OAKLAND -- An uncharacteristic mixture of puzzlement, indignation and exasperation occasionally flared up among the Warriors during the game Wednesday night and surely was present in their locker room afterward.
They’ve lost at home to vastly inferior teams before -- the Hornets, Nuggets and Kings, to name three -- but this 125-106 loss to a shadow of a Clippers team they’d beaten 12 consecutive times, including last week in LA, seemed particularly annoying.
It felt as if the Warriors knew this was more than the absences of Stephen Curry, who was sidelined by injury, and Klay Thompson, who was designated for rest.
As unsettling as it was that Lou Williams scored 50 points, there was much more that was off-note.
“Our spirit wasn’t right, our energy wasn’t right and we weren’t connected and they were,” coach Steve Kerr said.
“The Clippers came in here, probably insulted that we were resting Klay, and then Steph goes down and so the game changes. They came in and just kicked our ass.”
That was Kerr’s point of view and he properly included himself among those most responsible for this soggy paper bag of a performance, notably in the second half.
Others, however, differed on the cause.
“I wouldn’t say our spirit was bad at all,” countered Kevin Durant, whose climb past the 20,000-point career milestone was soured by the loss.
“I thought we were fine,” Draymond Green said. “But maybe I was wrong. I don’t know.”
Fine? No. We’ve seen the Warriors when they’ve been “fine,” and this was not it. When they’re fine, they annihilate opponents. When they’re “fine,” they crush teams such as that which they faced Wednesday.
Instead, they spent a half exchanging leads with a 12-point underdog even with Curry and Thompson out. The Warriors could not separate from a Clippers team missing four starters, two of which were replaced by players recalled from the G-League and would still be with the Agua Caliente Clippers if not for a season-altering spate of injuries in LA.
“This is the NBA,” Andre Iguodala said. “You’ve got to respect your opponent -- not that we didn’t.”
Hmm. There were times when it looked as if maybe the Warriors weren’t suitably respectful toward a roster thick with guys they’ve hardly heard of, much less know. Point guard Juwun Evans was plus-17 in 36 minutes. Cal product Tyrone Wallace scored 22 points in 34 minutes and was plus-20.
Both Evans and Wallace were plying their trade in the G-League, Wallace as recently as last week. Yet this bunch more than did their part to support Williams
The Warriors were outshot, overall and from beyond the 3-point arc. They were outmuscled, outrebounded and outworked. And, shockingly, outsmarted.
And they were terrorized by Williams, the 6-foot-1 shooting guard who spent the evening massaging their defense, including a 27-point third quarter that was the most points the Warriors have allowed to anyone in a quarter since Brandon Jennings strafed them for 29 on Nov. 14, 2009.
“I’m not surprised,” said Iguodala, a normally solid defender who failed as miserably as everyone else trying to contain Williams.
“You see him, how he gets going, you should probably switch the coverage,” Green said of Williams. “But we didn’t. He’s been on a tear, so it’s not like we weren’t expecting him to get going.
“We have to take more pride in 1-on-1 defense. If we get a guy going like that, we still need to probably make some adjustments, which we didn’t do a great job of tonight.”
It wasn’t just Williams, though, that punished the Warriors. The Clippers, with starters Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari and Austin Rivers and Patrick Beverley all out of service, shot 49.5 percent. Their bench -- Montrezl Harrell, Sam Dekker, Sindarius Thornwell, Willie Reed and Wallace -- shot 54.5 percent.
After Durant scored his 20,000th point late in the first quarter, the Warriors were outscored 70-44, which left Clippers coach Doc Rivers crowing about how “we scored every time down the floor with motion and movement.”
Owning the best record in the league does not make the Warriors immune to wretched performances such as this. This was, thankfully for them, only one of 82 and as Green pointed out it’s not realistic to expect the same intensity every night.
But this is a loss that ought to jab at their gut for a while. It’s one they’d best remember and let sting for a bit before filing it away for good.
When a champion comes apart, at home, against perhaps the most comprehensively weakened team in the league -- and the postgame observations vary dramatically -- it seems appropriate that all involved should talk with and amongst themselves.