When the Warriors dropped Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Clippers, it seemed like it might’ve been because they were overconfident, lackadaisical, and maybe even a little tuned-out. This would seem to have been confirmed by their subsequent 27-point demolition of the Clippers in Los Angeles in Game 3. The loss was a wake-up call, and the Warriors appeared to be fully awake.
Perhaps complacency oozed back in after their relatively comfortable Game 4 win gave the Warriors a commanding 3–1 series advantage, because the Clippers just snatched their second win in Oracle Arena of the series, hounding and bullying and irritating their way to an impressive and impressively emphatic 129–121 win to send the series back to Los Angeles for Game 6. On the other hand, it genuinely did not seem like the Warriors were taking the Clippers lightly Wednesday night, certainly not in the second half, when Draymond Green, Kevin Durant, and Stephen Curry all seemed alternately determined to match or surpass the Clippers’ intensity, and flustered and bewildered by their inability to do so. Klay Thompson was quick to identify overconfidence as an important factor in the outcome:
Spare some credit, though, for the Clippers, who if nothing else seem not at all intimidated by Golden State’s pedigree. Lou Williams was tremendous, and clutch as shit on the offensive end, scoring or assisting on 17 of the Clippers’ final 19 points of the game and finishing with a 33-point double-double:
The Williams-to-Montrezl Harrell pick-and-roll was once again dominant, and was central to Los Angeles getting a whopping 59 points from their bench. Harrell also did this to Kevon Looney in the fourth quarter, when the Warriors were surging and the Clippers were starting to look a little wobbly, execution-wise:
It’s worth noting that the two losses the Warriors have taken at home in this series are more than they’ve taken in any other postseason of this era prior to the Finals—two of the three home losses they suffered in the 2016 playoffs came in Games 5 and 7 of their 3–1 series collapse against the Cavaliers, in the Finals.
The Warriors are still very, very likely to advance from this series. They’re the best team in the Western Conference, and still have by far the most impressive roster in the NBA, even after the injury to DeMarcus Cousins. But the sassy-as-hell Clippers are making them work for it, and have shown in this series that the Warriors can’t play one half of committed basketball in these playoffs and expect to cruise to victory. In Game 2 they played the first half and gave up a massive second-half comeback; in Game 5 they waited too long to rev into high gear and couldn’t overcome their opponent’s well-earned momentum. For as feisty and fun as the Clippers are, the team that awaits in the second round is a whole other animal. Should the Warriors advance, the consequences of half-assing it will be much more severe.