OAKLAND, Calif. – This was the dirty little truth that none of the Golden State Warriors nor their yellow-clad and believing fans wanted to talk about during this most unbelievable of playoff runs.
When the Warriors sink three-pointers from all over the court, Don Nelson's small ball is a sight to behold, the most fun seen on a basketball court this side of Steve Nash and Meadowlark Lemon's Globetrotters.
But when those threes aren't dropping at an astonishing rate (40.8 percent against Utah, 38.2 overall in the postseason), well, um, the wheels begin to wobble on Nellie's built-for-speed machine.
Which brings us to Game 4 against the Utah Jazz on Sunday. Golden State came out firing as usual, hitting five of its nine three-pointers in the first quarter, but the percentages finally caught up to the Warriors as they missed 23 of their next 30 threes in a deflating 115-101 loss to the Jazz.
Golden State never embarked on its typical three-point flurry to whip the Oracle Arena crowd into a frothing frenzy. The Warriors shot 30.8 percent from three (12 for 39) and just 40.5 percent overall, and their suddenly sad marksmanship became even more glaring with every point-blank bucket by Carlos Boozer, whose 34-point, 13-for-19 night often resembled a Nerf hoops game between a teenager and his kid brother.
Adding insult were the clutch fourth-quarter threes by former Warrior Derek Fisher, who delivered the dagger three-pointer with 2:16 left to push Utah to a 100-93 lead and force Golden State into panic mode.
"That's our game," Golden State's Monta Ellis said. "It's no problem when we win with (the three-pointer), but when we lose, it is a problem. But that's our game. We can't complain if we're doing what we've been doing all season."
At the top of the list of most culpable were Jason Richardson and Baron Davis, the star of Friday's Game 3 victory. Richardson looked flat and his shots were even flatter as he struggled through a seven-point night in which he missed nine of 12 shots (including five of his six threes). Davis didn't have it early and late, managing just four first-half points and finishing with only 15 on 6-for-16 shooting (2 for 8 on threes) two days after a virtuoso 32-point performance.
Stephen Jackson, who matched Al Harrington's team-high 24 points but shot just 5-of-15 (and committed six turnovers) in doing so, cited tired legs as the main reason for the Warriors' shooting troubles.
"We just ran out of gas," Jackson said. "We're human and we do get tired. Obviously, we got tired at the wrong time … But at the same time, we give (the Jazz) credit. They won this game down the stretch."
Even with their miserable shooting, the Warriors still found themselves in position to even the series at 2-2. Richardson's lone three-pointer of the night cut Utah's lead to 93-91 with 3:46 to play, but after Matt Barnes failed to convert a three-point play for a 97-93 deficit with 2:37 remaining, the Warriors came up empty on their next two possessions, missing four straight shots beyond the arc.
Davis missed two of them and afterward he took sole responsibility for the loss. Jackson wouldn't let him.
"Baron is human," Jackson said. "Baron is playing on a bad leg. We expect him to get tired sometimes, and I know he was tired tonight. … On nights like this when he doesn't have the same juice, other guys have to pick him up. We didn't do our job tonight. We didn't pick him up."
"It's unfortunate that we're down 3-1 because we shouldn't be," Davis said. "We're confident we can win in Utah and bring a Game 6 back here. Game 5 is the most important thing on my mind and this team's mind."
So the Warriors find themselves back in their old role, before they ruined Dirk Nowitzki's MVP press conference and ran Dallas off the court, before they became the darlings of these NBA playoffs. They're the underdog again – the team that isn't supposed to advance – and Jackson wouldn't have it any other way.
"I love it," he said. "It's us against the world again."
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