OAKLAND -- They shrugged off those spasms of regular-season lethargy resulting in several puzzling losses, usually at Oracle Arena, with the same message, sometimes literally, other times implicitly.
We know what’s important to win, and it’s not the regular season. We’ll be fine.
The playoffs. Yes, the playoffs. That’s what matters, they said, vowing to be better.
The playoffs arrived 12 days ago. The Warriors, however, are still in transit.
And Oracle does not provide the shift into overdrive it once did.
That much was abundantly evident Wednesday night, when the defending NBA champs took the floor at Oracle for Game 5 with a chance to oust the Los Angeles Clippers and got precisely what their half-hearted effort earned, a 129-121 loss that extends the first-round series to Game 6 on Friday in LA.
This falls squarely on the defense, which all too often was a collective yawn. The Warriors gave up 37 points in the first quarter, 34 more in the second and spent the rest of the evening trying to use offense to catch up. They did, ever so briefly, though LA never really stopped scoring, shooting 56.0 percent in the first half and 51.4 in the second.
“It’s very disappointing, and that falls on me,” Draymond Green said. “If I bring the intensity from the start, everybody else usually falls in line on that side of the ball. That’s my fault. I’ve got to do better.”
Well, actually, there was plenty of fault to go around. Aside from Kevin Durant’s sizzling 45-point night, not much else went well for the Warriors.
Asked if he put some of the responsibility on himself, Stephen Curry said, “For sure.”
Klay Thompson also pointed at himself, conceding that he was looking past the Clippers to the next series, with the Warriors learning before tipoff that the Houston Rockets will be waiting.
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“Start with me. I was,” he said. “I thought we were going to come out and win tonight, but sometimes life doesn’t go as planned.”
That also applies to this postseason, in which the Warriors, hard as this is to believe, have stumbled into by losing two of three to the No. 8 seed in the building that has been such an advantage in recent postseasons. In their first four postseasons under coach Steve Kerr, they were 39-6 at Oracle.
They’re now 40-8, which still is impressive, but the losses have come in back-to-back games, the first with the Warriors blowing a 31-point third-quarter lead and the second with them watching a parade of Clippers blow by them to the basket.
“I just think we let our guard down,” Kerr said. “I didn’t have them ready to fight, obviously, because we didn’t fight.”
Only once before under Kerr have the Warriors lost back-to-back playoff games at home. That was in the 2016 Finals, which ended with LeBron James orchestrating a championship parade through the streets of Cleveland.
This is different, though. Those Warriors were hungry but hampered by the suspension of Green. These Warriors seem more, well, comfortable. They most certainly are not as hungry as the Clippers, who are driven as much by desire as talent.
“Everything we did in LA, we did not do tonight,” Kerr said, referring to victories in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center. “We sort of seemed to take it for granted that we were going to be OK. But I said it before the game, that this Clippers team has been scrapping and clawing all year.”
There was a time when the Warriors scratched and clawed, when it was a part of their identity. It was visible last postseason, never more than in the Finals, when they swept the Cavaliers, with three of the four wins by double digits.
The Warriors say they still have that in them. They’re confident they’ll respond Friday. And maybe they will.
But after so many uneven performances, this one in the playoffs, nothing is certain anymore.