OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Golden State Warriors were overwhelmed by the Boston Celtics, 99-86, in a game that was close up until a sudden Celtics surge -- and equivalent Warriors collapse. Golden State lost this one in a disastrous fourth quarter that included a staggering nine turnovers.
"We just got outplayed," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "They just turned up the defensive pressure and forced a lot of turnovers. We missed some shots we normally make but got beat. Simple as that."
Boston is not the team you want to face after a lengthy road trip. The road-weary Warriors, coming off a five-game jaunt, could only get so comfortable in Oracle's friendly confines. Brad Stevens' team is noted for its indefatigable attack, an effort level that can surpass its talent. This season's Warriors don't quite have that kind of reputation and, on this evening, seemed to lose focus just as the Celtics locked in.
Golden State began by finding seams in Boston's defense, getting a lot of dribble penetration off passes. The issue was its inability to cash in off those opportunities. Golden State went fallow from deep in the first half, converting only three of its 15 attempts (it finished 6-of-30 overall). By way of their ball movement and Draymond Green's defense, the Warriors went into the half with a five-point lead despite the team's poor shooting.
It was not an optimal start to the third quarter for Golden State. A 6-0 Celtics run brought a quick timeout. The Warriors appeared to be sleepwalking, but then Klay Thompson suddenly came alive with an 11-point outburst. Thompson hit a series of midrange jumpers and tossed in a 3-pointer off a rebound generated by Stephen Curry, who gave great effort on the glass Wednesday night with three offensive rebounds.
When Thompson sat midquarter, Curry took over for the rest of the third, notching 11 points of his own. Though he was off on a few open 3s, Curry found success in this game with his drives to the rim and craft. On this evening, Curry was 4-of-5 in the paint and 4-of-4 in the restricted area.
Still, Steph's best highlight came from deep, at the expense of rookie Jaylen Brown. With the third-quarter buzzer begging, Curry was boxed in, Brown hounding him. With a pump fake and a body contortion, Curry got the shot to go, then celebrated by pointing at Brown.
That would be the high point for Curry and the Warriors, as their freeze continued while Boston found its rhythm. Golden State really let things get away during its run of a Curry-Ian Clark-Andre Iguodala-Patrick McCaw-James Michael McAdoo lineup that proved scattered on defense and indecisive on offense. The Celtics took advantage of a sequence of Warriors' giveaways, punishing the home team in a 15-0 run.
Isaiah Thomas delivered the dagger with a 3-pointer that pushed Boston's lead to 14. There was a bit more torture for Golden State fans to endure, though. As the Warriors, down nine with 2:53 remaining, tried to make a last stand, they found themselves thrice thwarted.
High-effort defense led to two Jae Crowder 3-pointers, both missed and both rebounded by the team in green, followed by a reach-in foul from Curry. Avery Bradley closed the never-ending possession with a midrange jumper, a crushing blow considering that Boston had already bled the clock for over a minute.
The Warriors fans who stayed to the end were treated to an unusual sight and sound. As Thomas shot his last free throws, with the game decided in all but technicality, a chant rose from the rafters. Remaining Boston fans chanted, "M-V-P," serenading an opponent in a fashion not witnessed since well before the Kerr era.
After the game, the reigning MVP calmly responded to these chants, saying, "We get them in other teams' arenas too. We can't be sensitive about that."
That's true, but regardless of how they're received, these chants speak to big NBA sea change -- and not just because Thomas is putting up MVP-level numbers. Before last year's Finals, Curry's status was unassailable.
Last season, in fourth quarters, Curry shot 52.5 percent from the field and 47.3 percent from 3-point range, averaging over a point per minute of play. This season, in fourth quarters, he's shooting 40.9 percent from the field and 30.0 percent from deep. It was easy to attribute the drop off to Kevin Durant's presence, but if it continues in his absence, the answers aren't as visible.
Maybe Wednesday was just an off night, a cold-shooting stretch, the kind of thing that happens over the 82-game season. On the other hand, this game might speak to a growing sense that this team is vulnerable sans Durant. When Curry sits, the Warriors struggle to score. When he's in, he hasn't had that MVP form. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs just beat the Sacramento Kings, with Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge taking a breather.
There's still no telling when Durant will return, but provided he's healthy, it can't be soon enough for Golden State. Right now they're facing some adversity. And it sounds like an Isaiah Thomas M-V-P chant.