Steve Kerr

Old demons reincarnate as Warriors fade down stretch vs. Clippers

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SAN FRANCISCO – Returning from road trip that ended with three consecutive lopsided victories, setting them on a path to save this turbulent 2023-24 NBA season, the Warriors on Wednesday night devolved into regression.

The Warriors built a 15-point lead on the Los Angeles Clippers and slowly gave it back, shot by shot, until they were, once again, in “clutch game” territory.

And once there, the fourth-quarter demons that have surfaced so often this season reappeared.

The Warriors responded to a tightening game with questionable shot selection on offense and the kind of horrid defensive lapses they surely thought they were beyond. It was enough to invite a 130-125 loss that sucked the energy out of Chase Center, snapped a five-game win streak and extinguished the fire that raged only minutes earlier.

“We lost control of the game defensively,” coach Steve Kerr said. “And I don’t think we adjusted well enough either as a coaching staff.”

Well, no, they did not. Giving up 44 points, on 61.9-percent shooting, in the fourth quarter was surprising because Golden State has played excellent defense while winning seven of its last eight games.

Los Angeles’ bench scored 26 points in the fourth to put the Warriors to sleep. Norman Powell took four 3-pointers in the fourth, mostly open, and made each one. Russell Westbrook scored 10 points in the quarter on 4-of-6 shooting.

“Very frustrating for sure,” Brandin Podziemski said. “What happened in that last quarter was the complete opposite of what we’ve been playing the last seven games.”

The Warriors also gave the Clippers a couple free throws when Klay Thompson made the mistake of fouling Westbrook with 39 seconds remaining and the Warriors trailing by three. Westbrook buried both shots to give the Clippers a 128-123 lead.

“We didn’t want to foul,” Kerr said, clearly displeased. “We were down three, with 38 seconds left. It’s an obvious defend. Just play it out and get a rebound and it’s a one-possession game.”

This was the sixth time this season that Golden State built a lead of at least 15 points and still wound up with a loss – including a 22-point blown lead to the Clippers on Dec. 2 in Los Angeles.

Such losses are piling up, particularly in the Western Conference, and specifically in the Pacific Division. Golden State (26-26), 10th in the West and last in the division, is playing its way out of multiple tiebreakers.

“We played a really solid game, 34 assists to nine turnovers, but the game got away from us defensively in the fourth,” Kerr said. “I’d like to watch the tape and see how we can adjust better.”

Lost in the outcome were historic performances by Stephen Curry and Podziemski.

Curry scored 41 points, 23 in the second half, shooting 15-of-31 from the field, including 9 of 19 from deep. He became the first player in NBA history make at least seven triples in four consecutive games.

Podziemski was spectacular, scoring a season-high 25 points on 9-of-12 shooting, including 5 of 5 from distance. He added eight assists and seven rebounds. His impact on the game included taking charges, zipping passes, diving for loose balls and generally irritating a vast assortment of Clippers.

By the fourth quarter, Clippers center Mason Plumlee had endured enough. When Podziemski, six inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter, had the temerity to tussle with the big man, Plumlee responded with an overhand right that dropped Podziemski to the floor. He was assessed with Flagrant 1 foul.

And 19 seconds later, there was Podziemski, getting back on defense, setting himself and drawing a charging foul on the rampaging Plumlee.

The rookie from Santa Clara University became the first player in NBA history to come off the bench and deliver a minimum of 20 points, five rebounds, five assists and five 3-pointers without a miss.

Not that it mattered in the end.

“It feels a little bit different,” Podziemski, when asked about the previous blown leads. “Obviously, the result is the same. A loss. But I feel like after the game we talked as a team and cleared things up. I think we’ll be ready for tomorrow.”

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