and they returned to their turnover-committing ways. In the second half alone, they committed 16 turnovers, which brought up their total for the night to 22.
The Clippers aren’t a particularly robust defensive squad — they finished the regular season with a defensive rating of 110.3, good for 19th in the league. They normally do not force a lot of turnovers — opponents averaged 13.2 turnovers against them during the regular season, good for 24th in the league.
The Warriors are too good of a team to completely succumb to a defense that normally does not have the pedigree to shut down offenses, especially one that is arguably considered the best to have ever existed in the NBA. Turnovers are a method of delivering a victory on a silver platter to a team that is considered inferior in talent. So it’s natural to think that these turnovers committed by the Warriors were mostly self-inflicted, a byproduct of their bad habits in taking care of the ball.
The poster boy (or fall guy, depending on your perspective) for the Warriors’ turnovers in Game 2 was Kevin Durant, who finished the game with 9 turnovers, marking the first time in his career that he finished with more turnovers than shots, attempting only 8 of them last night.
At times, Durant tried to play the role of passer and facilitator, and while that has been a welcomed development, it stops being beneficial if those passes are telegraphed or are thrown in a nonchalant manner. Coupled with the fact that the Warriors needed way more than 8 shots from him, Durant just didn’t do enough of what was expected of him to get the Warriors over the hump, especially after committing his 6th foul on a moving screen that forced the officials to take him out of the game when they needed him the most.
While Durant may have contributed a huge chunk of the turnovers for the Warriors, he was far from being the only culprit. Both Curry and Green committed 4 turnovers, with a couple of them being the headscratcher variety, such as this one from Green, where he tries to place a long pass to Cousins in the paint, perhaps in an attempt to take advantage of a seal. But all Green manages to accomplish is to kiss the ball off the glass and right into the hands of the Clippers.
Holding on to a precarious 3-point lead with just under 2 minutes to go, this rushed pass from Green after forcing a Clippers turnover quickly goes awry. There is absolutely no reason for Green to be in this kind of a rush during a crucial stretch of the game.
Look at this Curry turnover to close out the 3rd quarter. He manages to break free of his defender courtesy of a high screen, with an open lane for him to shoot a floater and go all the way to the rim for a layup. Instead, he throws a telegraphed one-handed pass to the right corner, which is easily intercepted and turned into 2 points for the Clippers. Instead of a possible 18-point lead to enter the 4th, the lead is trimmed down to 14.
The Clippers deserve a ton of credit for forcing the Warriors into a precarious position, making them commit mistakes and pouncing on them, and for showing plenty of heart and determination so far in a series many expected them to lose in quick fashion. Be that as it may, the Clippers came into this series with the mindset of having nothing to lose and everything to gain. A team with that kind of mindset has the potential to become extremely dangerous, and Game 2 was an example of that mindset manifesting itself into a monumental upset.
The Warriors, on the other hand, have given their detractors and doubters additional ammunition with which to use against them. The whispers of their lack of focus, their locker room chemistry, and their apparent lack of joy and desire to win have suddenly grown louder yet again, just when everyone thought those issues were quietly being laid to rest. It only takes one game of ineptitude — especially one that gains the notoriety of being the biggest blown lead in NBA Playoffs history — for everyone to doubt the stability of this dynasty.
In the minds of many, a team is only as good as its last win or loss; such is the fickle nature of NBA fandom. The onus is on the Warriors to quickly erase this disaster of a performance from the collective minds of those who witnessed it.
One win down, 15 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.
*All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats