SAN FRANCISCO — Heading into Friday night’s Game 6, Sacramento Kings veteran Malik Monk told his teammates in the locker room to lock in, that it was a must for the starters to begin the game right, live up to the bright lights and don’t have any regrets. And before the Kings raced onto the Chase Center floor, Harrison Barnes yelled, “Leave it all on the floor and let’s bring this back to Sac.”
Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr even warned his team: Be ready for a different level from the Kings. They would be looser, Kerr said. They would be playing with more aggression. They would be playing with far more emotions.
But even with Kerr’s warnings, the Warriors were somehow caught off guard.
“I don’t think (we were ready),” Klay Thompson said, after Golden State was completely outplayed in a 118-99 loss that saw the Warriors fail to close out their Western Conference first-round series.
“We just had a lot of kind of mental errors, and they took advantage of it and grabbed momentum early,” Stephen Curry said. “I don’t know if that was an energy thing or a focus thing, or whatever it was, but you have to be able to learn those lessons quickly.”
The Warriors set the tone for their lackluster game early. They opened sloppily — several empty possessions forced by blocks and strips from Sacramento’s Domantas Sabonis. They committed nine turnovers in the first half alone, leading to 15 Sacramento points. Sacramento outscored Golden State 30-16 in the paint and shot 40.7% from the field, compared to the Warriors’ first-half season-low 27.8%.
The Kings also dominated the boards, grabbing 32 rebounds, 11 of which were offensive boards.
And yet at halftime, Golden State trailed by just seven. That’s thanks in large part to Curry and Thompson, who combined for 29 points in the first half. The rest of the team had 22.
The hope was that they’d rally at halftime and find new life — something they’ve done so many times not only this season, but in this series. Perhaps an appearance from the famous “Game 6 Klay.” Curry would take over at the drop of a pin, as he’s done so many times before. Jordan Poole would wake up from his sleepy first half.
The hope was that the Warriors’ playoff experience — that championship DNA they rely on so heavily, that Kings coach Mike Brown cautioned his young team about — would show. But it didn’t.
“I thought we played hard but we didn’t play smart,” Kevon Looney said. “We didn’t execute our game plan. We know what we needed to do to win. All the small things, getting back in transition, the box-outs, the turnovers, different things like that, we didn’t execute.”
“It’s up to us to go to Sacramento and do everything we did tonight but opposite, and I know we will respond. I just know this team. I know these guys. I’ve played at the highest level with them and I know what we are capable of, and we will respond like the champions we are come Sunday.”
In the past two games, the Warriors have made strong defensive adjustments on Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox. First, it was switching Draymond Green onto him at halftime in Game 4. In Game 5, Gary Payton II shut Fox off in the second quarter.
But in Game 6, Sacramento went small and this time the Warriors didn’t have answers for their opponent’s adjustments. Fox scored 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting and had 11 assists. He scored or assisted on 56 of Sacramento’s points. Monk also provided the Kings with a huge boost off the bench, leading the team with 28 points.
“That was part of their strategy, going small, opening up the floor a little bit more,” Kerr said. “So they had more space to work with, and we did not respond very well. Our defense was not very sound, you know, during some of those stretches. So we’ll watch the tape and figure out what we can do better.”
Curry finished with 29 points and Thompson with 22, but the team shot 37.6% from the field, the second-lowest field goal percentage in any playoff game under Kerr.
The 19-point margin was both the Warriors’ largest home loss with a chance to clinch and also matched the Kings’ largest win in franchise history when facing elimination.
“You’ve got to be honest with yourself regarding what it was,” Curry said. “I felt like we were all on the same page yesterday when we were kind of preparing for the game and understanding what the task at hand was, just didn’t do it.”
The Warriors are not hanging their head, though. Frankly, they know they don’t have time with Game 7 less than 48 hours away.
“We’ve had plenty of bad losses on this dynastic run we’ve been on,” Thompson said. “But this is not the fourth loss of a series. This is a third and it’s first to four. We are right there.”
The Warriors lost the opportunity to avoid the road — a place that has plagued them all season long — but following their Game 5 victory, the game Thompson called their best of the season, they are confident they can play with the execution they need to get their fourth win.
“It’s up to us to go to Sacramento and do everything we did tonight but opposite, and I know we will respond,” Thompson said. “I just know this team. I know these guys. I’ve played at the highest level with them and I know what we are capable of, and we will respond like the champions we are come Sunday.”