Christmas for Golden State Warriors coach Mark Jackson turned sour pretty suddenly Sunday night, ending with a 105-86 season-opening loss to the visiting Los Angeles Clippers. David Lee led the Warriors with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Still, Jackson’s debut as an NBA head coach, before a sellout crowd at Oracle Arena and a national TV audience, was tainted by a fourth-quarter collapse that suggested Warriors basketball hasn’t changed much.
The man who has preached defense since being hired in June watched the Clippers, led by point guard Chris Paul, torch his team down the stretch, outscoring the Warriors 21-5 over the last 6:24.
The Clippers, who shot just over 40 percent from the field in the first three quarters, made 11-of-21 attempts in the final period. Paul had eight points in the fourth quarter and finished with 20 points and nine assists in his first game since being traded to the Clippers by New Orleans.
Golden State, conversely, struggled offensively in the fourth quarter. The Warriors missed 11-of-17 attempts and turned the ball over five times.
It all started so promising, too.
First, Jackson learned starting point guard Stephen Curry was able to play despite a sprained right ankle. Curry, after testing his ankle before the game, decided he’d give it a go. He sprained his ankle Tuesday, giving him four days to rest it.
But Curry wound up with a rough night, finishing with four points on 2-for-12 shooting with four assists and five turnovers.
Then, it looked as if Monta Ellis was going to be able to overcome multiple off-the-court issues and gut his way to an effective performance.
Ellis is not only dealing with being named in a sexual harassment suit, which went public Wednesday. Sunday, he learned his grandmother Mary Cole died in Mississippi at age 89.
With his shooting stroke not in sync, Ellis used his speed to get to the rim. He scored six points, all layups, during a 9-0 run midway through the second quarter. It looked as if he was going to have a nice effort. But by the end of the night, he was silenced. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-19 shooting with eight assists. But he also had four turnovers and scored just one point in the fourth quarter.
When the third-quarter horn sounded, Golden State was down seven and struggling to find some momentum. After a blown defensive assignment, that led to a 3-pointer by the Clippers’ Brian Cook, Jackson called a timeout and lit into his team.
The Warriors emerged from the timeout down 78-70 with 11:32 to play. Three minutes later, the deficit was down to one. A Brandon Rush 3-pointer and a tip-in by rookie Klay Thompson capped a 9-2 run that cut the Clippers’ lead to 80-79.
But the Warriors’ defense couldn’t come up with the necessary stops.
Back-to-back jumpers by Clippers guards Mo Williams and Chauncey Billups pushed the Warriors’ deficit to 87-81. Ellis then split a pair of free throws, and Los Angeles’ Caron Butler nailed a runner.
After Curry missed a jumper, Billups knocked down two free throws. Just like that, Golden State was down 91-82 inside of five minutes left.
Then Paul took over. He nailed a jumper over Ellis, putting Golden State down 93-84 just inside of four minutes. After a Curry turnover, Paul nailed a runner in the lane. Paul then sealed it with a jumper as the shot clock expired, putting the Clippers ahead 97-84 with 2:38 left.
• Warriors center Andris Biedrins’ opening-night performance perhaps lent some credence to the talk about him being his old self. He finished with 10 and eight rebounds in 20-plus minutes.
He had six points and four rebounds in the first quarter. His putback dunk at the 6:46 mark put the Warriors up 12-6 and forced the Clippers to call a timeout.
He checked out with 5:14 left in the quarter and didn’t return until midway through the second. He sparked a 9-0 Warriors run, capped with a fastbreak layup by Ellis for a 37-36 lead.
• Center DeAndre Jordan said he was happy the Clippers matched Golden State’s four-year, $42.7 million offer sheet. But for a moment, the restricted free agent thought he was headed to Oakland. And he wasn’t mad about that.
“When I signed, I thought I was going to the Warriors,” Jordan said before tipoff. “I think they’re a great team. Lots of young talent. Just like our team, still has a lot of work to do. But I feel like both are up-and-coming, with great point guards who make the game a lot easier.”
• Thompson had a roller coaster of an NBA debut. He was the first Warrior off the bench, coming in when Curry picked up his second foul. But his initial six-minute stint didn’t go well. He was 0-for-3 shooting with a turnover and a foul. He sat the rest of the first half.
He was markedly more effective in the fourth quarter. He had four points during a 9-2 run to get Golden State back in the game. But just when he was getting going, things started going downhill. His banked jumper was waived off by an offensive foul. Moments later, he missed a runner early in the shot clock, setting up a Clippers basket.
• Jackson admitted he got emotional seeing all his friends at his coaching debut. Chris Mullin, who played with Jackson at St. John’s University and the Indiana Pacers, was part of ESPN’s broadcast team. As were Jackson’s former ESPN colleagues Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen.
Mullin attended practice Saturday, and Jackson had the Hall of Famer speak to the team.
“It means a lot to see them. “I’m a guy that doesn’t mind shedding a tear,” Jackson said. “When I was younger, I used to see Dick Vermeil and say, ‘What a clown.’ But as you get older, I have an appreciation for it. You no longer take for granted the important things: great friendships, team work, togetherness, your health and your family.”
• Jackson gave some insight into his plans behind Curry. He played mostly Ellis at point guard. When he did go to the bench, he used Ish Smith, who totaled seven points in five minutes.