LOS ANGELES -- Are the Golden State Warriors just a character in someone else's story? It's hard to compete for attention when the other storyline is a repellent owner losing control of a vast enterprise over racist comments recorded by a young consort. The Los Angeles Clippers are at the forefront, the Warriors are in the background, and now they've been pushed to the brink of elimination.
Stephen Curry has also been shoved to the background after a scintillating performance in the previous game. He was uncommonly sloppy with his handle in Game 5, hacking up eight turnovers to a swarming Los Angeles defense.
"Tonight, he knows he's got to be better," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said of Curry. "Turned the ball over obviously a little too much. They did a good job on being active in their pick-and-roll defense."
The Clippers didn't just contain Curry in the pick-and-roll; they also smothered him off the ball. For long stretches Los Angeles switched defenders on Curry as he ran through his maze of screens. The result was many possessions in which Curry didn't touch the ball, contributing to his only taking 10 shots.
It wasn't all bad for the Golden State offense, though, as Curry pointed out after the game.
"We scored 103 points. That's plenty to win, so we'll be fine. That means other guys are open and able to make plays. They've got to pick their poison. I'd obviously like to get more shots, but if other guys are open and able to make plays I'm doing my job."
In Game 3, Curry could hear fans screaming for him to take more shots, and had more Dubs fans attended Game 5, he might well have heard similar entreaties Tuesday. Much as we might like the concept of team play, there's an intense, popular desire for a superstar to just try to solve everything. Take over. Be a hero. But games aren't won by a single player. The stark reality is while Curry might be the lone superstar on this team, he can't actually go it alone. On Tuesday night the shots weren't there, and it's up to a desperate, short-handed team to somehow carve out space.
Sloppy turnovers aside, Golden State is doing well in a series they're not supposed to win, especially considering reports that they were mulling a boycott of this game before NBA commissioner Adam Silver thwacked his metaphorical gavel. It's difficult to fault David Lee for how he's played when he's suddenly tapping rebounds out of the fray like Tyson Chandler. It's hard to criticize Draymond Green when he's deploying beautiful defense on Blake Griffin, despite being 6-foot-5 3/4 in socks and suffering touch fouls. Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson have acquitted themselves well defensively while providing scoring punch in these last two games. A bad effort this isn't.
The Warriors are without Andrew Bogut, a fact that's easily forgotten amid this Sterling turmoil, but glaring when DeAndre Jordan wallops the Golden State front line for 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks. Jordan played like a distraught man in Game 4, failing to score a single point. In Game 5, he ripped rebounds from scrums and dunked with fury whenever Marreese Speights lost track of him.
Doc Rivers spoke of how the Sterling situation had impacted Jordan, before adding that Jordan predicted Game 5 redemption.
"I was really happy for him," Rivers said. "He called me or texted me right after we'd gotten back to L.A., and said 'That wasn't me, I will be back.' And I didn't know he meant that. But I'm going to make sure he texts me tonight."
Jordan and the dogged Clippers are the story, and might have been even had the Warriors managed to come back to win. Before the game, Jackson was besieged by questions about the tumult surrounding the Clippers and owner Donald Sterling. This was happening on a day when reports surfaced about his former assistant getting fired over a (different) secret recording, and how Jackson wasn't allowing NBA legend Jerry West into Golden State practices. Yes, even a slight to Lakers great Jerry West can't make waves in Los Angeles right now.
Perhaps the Warriors are thankful their strife has gotten short shrift, ugly circumstances aside. Right now it's all in the background, probably until the offseason. To stave off that phase, the Warriors and Curry must assert themselves in Game 6. That might not mean Curry taking 30 shots, but it could mean a more focused effort from him and a more focused effort from his team in setting screens. Otherwise they'll be an early death in this Clippers movie.