LOS ANGELES — As Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr scanned the locker room following Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinals, the look of fatigue and disappointment was smeared all over his team’s face.
It was done — the Warriors’ quest to defend their title had ended with a 122-101 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, and they were left sitting with all the questions that come next.
“To be fair I think this team ultimately maxed out,” Kerr told reporters after the game. “We were barely in the playoff picture most of this year … This is not a championship team.”
That sentiment didn’t just pop up because the Warriors were eliminated, snapping their streaks of 28 straight playoff series with at least one road win, and 19 straight series wins against Western Conference teams — both NBA records.
The Warriors’ 11-30 road record during the regular season is one reason why this team lacked the championship DNA. Then there were the repeated injuries to Stephen Curry and Andrew Wiggins. The disconnect the Warriors started the year with, and never fully recovered from.
“From training camp to now, it was just the reality we were living in,” Curry said. “We were trying to keep things positive and optimistic around what we were trying to accomplish this year … but there’s also an understanding that this is not good enough.”
But Golden State still held out belief for themselves come playoff time — the second NBA season.
“We did a pretty damn good job of finding something here over the last month,” Kerr said. “We came close to recapturing what we had, but we didn’t quite get there. We didn’t feel like a championship team all year, but we had the guts and the fortitude to believe.”
“No competitor believes (you’re done) until you’re proven you’re not a championship team,” Curry added. “And that’s what getting beat in a playoff series is.”
The Warriors’ locker room heading into Game 6 was the complete antithesis of their mood after it. Music was blaring from a set of portable speakers. Players were dancing around. They were full of life. Yet, they came out of the game with none of that energy.
The Lakers lead ballooned to 17 points in the first, matching the largest deficit the Warriors have faced in the first quarter of a playoff game under Kerr. They also trailed by 17 in Game 6 of the 2018 Western Conference finals against the Houston Rockets. But in that game, they came back to win by 29.
Midway through the first quarter Friday, something finally clicked for Golden State, and the Warriors went on a 23-10 run. But it wasn’t sustainable. During that stretch, they got close to the Lakers, but never took the lead. And by the time they had an opportunity to make another push, they ran out of steam.
Curry scored 32 points on 11-of-28 shooting, doing everything in his power to extend the series to seven games, but he didn’t get nearly enough help. Donte DiVincenzo was his only support system, and the only other double-digit scorer with 16 points. The next highest scorers were Kevon Looney and Draymond Green with nine each.
Klay Thompson scored just eight points, while Jordan Poole had seven and Andrew Wiggins — who was battling through a left costal cartilage fracture — added six. Wiggins also couldn’t defend LeBron James with the force needed to slow him.
The Warriors had nothing else to give.
While the series was ultimately lost for the Warriors in Game 6, Kerr said it was decided in Games 1 and 4 — two tight games the Warriors could have had, but let slip by.
“No competitor believes [you’re done] until you’re proven you’re not a championship team. And that’s what getting beat in a playoff series is.”
“I definitely think this team maxed out,” Green said, agreeing with his coach. “It wasn’t a championship team … this was not a championship group as it stands.”
Green said the Warriors have to go back to the drawing board this summer to retool and “refigure out” how to get back to a championship level.
But the person responsible for building Golden State’s championship roster over the last decade, general manager Bob Myers, has yet to come to a new contract agreement.
And like Myers, Green’s status with the team is unclear. He has a player option waiting for him and told Andscape’s Marc J. Spears he will take his time deciding his future. But insists he wants to remain a Warrior.
“That does not mean our core changes,” Green said. “That doesn’t mean our core can’t do it again … we are made up of champions.”