Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole combined to score 29 points in the Warriors’ Game 3 and Game 4 losses to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.
Lonnie Walker IV scored 27 points by himself over the last two games for the Lakers off the bench. More than anything, that tells the story of the series with the Warriors now in a three-games-to-one hole.
Steph Curry, who had a 31-point, 14-assist, 10-rebound triple-double in the loss, can carry the Warriors in Game 5. Maybe even in a possible Game 6. Who knows what can happen in a Game 7.
Help is needed, though, now as much as ever following the Warriors’ 104-101 Game 4 loss.
Coming into this star-studded series, there were two mindsets with Thompson: He’s either going to go off or be way off. There wasn’t going to be an in between.
An LA native and son of a Showtime Laker, Thompson immediately after beating the Sacramento Kings in the first round proclaimed he has been waiting 12 years (his whole career) to face his childhood team in the playoffs. He has countless memories at what now is called Crypto.com Arena. He idolized Kobe Bryant. For Thompson, that either meant an explosion or forcing one to come and impatiently waiting for it to never fully materialize.
His first game of the series, a five-point loss at Chase Center, Thompson scored 25 points and made six 3-pointers but shot a lowly 36 percent (9 of 25) from the field. Game 2 was much more of what the Warriors need from the second half of the Splash Brothers. He put up an efficient 30 points on 61.1-percent shooting (11 of 18) and a 72.7-percent clip (8 of 11) from 3-point range.
But over the last two games, both Warriors losses in LA, Thompson has averaged 12 points on 33.3-percent shooting (8 of 25) and 32 percent (6 of 18) behind the 3-point line. He was held to nine points Monday night, going 3 of 11 from the field and 3 of 9 from three. His final two shots were inexcusable for a player who one day will be in the Hall of Fame.
First, with the Warriors up by one point and two-plus minutes remaining in regulation, Thompson only had five seconds left on the shot clock but the whole right side of the court unguarded. Instead, he opted to let it fly from 28 feet and watched his shot clank off the back of the rim.
“That one with five seconds on the shot clock, wish I could have that back, gotten a better look,” Thompson said to reporters in the Warriors locker room after the loss, per the Mercury News’ Shayna Rubin.
A mere 34 seconds later, Thompson produced some frustrated Warriors reactions on another bad decision from deep. This time, the Warriors trailed by one and Thompson still had 14 seconds left on the shot clock. He wasn’t on a hot streak, this wasn’t a heat check.
It was an untimely attempt of Thompson trying to do it himself, at the worst moment possible.
“That one on the left wing, I feel like I rushed it,” Thompson said, per Rubin. “I should have taken my time.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr leans back, grabs his head and can’t believe what he just watched. He has been coaching Thompson for nearly a decade and has lived with plenty of wild shots. Thompson’s two late heaves simply were unjustifiable.
Draymond Green, palms up, puts his arms out and stares at Thompson. Even without sound, one can easily imagine him thinking “WHY?!?!?!” Jonathan Kuminga, the Warriors’ 20-year-old super-athlete who has been relegated to the bench, literally gets up and walks away.
“I trust Klay,” Kerr said. “I think of everything he’s done for this team. Part of who he is, he’s going to fire away. There were a couple late that he probably would like to have back. That’s part of who we are as a team. We’re going to fire.
“If Steph or Klay gets an opening, they’re going to let it go. They’ve had a ton of success over the years, obviously.”
Game 1 of the conference semifinals, even in a loss, looked like the blueprint for Jordan Poole. The electric and mesmerizing guard, for reasons far and wide, scored 21 points on 15 shots and didn’t turn the ball over once. He was 7-of-15 shooting, went 6 of 11 on 3-point attempts and also had six assists. Poole’s plus-7 plus/minus led the Warriors.
Everything has gone downhill since.
In the last three games, Poole totaled 11 points. He scored six points in the Warriors’ Game 2 win and was a plus-8, the second-best of the Warriors’ bench players. Between the Warriors’ two straight losses, Poole had five points and six turnovers.
He went 2 of 13 from the field and missed all six of his 3-pointers in those two games. Already in a 2-1 series deficit, Poole put up blanks Monday night. The 23-year-old was held scoreless on four shot attempts, two 3-pointers, and had the same amount of assists (2) as turnovers.
Poole played a little over eight minutes in the first half and was taken out shortly after a live-ball turnover in the third quarter. He played slightly over two minutes in the third quarter and watched the entire fourth quarter from the bench, while Moses Moody played nearly 10 minutes.
“Nothing changes, just work,” Poole told reporters in the locker room. “It’s bigger than the moment right now. In the long run, want to be the best player you can be. Work ethic doesn’t change, routine doesn’t change.
“Maybe opportunity changes, but you can only control what you can control.”
From an offseason that included a four-year contract extension worth up to $140 million that kicks in next season to the infamous training camp punch, the spotlight has been bright for Poole. Sometimes fairly, sometimes unfairly. The numbers are there, though, and they haven’t been very pretty this postseason.
Against the Sacramento Kings in the first round, Poole averaged 12 points on 33.8-percent shooting and 25.7 percent as a 3-point shooter. Malik Monk averaged 19 points off the bench for the Kings on 40.9-percent shooting and 33.3 percent shooting threes. Those shooting averages aren’t great, but Monk did score more than 20 points three times and put a scare into the Warriors’ defense.
Now, as the conference semifinals shift back to San Francisco, Poole is averaging 8.0 points on 35.3-percent shooting and 31.6 percent beyond the arc. Walker, who was a DNP (Did Not Play) in Game 1, is averaging 12.0 points for the series on 60.9-percent shooting and 36.4 percent from long distance. Last year in the playoffs, Poole averaged 17.0 points on 11.5 shots per game, shooting 50.8 percent from the field and 39.1 percent as a 3-point threat.
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Curry, as he often does, came to Poole’s defense Monday night.
“We get questions about him a lot, and our whole team we’re all together in the sense of trying to figure out how to win playoff games,” Curry said. “We all have to make adjustments, we all have to play better, considering we’re in a 3-1 hole.
“There’s no sense in isolating him in this situation. It’s all about collectively what can we all do to be better. … If we’re going to get out of this hole, we all have to play better.”
For how much Curry’s leadership matches his greatness on the court, his secondary scorers are hurting him mightily. Andrew Wiggins as a two-way player that contributes in major ways defensively should ideally be the Warriors’ fourth scoring option behind Thompson and Poole.
The main responsibility for those two is counting buckets and watching the scoreboard churn in the Warriors’ favor. The Warriors, of course, have to be better collectively as Curry suggested. If Thompson and Poole can’t find their shot in front of their home fans come Wednesday night, though, the Warriors are in for an avalanche of questions come this offseason.
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