OAKLAND, Calif. -- It's understandable the Warriors feel wronged after the result, given that Chris Paul made contact with Stephen Curry on the game's final shot. When asked if Paul fouled him, Curry succinctly answered, "100 percent," while also elaborating further with, "Point of emphasis this year is you can't body-contact a guy shooting a jump shot, so, I thought that's what happened."
While you can hardly fault their frustration, it's difficult to come away from the game believing Golden State to be the better team. It trailed for three quarters and needed a couple of furiously contested Curry 3-pointers to get within striking distance. Though the Warriors feel robbed, victory would have meant stealing this game.
It was a spirited comeback from 18 points down in the third quarter, though, and the Warriors should be credited for it. They went small, blitzed the Clippers and nearly wrenched away victory from a team that was looking indomitable. Much of the late surge was created by Golden State's indefatigable utility player Draymond Green, who ended the game with 13 points, 11 rebounds, four blocks and three steals. All three of the steals came in during the frantic fourth-quarter comeback.
"We just defend, scrapping, got out in the open floor," Green said of the small-ball push. The fourth-quarter success was a reminder of Warriors' struggles throughout the season, flaws that will probably prove fatal now that Andrew Bogut's out with a rib injury.
The Splash Brothers define one of the NBA's most "exciting" teams, an explosive offense that bombs long shots from all directions. Anyone who watches the Warriors closely knows they deliver more frustration than thrills on the offensive end. Their calling card is defense, and their defense requires Bogut's presence. They have been roughly average on offense, ranking 12th among teams this season in points per possession.
Long-run issues were on display for much of the first half. The Warriors like to run Curry off the ball frequently, but they lack either the playmakers or system to take advantage of this approach. Half-court sets often stall with Andre Iguodala or Steve Blake dribbling at the top of the circle, watching the shot clock evaporate.
This style got crushed by an attentive Clippers defense through three quarters of action. Running Curry off the ball can work when he's not being guarded by a locked-in Paul. It's been a futile slog for much of these three games, and it's reflected in Golden State's last-place postseason offensive rating.
When Curry did have the ball, the floor was often spaced poorly, with two bigs who don't command closeouts from distance. Compounding matters, the Warriors, as they have for much of the season, leaned on a helping of isolation postups.
Going small freed Golden State from this funk, fueling a fast pace with transition opportunities. It might be easy to conclude that downsizing would have prevented the necessity for a giant comeback. Mark Jackson wasn't so sure, saying of the small-ball success, "No, we were not playing well. We turned the basketball over too much. We just got out of character. I thought we tried to do too much at times offensively instead of trusting our offense."
Jackson could be right about that decision not being decisive. Going small might not have changed the outcome, as the Warriors are overmatched in this series.
Even when playing their bigs, they were smashed by DeAndre Jordan (14 points, 22 rebounds, 5 blocks) and Blake Griffin (32 points, 8 rebounds, 1 block). Going small can't prevent the Clippers from dominating the paint at will. The Warriors can run, but they can't hide.
For all the questions of what Curry, Iguodala, Klay Thompson and David Lee need to do more of, there exists the possibility that it all doesn't matter. Without Bogut, Golden State is probably dead money. The shortened analysis of this series could well be, "Andrew Bogut makes $14 million for a reason."
They've been run aground by a dearth of competent screen setting, something Bogut excelled at. Curry has been harassed by traps on the pick and roll, but he's also been afforded little help from screeners. Jackson wanted the screens to be a point of emphasis in this game, and the Warriors tried. The result was a couple of early offensive fouls, with Warriors players sloppily blurring the line between screen and tackle.
Golden State figured to be an underdog even with a healthy Bogut. Without his presence, Jordan conjures mid-1990s Shaquille O'Neal. The Warriors lack size, and whatever size they do have is slow.
Paul's hamstring clearly isn't healthy, so it's possible the Warriors still have a chance. It's just difficult to watch how their offense has played this season -- how it's played in this series -- and come away believing they'll overcome an opponent with superior talent.