The arrival of the postseason was supposed to engender the end of Golden State’s regular season bouts of disappointment. Instead, just two games in, they suffered a historic meltdown and more than one major loss.
Word on the NBA streets is that teams aren’t as intimidated by the Warriors as they once were. That was evident in embarrassing losses during the regular season including a 35-point loss to Dallas and a home loss to lowly Phoenix. Still, many assumed the repeat champions would flip the switch in the playoffs. Would they go 16-0 on their way to a third-straight Finals? Probably not, but few could have expected what happened Monday night.
Entering Game 2 with a 1-0 series lead, the Warriors were jogging into a second win after going up by 31 in the second half. However, the L.A. Clippers clawed back — thanks to 36 points from Lou Williams and 25 from Montrezl Harrell — and scored 85 points in the second half to erase Golden State’s lead and steal a game at Oracle, 135-131.
For the Clippers, it’s the biggest comeback in NBA playoffs history. For the Warriors, they hope it’s a wake-up call. But after sleepwalking through a portion of the season’s first 82 games, how many more wake up calls does this team need?
“We let our guard down,” Klay Thompson said. “We weren’t the aggressors anymore. We didn’t deserve to win that game. Basketball gods didn’t reward us.”
The basketball gods certainly did not.
Four minutes into the game, DeMarcus Cousins collapsed as he chased after a steal and immediately grabbed for his left leg. Teammates and fans watched as Cousins walked off the floor, through the tunnel and to the Warriors locker room. Cousins will undergo an MRI Tuesday, but the Warriors believe the injury to be significant.
“He’s going to be out for… I’ll just going to say a while because I think it’s not clear right now how long he’ll be out,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “It’s significant.”
Cousins, who had gone his previous eight seasons without making the postseason, totaled just 25 minutes of combined playoff time after playing 21 minutes in his Game 1 debut and four minutes in Monday’s loss. The Warriors will take a tied series to Los Angeles, but Cousins won’t be joining them.
Cousins signed with the Warriors last summer, in part, so he could break his career playoff drought. In six seasons in Sacramento, the Kings were never good enough to make the postseason. Last season in New Orleans, Cousins tore his Achilles in January and missed the Pelicans’ playoff run.
After spending almost an entire calendar year rehabbing, Cousins had worked himself into the Warriors starting lineup. His performance was up and down in 30 games this season, as it was in his first career playoff game. In Game 1, the Clippers adopted the strategy of leaving Cousins open at the 3-point line. At first, Cousins took advantage, draining his first 3 of the game. However, he missed his next two and seemed hesitant to pull up after that. He finished with 9 points on 4-of-12 shooting, 9 rebounds and 4 assists and the Warriors were outscored by 17 points with him on the floor.
His stint in Game 2 was too brief to make any substantial observations, but Cousins was aggressive to start. A minute and a half into the game, he ran a fastbreak and found Stephen Curry for an open pull-up jumper, and it was his early activity on the defensive end that led to the potential steal he was injured trying to recover.
“That’s tough for sure, you feel for him considering all he’s been through this last year. This is a big stage, the playoffs, he’s been looking forward to this,” Curry said. “You hate seeing this opportunity, being on this big stage, taken away from him like that.”
Cousins was always a luxury for the three-time champion Warriors, but the postseason was never a luxury for Cousins. After Cousins went down, Golden State went on a run, but they took that lead and a playoff game at home for granted. The Warriors, at least publically, have been confident even after the most embarrassing of losses.
After Monday’s loss, Curry walked into his postgame press conference whistling. Thompson was direct and concise with his answers. He’s been here before.
“We’ll bounce back,” Thompson said. “We’re too prideful not to.”