May 30, 2024
The Warriors are used to playing into late May and June. Instead, their season ends on April 16.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson didn’t even get a chance to spend potentially their final moments in the same uniform sharing the court.

In a blowout loss to the Kings, the dynastic trio checked out together with 2:13 left in an already-decided game. The three legends are used to playing deep into May and June. Instead, their season ended on April 16.

The Warriors were healthier and well-rested. Their four future Hall of Famers had exponentially more playoff experience than the young Kings. They finished the season strong, while Sacramento stumbled.

But Thompson picked a bad time to play the worst game of his career. Andrew Wiggins, who had turned around his season, registered a -25 plus-minus in 25 minutes. Steph Curry, who ended Sacramento’s season with 50 points last spring, grinded to reach 22 points.

And the Warriors’ much-improved defense — led by Green — let Keegan Murray unload eight 3-pointers for a game-high 32 points.

Curry, Thompson and Green peeled themselves off the visitor’s bench at the final horn, losers of the 9/10 play-in game. Sacramento shot 46.2% from deep, lighting the Warriors up and lighting the beam in a 118-94 win to end Golden State’s season. The Warriors are now 0-3 all-time in play-in games.

Golden State’s season arrived at the Golden 1 Center after a particularly windy six months. The Warriors nearly went off the rails with Draymond Green suspended for a quarter of the year due to his erratic behavior. Tragedy struck when assistant coach Dejan Milojevic died in Salt Lake City.

The locker room — one of Steve Kerr’s favorites — rallied amid adversity. They resuscitated their season behind a new starting frontcourt of Green and Trayce Jackson-Davis, committing to defense as their identity. They won six straight and finished the season winners of 10 of 12.

But now, their season’s over. So could much more.

Questions will swirl about the future of Golden State’s aging dynastic core and what will come next. Until the very end, the Warriors maintained belief that they had what it takes to make a special playoff run. Then, abruptly, the unceremonious end came.

Keegan Murray scored 11 of the Kings’ first 13 points, springing loose for 3s. With each make, a raucous Golden 1 Center crowd sang “Kee-gan, MUR-RAY.” It’s no secret that Murray, who hit 12 3s in a game this year, can shoot. But a common theme when the Warriors slip is losing 3-point shooters too often.

Domantas Sabonis, who the Warriors typically bottle up, muscled his way through Draymond Green for a bucket in the post, then Steph Curry got his pocket picked. Then Fox stripped Andrew Wiggins clean.

From the start, the Warriors looked out of sorts. Curry, who dominated last time these teams played a single-elimination game, had just five at half. The team looked nothing like the team that finished the regular season strong.

Golden State ended the regular season as one of the league’s hottest teams, with a 22-11 second-half record. They won two more games than they did a year prior, making important progress in some key areas. But it was only enough for 10th best in a loaded Western Conference that has caught up to them.

That’s just a moral victory for a franchise that no longer tolerates them. Their standards are much higher now, after winning four NBA titles in the past decade.

There were no moral victories for the Warriors in the play-in game. The Warriors got crushed in the non-Curry minutes. They got bullied on the boards early. They turned the ball over too much against Sacramento’s ball pressure.

Thompson missed all 10 of his shots, going scoreless in 32 minutes. He also lost his handle on a drive against Keon Ellis, clanked a wide-open 3 in transition and struggled defensively. Thompson had never attempted as many shots without hitting a single one in his 13-year career.

Thompson and Curry combined for five first-half points, yet the Warriors only trailed by four points at half because of a late surge from Jonathan Kuminga and stronger perimeter defense.

But the Kings kept executing offensively, generating open shots around the arc and forcing Warriors turnovers. They were quicker, more physical and smarter.

Even the Warriors’ patented plays weren’t working. When Curry got trapped, he bounced to Green in the short-roll, who found Andrew Wiggins along the baseline for an alley-oop. But Wiggins couldn’t handle Green’s lob, leading to a Keon Ellis 3 on the other end. The five-point swing was an ominous sign.

Murray — Kee-gan, Mur-ray — hit his sixth 3 late in the third to match Sacramento’s biggest lead of 16.

Trailing by 15 entering the final frame, reality began to set in. An offseason abyss loomed. Thompson will hit free agency. The Warriors will need to shed eight figures worth of salary to avoid catastrophic luxury tax costs. Mike Dunleavy Jr. nailed his first draft, but there’s still a difficult task of spending less while also clawing back into contention ahead of him.

A dramatic comeback would’ve delayed the doomsday event. Instead, the Kings started the fourth on a 6-2 run, with Harrison Barnes’ fall-away over Green pitting Golden State in a 19-point hole with 9:35 left.

The Warriors made a mini-push, but more 3s from Murray and Barnes kept the Golden 1 Center crowd rowdy. Golden State added to its 16-turnover total.

The Kings’ lead ballooned to 20. Kings fans stood for the final four minutes — they felt sweet revenge for last year.

Thompson, who has painted so many postseason masterpieces, hit the bench late alongside Curry and Green. One day, all three will have statues outside Chase Center. But the Kings made them look like statues when it mattered most.

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