Warriors lose identity in fourth-quarter collapse that could reshape West finals

OAKLAND, Calif. — Joe Lacob walked down the hallway leading to his team’s locker room Tuesday night, the owner of the Golden State Warriors perhaps awaiting answers to one of the most muddled endings to a game this postseason. A few feet away inside the locker room, the vocal leaders of the Warriors aired their feelings. For the first time many of them could remember, they had diverted from their free-flowing natures on the court and had stagnated in crunch time in a 95-92 loss to the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

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“We got to trust ourselves, trust our game plan and our defense better,” the Warriors’ Draymond Green told Yahoo Sports. “In the fourth quarter, our discipline went away and we got away from ourselves.”

Finally, the first competitive NBA playoff game in weeks occurred Tuesday to even the series at 2-2. James Harden (30 points in 43 minutes) and Chris Paul (27 points in 42 minutes) put their fingerprints all over the comeback win and had pushed their bodies to the brink. And yet the Warriors could only dissect a collapse at Oracle Arena that appeared reminiscent of their Game 5 loss in the NBA Finals in 2016. Draymond Green (suspension) and Andrew Bogut (first-half injury) were missing in that Finals defeat, from which the Warriors never recovered. Andre Iguodala (leg) missed this one, but only time will tell how much it will haunt Golden State.

James Harden and the Rockets knocked Steph Curry and the Warriors off their perch Tuesday night. (AP)
James Harden and the Rockets knocked Steph Curry and the Warriors off their perch Tuesday night. (AP)

Some of that lost discipline brought questions: Why was no timeout called when Green grabbed a defensive rebound with 11.5 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter? Golden State had scrambled on the possession, with Kevin Durant giving up the ball to Klay Thompson, and the best shot they could get was Thompson forcing an errant fadeaway jumper? From fans to players to security guards inside Oracle Arena, the timeout debate waged early into Wednesday morning. For their part, both Warriors coach Steve Kerr and Green said their request for a timeout went unheard. The need for a timeout on that possession was clear, but Green and Kerr could only regret it postgame.

A review showed Paul was fouled by Shaun Livingston during Thompson’s miss, but Paul inexplicably made the second free throw to put the Rockets ahead 95-92, instead of missing it like he did the first one, which left .5 on the clock.

The Warriors still had hope with a Stephen Curry 3-point attempt from the left corner — as open a look with .5 seconds that an NBA player can ask for — but he missed short to the right of the rim. These series of events had an incoherent, sloppy drama to them: the lack of a timeout; Durant giving the ball up early on the possession in which Thompson missed; Paul making his second free throw; and the clean look of Curry’s final attempt at the buzzer, which he may not have gotten off in time.

The Rockets had celebrated on the Oracle Arena floor, Gerald Green and several bench players leaping into the air as the buzzer sounded. Two games apiece.

The significance of this victory was palpable for the Rockets, giving them two of the next three games in the series at home, if needed. For Paul, this is as close as one of the current era’s best players has been to the Finals.

“We told ourselves all season long, told ourselves in the summertime, to put ourselves in the best position,” Harden said. “We’re doing that.”

The Warriors admit the loss of Iguodala was critical. Iguodala’s the perfect complement for the Warriors’ All-Stars, a reason why the Rockets were runners-up for Iguodala’s services in free agency last offseason. A healthy Iguodala, the playoff-tested veteran who won the Finals MVP in 2015, can shift games. He’s hopeful of a return in Game 5, a return that would “of course, of course,” Kerr said, change the complexion of the Warriors.

“Andre’s a huge part of what we do,” Curry said.

For the Warriors, film sessions will show stale possessions, an isolation-heavy fourth quarter and missed shots from the team’s stars. This happens throughout the course of a postseason, but did not appear possible given Curry’s 17-point outburst, including five 3-pointers, in the third quarter Tuesday night. It’s a make-or-miss league, Warriors players said in the locker room, and 12 total points in the fourth quarter loomed large over Game 4.

“We got rushed,” Curry said.

Added Durant: “I wish it could have been a better possession at the end, but we’ve got to live with that and move on.”

The Warriors must live with this Game 4 gone awry inside a raucous home arena, an implosion that will be looked upon with disdain should a dramatic turn of events shape the remainder of this series. These Warriors have strong-minded leaders, and Green had made sure his teammates searched from within for answers. “We have to trust what has gotten us to this point,” Green told Yahoo Sports, and a walk out of Oracle Arena consisted of his inner circle pointing out how the rhythm dwindled for the Warriors late. They’ve been here before, and a win in Houston will change everything. Trust, Green said. They must.

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