OAKLAND - Minutes after his team blew Game 5 to the Clippers on Wednesday night, Warriors coach Steve Kerr walked into his league-mandated press conference seething, holding back anger at another subpar defensive performance by the defending NBA champs.
"Not good," Kerr said following the 129-121 loss at Oracle Arena.
Since training camp opened in September, Golden State's quest for a third consecutive title has been marred by inconsistency, uncertainty and a promise that a championship switch could be flipped. After two image-restoring wins in Los Angeles, the Warriors had a chance to rectify their consistency problems, but like much of the regular season, they failed to finish the job.
In a game where the Warriors needed superior energy, they came out flat, allowing the Clippers to shoot 54.1 percent from the field. Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell combined for 83 points.
The performance was reminiscent of the sleepwalking act Golden State displayed in the second half of the Game 2 loss,?when the Warriors were outscored 85-58, squandering a 31-point lead. In Game 5, they were outscored 34-22 in the second quarter, and falling behind by as many as 15 points in the second half.
Wednesday's performance seemed curious, considering the Warriors dominated the Clippers in Games 3 and 4, holding Williams to 28 percent shooting from the field over that stretch. On Sunday, they even overcame a Clippers third-quarter burst to take control of the best-of-seven playoff series.
"Everything we did in L.A. we did not do tonight," Kerr said. "... And you knew they weren't going to go down without a fight."
Seeds of Wednesday's performance have been sprinkled throughout the season. Following a 10-1 start, the Warriors finished the month of November 7-7. After the All-Star break, they stumbled again, with curious home losses to the Boston Celtics and the Phoenix Suns, who finished their season with the worst record in the league. Each curious loss was met with the promise the Warriors will turn it around, that a switch could be flipped, that they've done this before and turned out OK.
But Wednesday's loss again proved that the Warriors, while great, aren't invincible.
"When we get a nice lead, we just tend to relax a little bit," said Kevin Durant, who finished with 45 points, six rebounds and six assists. "I said it before, teams are looking for something just to get them back into the game. If we foul a 3-point shooter or turn the rock over or we shoot a few bad shots in a row, teams get going, they'll build some confidence."
Prior to the game, a television tucked away inside the Warriors' training room had the channel turned to Game 5 of the Rockets-Jazz first-round series with a number of players intently watching. For much of the season, the Rockets and Warriors have been destined to collide in the postseason. The Warriors know this and, while not outright admitting it, have looked ahead to the potential second-round matchup.
"Yup, start with me, I was," Warriors guard Klay Thompson admitted. "I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn't go as planned. We're still in a great position with hopefully only 48 minutes left to close these guys out."
But before a second-round series can commence, the Warriors have to find a consistent focus that has eluded them this season. Just before Kerr walked off the podium late Wednesday night, he was asked by a reporter what the identity of his team is going into Game 6.
Kerr, almost taken aback, let out the frustration he'd been holding for much of the session.
"What's the identity of our club?" Kerr asked back. "Back-to-back champions.
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"Like, we're really good. I mean, we're hanging banners. What's our identity? We play fast. We play defense. I don't know. Maybe we should do an instructional video later, and we'll send it to you."
With the Warriors now on the ropes, it's time for Kerr and his team to follow their own credo.