BY MASON BISSADA
In what is becoming more and more of a consistent trend, the Golden State Warriors suffered yet another heart-breaking loss to a contending team with whom they had no business going toe-to-toe with in the first place. Tonight, that contender was the Los Angeles Clippers, who rallied in the fourth quarter after being down as many as 10, outscoring the Warriors 36-17 in the final quarter of play and stealing a 109-100 victory Friday night at Staples Center from a Warriors team that can’t seem to catch a break.
In the final minutes, Golden State was simply out-executed by a team that was more talented, more experienced and more explosive on both ends of the floor. With just over a minute to go, Kawhi Leonard, who carried his team offensively with 36 points on 14-25 shooting to go along with eight rebounds and five assists, hammered home a monster dunk on what seemed like all five Warriors to put Los Angeles up six. On the following possession, Patrick Beverely swatted Glenn Robinson III’s shot attempt. Alec Burks was able to recover the ball, only to have his shot blocked just the same by Leonard, essentially sealing the game. Golden State’s uncanny shot-making luck ran out when it mattered most, and the better team won yet again.
“They overwhelmed us [in the fourth quarter],” Head Coach Steve Kerr said postgame. “They played a great quarter and got downhill. Kawhi and Lou Williams both got going. We just couldn’t put the ball in the basket. They’re a hell of a team and we just couldn’t keep up with them.”
Had Golden State been able to sustain the level of play they displayed through the first three quarters, tonight might have been their most impressive win of the season. Through three quarters, the Warriors led 83-73, finding success by forcing Clipper turnovers (they had 19 on the night) and scoring in transition.
Key to those first three successful quarters was Omari Spellman, who rewarded Steve Kerr for inserting him into the starting lineup by dropping 17 points and hitting four of his eight 3-pointers. 11 of those 17 came in the first half, as Spellman struggled with foul trouble in the second. While he doesn’t have the sheer athletic ability that Willie Cauley-Stein brings, Spellman gave the Warriors a spacing element that Cauley-Stein doesn’t offer while still being a rebounding presence defensively. Steve Kerr seems to be enjoying the freedom of losing, as he continues to tinker with his rebuilding group in search of a halfway decent lineup.
“I thought “Oh man, let’s go!’” Spellman said when asked what his reaction was to learning he’d be starting. “This is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for. My confidence has been coming back. I just wanted to hoop.”
With D’Angelo Russell out for a sixth straight game with a shoulder contusion, the offensive burden was once again up for grabs in the Warriors’ starting lineup. Tonight, Glenn Robinson III once again carried the majority of the load, scoring 17 points on 7-12 shooting. Robinson’s offensive creation this season continues to ascend. In the third quarter, Robinson dropped in a bucket off of a tough stepback jumper that one wouldn’t assume he has in his bag of tricks. Though he is often overtaxed as a number-one option, Robinson continues to shine on a depleted roster.
It is tough to say whether Alec Burks shot the Warriors out of this game or kept them afloat when they should’ve sank. On the one hand, he shot a miserable 3-17 from the field including 1-7 from three for just 16 points. On the other hand, he did get to the free-throw line nine times, making all of his attempts and forcing Clippers shooting guard Landry Shammet into foul trouble. He was also a team-high plus-7 on the night. It’s probably more of the first hand, but on a team that seriously lacks any sort of offensive creation, particularly off the bench, you live with these sort of nights from players like Burks, who can occasionally spark a scoring burst.
For the Clippers, it was essentially the Kawhi Leonard Show. He attempted 25 shots while the rest of the starting lineup attempted a combined 23. However, with running-mate Paul George out, Lou Williams stepped up yet again and dropped a cool 21 points and eight assists to sustain the Clippers’ offense while Leonard sat. The Warriors did a decent job of slowing the rest of the Clippers’ roster (particularly Montrezl Harrell, who scored just 11 points), but in the end, the Leonard/Williams duo proved enough on its own to get the job done.
Golden State continues to give away winnable games in “yes, yes, yes, no !” fashion. While this is obviously beneficial in the long run in terms of lottery odds and their 2020 first-round pick, these sort of heart-breaking defeats must have some sort of mental effect on this team’s young core. Losing isn’t fun, and building losing habits is not ideal for a team that hopes to return to contention next season.
Golden State will hope to recover from tonight’s loss when they square off against the Grizzlies on Sunday in Memphis at 3 p.m.
Glenn Robinson III simply cannot guard Kawhi Leonard. While this sounds obvious and very few players in the league can, it is worth noting that Robinson has been touted as the Warriors’ perimeter stopper. Perhaps he is being taxed too much on the offensive end.
Ky Bowman had a quiet night tonight, which is a shame considering his G-League call-ups continue to dwindle.