LOS ANGELES – The disappointment that comes with losing a Game 7 thickened the air in the Warriors locker room late Saturday night. They had played splendidly and with tremendous valor, only to be unceremoniously shoved into the offseason.
It didn't matter that when the end came all bodies were on empty, members of both teams embracing each other as is customary after an epic championship fight.
It didn't matter that the game itself, a 126-121 Warriors loss to the Clippers, was an instant classic, befitting of a seven-game series for the ages.
It didn't matter that these teams have a tempestuous relationship, with as much respect as there is animosity.
All that seemed to matter in the hour after defeat was the utter absence of reward.
"It's only one team that's going to be satisfied at the end of the year, so kudos to that one team," forward Andre Iguodala practically whispered.
"Seven games, that's a lot of fighting on the court," point guard Stephen Curry said. "And we left it all out there."
The Warriors were, for a variety of reasons, given the slimmest of chances to win this series. They were without starting center Andrew Bogut. They finished six games behind the Clippers, who earned home-court advantage and a roster with two All-Star Game starters, a Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the Sixth Man of the Year and a veteran head coach with a championship ring.
Yet the Warriors led for much of the game and were in it until the final seconds.
The Clippers were, in the end, too big in the middle. Center DeAndre Jordan, the DPOY candidate, finished with 15 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks. Twelve of the rebounds and all of the blocks came in the second half, when his energy fueled a comeback and his presence fairly towered over the game.
"My main job was to keep him off the glass," David Lee said. "So I did the best I could in that category."
It wasn't good enough, with good reason. Jordan is the league's top rebounder. He should play big against a team without its top three centers.
The other Warriors did their part to compensate for being without Bogut (fractured rib) for the last three weeks, without Jermaine O'Neal (right knee bone bruise) for all but three minutes and without Festus Ezeli (knee surgery) all season.
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Perhaps because they were relatively undersized, the Warriors played with a ferocity that bordered on manic.
"We knew we weren't going to go out there and lay down, and we knew they weren't either," forward Draymond Green said. "You just know you have to give all you've got. If all you've got isn't good enough, then it's not."
It wasn't. So the Warriors will have to remember their first Game 7 in 37 years as an example of commendable effort without desired results. Fewer things annoy a competitor more, and this game and this series will irritate into summer.
THE GOOD: The effort was, overall, outstanding. The Warriors didn't do everything right or well, but they did everything with zeal and purpose.
Curry was aggressive throughout but cranked it up in the second half, when he shot 13 of his 16 free throws. Consider that another leap toward validating his stardom.
Green was phenomenal: 24 points, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Jordan Crawford came off the bench and provided a lift, scoring 12 points in 12 minutes.
The 3-point shooting was superb, better than the overall shooting percentage (56 percent to 49.4).
THE BAD: The inability to contain Jordan was crushing. It seemed he spent the night slamming lobs, yanking rebounds and frightening anybody daring to enter the paint.
The one quarter in which the Warriors failed to match the L.A. energy was the third. It showed, as the Clippers won the quarter 31-20.
THE TAKE: The Warriors outdid themselves, as should be the case in a Game 7. They've never been more determined, and for a while it looked as if that desire would pay off.
But they were facing a superior team boasting a broader array of weapons. They played about as hard as they could. They made LA shake and shiver and sweat its way to victory. Someday, the Warriors who participated in this game – and series – will look back and sigh, knowing they gave all and should be most proud of that.