Once they made it into the playoffs (albeit by the skin of their teeth) would something just... click for the Golden State Warriors? Would the weirdness and nagging problems that had plagued them throughout the regular season simply disappear? Would the Dubs find that familiar postseason gear, put the pedal down, and barrel — with the kind of inevitability we've come to expect and even demand — to the NBA mountain top?
Not so far.
With a 114-106 loss to the Sacramento Kings last night, the Warriors have fallen 0-2 in Round 1 of the playoffs heading back to Chase Center, with Game 3 on Thursday. This is new and ominous terrain for Golden State, though the problems sullying the Warriors in Games 1 and 2 are all too familiar: Turnovers. (An astonishing 22 last night.) And fouls. So many fouls. And occasionally shot selection, meaning the Dubs get overly three-happy (at least in Game 1). And road losses. So many road losses. So many close, hard-fought games in arenas other than Chase Center that just don't go the Warriors' way.
"I know all years are different," a reporter said to Klay Thompson last night, "but you guys have never been down 2-0 in a playoff series. What do you think the significance of that is, just for this series?"
"I mean, yeah, unfamiliar territory, but we've been down 3-1, we've been up 3-1. We've been through everything, so, we rely on our experience."
Let's give credit where credit is due. The Sacramento Kings are a young, talented, hungry team, and they've played magnificently against the Warriors. Kings All Star De'Aaron Fox had the second-highest scoring debut in the playoffs in Game 1 with 38 points, the lion's share of which came in the second half. Fox hit huge shots down the stretch in the fourth quarter; he was 10 of 18 from the field and 4 of 5 from three in the second half of Game 1. Fox has lived up to his budding reputation of the most clutch player in the NBA. He generates so much of Sacramento's league-leading offense, either drawing defenders and dishing the ball to one of the Kings' many weapons, or just firing away and hitting clutch three pointers.
After the Warriors were leading by six points at the half in Game 1, the Kings scored 69 points in their final 45 possessions, according to Yahoo Sports. Malik Monk had an ultra-efficient 32 points off the bench on 13 shots; he went 14 for 14 from the free-throw line.
Let's also give credit to the Sacramento Kings' fans. After such a long and grinding (Warriors') regular season, one forgets just how awesome, loud, and emotion-packed playoff basketball can be. After a 17-year absence from the postseason, Kings' fans are probably hungrier than then their players for a deep run.
"I didn't think we played great... I thought we played pretty good," said Draymond Green of the Warriors' Game 1 performance. Steph and Klay have put up a consistent 51 and 49 points respectively in Games 1 and 2. Andrew Wiggins made his much-anticipated return, coming off the bench on Saturday and starting last night; he scored 17 and 22 points respectively. Draymond Green had 9 rebounds and 11 assists in Game 1. But none of it was quite enough. Both Steph and Wiggins had the chance to hit game-tying shots late in the game, but neither shot fell.
"I think there's a lot of things we can do better," Draymond went on to say after Game 1. "You gotta feel decent about the game and where we can go. I think we have another level of things that we can do to kind of counter their attack."
The Warriors did not reach that level in Game 2 last night as much as they simply handed the Kings' the ball and showed them to an empty rim on the other end.
I've always said that the Golden State Warriors' game is inherently fast and loose. When it's firing, it's sublime — one of the greatest things to watch in all of sports. But when it's not clicking, it's ugly. So ugly. (Reporting on Game 2 last night, a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle read, "Kings take 2-0 series lead, beat Warriors in egregiously sloppy game.") No matter how the game is going or how many turnovers they've already accumulated, the Warriors seem to try and thread the ball through these impossible, minuscule little windows. When it works, it's amazing. And when it fails, it's like the Warriors are serving up the ball on a silver platter to their opponents. (At one point last night, Draymond Green sort of ran into Steph Curry, causing Steph to fall and cough up the ball. So ugly.)
"Just value the ball more," Warriors' announcer Kelenna Azubuike pleaded. "Some of these passes are just so scary."
It wouldn't be the playoffs if there wasn't some bad blood, excessive replays and ejections.
Late in the fourth quarter, after a missed bucket on the Kings' end, Domantas Sabonis fell to the floor, and after those multiple replays, he can clearly be seen grabbing Draymond Green's foot and hanging on. Green stumbled and stepped —some would say stomped — on Sabonis. Draymond was ejected, Sabonis was given a technical foul, and some bad blood was sowed for the ret of the series.
Draymond Green stomps on Domantas Sabonis.— ClutchPoints (@ClutchPointsApp) April 18, 2023
He was hit with a flagrant 2 foul and ejected. pic.twitter.com/gYWvNO9lHR
If the Warriors are in fact still stuck in their regular-season rut, then there's some good news: The Dubs were spectacular at home — so spectacular, with so many wins at Chase Center. The have some time get themselves back in this series, but at some point, they'll have to shed the weirdness that has plagued them all season.
"You gotta embrace it," said Steph Curry last night of the Warriors' 0-2 series deficit. "You do this as long as we have — 28 [playoff] series — and we've never been in this situation. At the end of the day, all we've got to do is win one game here, someway, somehow."
Related: Clinching a Playoff Berth at the Bitter End of a Strange Season, the Warriors Will Face Sacramento in Round 1
Top Image: Photo by Loren Elliott/Getty Images