Warriors enter Game 3 searching for 'killer instinct' they used to have

Warriors enter Game 3 searching for 'killer instinct' they used to have

LOS ANGELES –The Warriors have played 33 first-round NBA playoff games over the past seven seasons and none was more highly anticipated than their 34th, which comes Thursday night against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.

That’s where, in Game 3 of the series, they’ll answer a question they’ve never had to face: Did they, as a team, learn a lesson about protecting a lead in the postseason?

It’s also where Kevin Durant will answer a question he has not faced since joining the Warriors in July 2016: Is he ready to impose his will?

The two questions combined to form a third: Are the No. 1 seed Warriors ready to boot the eighth-seeded Clippers into the offseason?

“When we’re locked in, mentally and physically on both ends of the floor, getting a good shot with every possession and flying around on defense, we can dominate,” Steph Curry said Thursday after shootaround. “We’ve got to take life out of the building, take life out of the team tonight.”

There is a broad curiosity about Game 3 and how the Warriors will respond. The hours since 10:30 Monday night and 7:30 Thursday night have been and will be filled by NBA fans discussing and debating how the Warriors blew a 31-point third-quarter lead – the biggest giveback in NBA playoff history – at home, to the Clippers in Game 2.

“We can highlight certain things that could have stopped the bleeding down the stretch,” Curry said. “My fouls. Turnovers. Being lackadaisical on defense in terms of not being in the right spots to start possessions and not being able to rotate around. It was a perfect storm of everything happening in their favor and them playing well and us not.

“But we understand that for six quarters, six-and-a-half, really, we were playing amazing basketball. We cannot get too far from that. We’ve got to rebuild that momentum, especially in the first quarter tonight.”

The Warriors are searching for the killer instinct they used to have. The club that holds the NBA record for most consecutive wins after building a 15-point lead (or more), at 114 games – with the last 110 coming under coach Steve Kerr – has devolved into a group that takes pity on its opponent.

We’ve seen them in recent years blow double-digit leads on numerous occasions in the regular season. The 24-point lead to the Memphis Grizzlies that turned into a nine-point home loss on Jan. 6, 2017. The 17-point third-quarter lead to Houston on opening night of the 2017-18 season and the 14-point third quarter lead to Detroit in October less than two weeks later.

And then the one that seemed to sting more than the others, allowing the Rockets to come back from a 20-point third-quarter deficit last on Jan. 3. That looked to be the tipping point. The Warriors, angered, won 11 in a row, six by at least 18 points and four by more than 25. The “killer instinct” was back.

Then puzzling came the final six weeks, when the Warriors blew a 13-point third-quarter lead at Orlando, a 16-point second-quarter lead to the Phoenix Suns at Oracle Arena and, finally, a 19-point third-quarter lead at Minnesota.

Game 2, however, was a giveback of epic proportions, in the playoffs, where the Warriors generally seek and destroy. They instead did a lot of standing around.

They were destroyed.

“It was a very strange night for us,” Kerr said. “We’ve been at this now for years, but this was definitely the strangest playoff game I can remember our team having. The vibe in the second half and the letting go of the rope, or however you want to put it, I haven’t seen our team in that position before.”

It was a night when the performance of the Warriors sent a message around the league, becoming a motivational tool for other coaches, as in “No lead is safe in the playoffs. Look at what happened to the Warriors.”

[RELATED: KD, Kerr at odds over how much Warriors star should shoot]

Game 3 will tell us if these Warriors truly absorbed the lessons of Game 2, can use it in real time as a cautionary tale and have learned, once and for all, from such a tangible illustration.

NBA rumors: Chris Paul wants out of Houston, Stephen A. Smith hears


NBA rumors: Chris Paul wants out of Houston, Stephen A. Smith hears

Houston, you have a problem.

The James Harden-Chris Paul arrangement on the Rockets could be ending soon.

And it comes at a bad time for the Rockets, who now could have a chance for the 2020 NBA championship with the Warriors licking their wounds from a brutal Finals loss.

ESPN's Stephen A. Smith dropped this bit of news on his radio show Friday while talking to NBA insider Brian Windhorst.

"In the end, it's this: With Kevin Durant out, with Klay Thompson out for most of the season, one could argue the Houston Rockets now have a window to get to the NBA Finals," Smith said. "But you're also hearing Chris Paul wants out, Chris Paul wouldn't mind going somewhere else, preferrably LA, maybe, we don't know, with LeBron. We don't know. But you're hearing he wants out."

Smith dropped the "Los Angeles" nugget before the Lakers agreed to acquire All-Star big man Anthony Davis in a trade with the Pelicans on Saturday.

The Lakers will have between $27 million and $32 million left in salary-cap space, so they could try to acquire Paul to fill their point guard hole. But the New York Times reported that the Lakers have their eyes on free agent Kemba Walker, a much younger option.

Paul's remaining contract could be an issue, though. He's owed $38.5 million in 2019-20, just over $41 million in 2020-21 and just over $44 million in 2021-22.

"I would never say that CP3's untradeable," Windhorst said. "He's tradeable, for sure. But he's not tradeable in a way that makes their team better."

If the Rockets break up their two-headed monster, you can give the Warriors a large hand in causing its demise. Golden State has ended Houston's season each of the last two years. The Rockets believed they were better than the Warriors, but each season, they were proven wrong.

[RELATED: Lakers start arms race to dethrone Warriors]

Under the Warriors' watch, the Los Angeles Clippers, led by Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, broke up. The LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers broke up after four consecutive NBA Finals matchups. Soon, the Rockets could be the next team to come crashing down because they were unable to get past Golden State.

LeBron James welcomes Anthony Davis to Lakers with Instagram post

LeBron James welcomes Anthony Davis to Lakers with Instagram post

The blockbuster trade isn't official, but that didn't stop LeBron James from weighing in.

A few hours after ESPN reported that the Lakers and Pelicans have agreed to a trade that would send Anthony Davis to Los Angeles, LeBron posted this on his Instagram feed.

LeBron is getting the running mate he desperately needs in LA. No offense to Kyrie Irving or Dwyane Wade, but Davis is the best player LeBron will play with during his Hall-of-Fame career.

So you can understand LeBron's excitement.

Even former Lakers president Magic Johnson likes the trade.

Yes, Magic just praised the guy he claims stabbed him in the back during his time with the Lakers. Weird times in Los Angeles.

Chances are, if any Warriors player acknowledges the trade on social media, they won't share the same level of excitement as LeBron.

The Lakers are re-tooling their roster just as the Warriors are licking their many, many wounds from an NBA Finals loss to the Toronto Raptors.

[RELATED: Lakers need more than Davis to win West]

Just two days after that bitter defeat, seeing LeBron and the Lakers acquire Davis is not the news they wanted.