Warriors Under Review: Champs unravel at Oracle, lose to lowly Suns

Warriors Under Review: Champs unravel at Oracle, lose to lowly Suns

OAKLAND – The Phoenix Suns dragged into Oracle Arena about 17 hours after seven-point loss at Portland with a record, 15-52, that put them 31 games behind the Warriors in the Western Conference standings.

The Suns were eliminated from the playoffs last month, six weeks before they begin.

And for a while Phoenix looked the part of a team looking ahead to an April vacation, scoring 11 points in the first nine minutes while the Warriors were rolling up 27.

But Phoenix owned all but a few of the final 39 minutes, outscoring the Warriors 104-84 and leaving the home team chewing on and stewing over a 115-111 loss.

Here are some positives and negatives from the Warriors’ sixth loss in 10 games:


The 2/4 pattern continues

The Warriors were outscored 40-28 in the second quarter, 36-31 in the fourth, putting them at minus-17 for those two quarters. They were plus-9 for those quarters Friday against Denver, minus-21 last Tuesday against Boston, minus-11 March 2 at Philadelphia, minus-20 Feb. 28 at Orlando.

A clear pattern has developed. The Warriors usually open those quarters with a lineup that has neither Stephen Curry nor Kevin Durant. The offense stagnates, their lead shrinks or their deficit grows. The Suns shot 71.4 percent in the second quarter and 50 percent in the fourth. That’s where they won the game.

Coach Steve Kerr implied that he’ll be considering changes. That seems like an excellent idea.


Crunch time collapse

While the Suns are a young team building for the future, the Warriors are veterans of many NBA wars, including 83 postseason games over the past four years. They know pressure, and they drink it like water.

Yet it was the Warriors who crumbled late, committing seven turnovers in the fourth quarter. Leading by one (98-97) with 5:18 to play, they committed four turnovers inside the final five minutes, with two aiding a 12-0 Phoenix run. Klay Thompson had two of his six in the fourth, Curry two of his three.

Maybe the absence of Durant, who left with 6:34 remaining after sustaining a right ankle contusion, put them into a panic. Still, given their pedigree, this was shocking.


’Zo may be onto something

Alfonzo McKinnie, whose playing time has been irregular, made his only 3-point attempt, draining it from the right corner. It might not seem like much, but it gave him back-to-back games with at least one triple for the first time since Dec. 12.

The Warriors have struggled to generate offense from their bench. Anyone who can make a 3 will earn minutes.


Frozen 3s

When Thompson buried his first two 3-pointers, it suggested carryover from Friday when he was scorching, making 9-of-11 from deep. Thompson made only two more triples, in 13 attempts, finishing 4-of-15. Curry also was 4-of-15 from deep. Durant was 1-of-4, while DeMarcus Cousins and Draymond Green each went 0-of-3.

The Warriors, despite numerous open looks, shot 23.3 percent (10-of-43) from beyond the arc. They sometimes live by the 3. On this night, it was among the factors that led to defeat.

Kevin Durant shows his MVP self in Warriors' Game 3 win vs. Clippers

Kevin Durant shows his MVP self in Warriors' Game 3 win vs. Clippers

LOS ANGELES – Kevin Durant strolled into the interview room late Thursday night and made a reasonably good effort to downplay his scintillating performance, which wiped away three days of misery and reflection for the Warriors.

“I’ve been here for 12 years,” he said, referring to his NBA career. “I’m 30. I don’ t need to show nobody nothing at this point.”

He didn’t need to, but he did it anyway.

“Coach Kerr came up with some plays for me at the start of the game,” he said.

OK. Probably so.

“We were just more patient tonight, to sum it up,” he said.

Well, yes, they were.

But the Warriors also were more purposeful and insanely intense early, with Durant setting the tone, treating Staples Center as his personal playpen, with him having all the fun and needing only one fantastic half to bury the gritty Clippers and their “gimmicky” defenses into a deep, dark dungeon from which even they will have a devil of a time escaping.

For this tip-to-buzzer 132-105 victory that gives the Warriors a 2-1 series lead, Durant was as much the architect as coach Steve Kerr or any member of his staff. Durant punished the Clippers with his scoring, zapping the pest that is Patrick Beverley, and then finished them with the other elements of his game.

“He came out super aggressive, in kill mode,” Draymond Green said. “That was all the difference for us. We took control of the game right there in the first quarter and never lost control of it.”

Scoring 38 points – 27 in the first half on 10-of-15 shooting – and adding seven assists, four rebounds, one steal and one block, Durant didn’t do it all, but he did more than enough to bring his teammates along for the wonderful ride.

“He had a different mindset tonight than he had the other night,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He set a tone right away. Our guys loved it. His teammates were excited about the way he started the game. That was infectious, carried over to our defense too.”

There have been times when Durant seemed less than fully engaged, maybe lounging in a corner on offense or failing to hustle back on defense. Not in Game 3. He played at MVP level, with high energy and visible passion and flame beneath his feet.

He also was the center of the most fervent overall team spirit seen from the Warriors in recent weeks, even as they were closing the season winning eight of their last games. Durant didn’t just produce, he also was a galvanizing emotional presence.

This is the full Durant, the KD the Clippers didn’t want to see and the dude he implied he would be when he resorted to third-person reference to remind one and all of his elite status.

“He made those statements with confidence, you know?” Clippers guard Lou Williams said. “He plays at a high level. We expected that. The only thing I’m disappointed about is he announced himself before he even got here. We didn’t come prepared.”

There likely was no preparation that might have helped Los Angeles. Beverley, such an irritant in the first two games, was rendered an irrelevant speck of futility. JaMychal Green, bigger and stronger, tried defending Durant and got burned for his effort; the only notable remnant of their matchup was the double technical fouls assessed after they got too gabby with each other for referee Jason Phillips.

Durant can shrug it off if he likes. It is, after all, no better than dozens of games he has played during his career.

[RELATED: Watch KD's huge block on Shai Gilgeous-Alexander]

But this came under broad audience surveillance after Durant played below his standard in Games 1 and 2, leaving so many fans and maybe some teammates and coaches on the edge of their seats wondering how he would approach Game 3.

Durant approached it with a vengeance, by showing the Clippers they can’t stop him and reminding everyone else why the Warriors brought him to the Bay Area. And, yes, why several teams would love to bring truckloads of cash his way when he becomes a free agent in July.

Warriors find the focus that's eluded them in clobbering of Clippers

Warriors find the focus that's eluded them in clobbering of Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- For much of the regular season, the Warriors had an internal battle with complacency as they strove for their third straight NBA title. 

Routine winning streaks would be followed by curious losses on their home floor, causing worry among many observers if the Golden Dynasty was showing signs of rust. 

Complacency reared its ugly head Monday night when the champs squandered the biggest postseason lead in NBA history. On Thursday, they tore apart the Clippers, winning Game 3 132-105, once again with a goal of finding the consistent championship energy that's eluded them. 

"High energy, high focus," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. "Tried to set the tone early in the first six minutes."

The Warriors -- like they've done each game this series -- got out to a big early lead, going up 41-24 by the end of the first quarter. Kevin Durant, who had more turnovers than shot attempts in Game 2, scored 38 points, adding seven assists and four rebounds. As Durant flexed his powers, the Warriors locked down defensively, holding the Clippers to just 37.2 percent from the field and 21.9 percent from 3-point range. 

More importantly, after giving the ball away a combined 33 times through the first two games of the series, Golden State had just 12 turnovers Thursday evening. 

"Just smart basketball," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "Simple plays. No halfcourt lobs. No wild passes. It was just taking what the defense gave us, hitting singles, just continuing to play."

This season, the Warriors haven't had a problem flexing their champion-level ability; however, sustaining the necessary energy proved to be a problem. Following a 10-1 start, the Warriors finished the month of November 7-7 as internal strife threatened to end the season before it could really get going. Following the All-Star break, embarrassing home losses to the Boston Celtics and lottery-bound Phoenix Suns left many curious. 

"The reality of it is, human nature, sometimes just happens, regardless of how much you fight against it," Warriors forward Draymond Green said. "It's never because you don't want to be there. Sometimes during the regular season, I think every team goes where you just don't want to be there." 

Golden State's latest sleepwalking act came in the second half of Game 2, when the Warriors squandered a 31-point lead, letting the Clippers pull off the biggest comeback in NBA history on their home floor. The loss shocked most around the NBA world and gave the latest example of how complacency has been the team's most challenging opponent all year long.  

"I think everybody in the arena kind of relaxed just a split second. I just think everybody felt like we had that game in hand because we had a 30-point lead," Durant said. "I mean that hasn't happened in 30 years so its kind of natural for anybody to relax, even at home. But the players can't do that and I think that was a small lesson that we can learn from but our focus has been on point since late March, with the exception of like six minutes last game." 

[RELATED: KD sends loud message, unleashes MVP form in Game 3 win]

On Thursday, the Warriors again found themselves up 31 points midway through the third quarter, roughly the same time of the game they held advantage two days before. The coincidence prompted assistant coach Jarron Collins to tell Kerr, "it's 31" during the timeout. Luckily for the Warriors, deja vu was not in store for the champs. 

"We just keep challenging the guys, reminding of what's at stake. Sunday is the next one," Kerr said. "We can take control of the series if we can get that one. If we don't, we're in a tough spot." 

"We just got to lock in and play the next one. But I liked our approach tonight," Kerr added. "I like our chances."