In one of the more impressive victories of the playoffs thus far, the Clippers went into Oracle Arena Wednesday night and staved off elimination by defeating the Warriors, 129-121, sending the first-round series back to Los Angeles for Game 6 on Friday with Golden State leading 3-2. Here are five takeaways from the game:
First and foremost, that’s what this Clippers victory was all about. Pride. Trailing 3-1 in a series nobody in the world expects them to win, it would’ve been so easy for them to lay down in Game 5 and start booking their summer vacations. It was clear from the jump they had no intention of going that quietly. The Clippers scored 71 first-half points. They attacked from everywhere. The Warriors flat out took this game for granted and the Clippers jumped all over them and never once backed off, even when the Warriors got in their rhythm late.
Again, down the stretch of the fourth quarter when the Warriors came back to tie the game and even take a brief lead and the crowd was rocking, that would’ve been an easy time for the Clippers to say, “OK, we put up a good fight, but now we’re going to go away.” But they just kept scrapping. Kept making shots. Kept playing defense with everything they had. And they won. Really impressive.
So much for getting some rest
Perhaps more damaging than actually losing the game, the Warriors lost out on at least two days of valuable rest. Game 1 of the second round, for whoever wins this series, is scheduled for Sunday against the Rockets, who closed out their series against Utah on Wednesday night. So while Houston is relaxing, the Warriors have to go play what is definitely going to be a taxing game on Friday. If they win that, they’ll get just one day off before having to rally back up for the rested Rockets. If the Clippers manage a victory on Friday and extend this series to a Game 7, that would put Game 1 of the second round on Tuesday. That would be one day short of a full week off for Houston while the Warriors will be coming off a long series with one day of rest to gear back up.
There’s already been some talk about how the Rockets falling to the No. 4 seed, and thus getting the Warriors one round earlier, actually works to their benefit because James Harden and company will be one round fresher. The Warriors not closing out this series with the Clippers in five now doubles down on that potential advantage for Houston, who will surely be 100 percent and appreciably more rested for Game 1.
How sweet it is
Sweet Lou Williams, man. Can this dude get buckets or what? With everyone in the building knowing he was looking for his shot, he still found 33 points and 10 assists. This four-point play when the Warriors had cut the lead to one was the biggest shot of the night.
That is ice cold. The Warriors tied the game at 116 with 3:29 to play on a vicious Kevin Durant dunk. It felt like the Warriors were finally going to wrestle control. Lou had other plans. From that point forward, Williams scored the Clippers’ final nine points including that four-point play. Ballgame.
No timeouts for Doc
This won’t get talked about, but I thought Doc Rivers letting the Clippers play through the final eight minutes while only calling one timeout was brilliant. It kept the Clippers in rhythm, and even though the energy was going against them for a good stretch, it was still energy, and it kept them from bogging down and feeling the pressure of the Warriors’ surge. They just kept playing.
With just over eight minutes left, the Clippers had a 10-point lead. They then went scoreless over the next three minutes and change, while the Warriors finished an alley-oop dunk, a Draymond layup in transition, and a Curry three-point play. Doc did finally call a timeout with 4:44 left, but it was more a fatigue timeout. It didn’t come after one of the Warriors’ big plays when the crowd exploded, as timeouts on the road typically do; it came after Montrezl Harrell made one of the sickest blocks you’ll ever see.
Less than a minute later, with all the momentum on Golden State’s side, Klay Thompson drilled a 3-pointer and Kevin Durant, who finished with 45 points, tied the game with that aforementioned vicious dunk. The crowd went bonkers. Still, no timeout. Two minutes later, Durant threw down yet another monster jam to ignite the crowd and give the Warriors a one-point lead. It was all slipping away, right? Wrong. Doc again doesn’t call a timeout and that’s when Lou Williams answered with the four-point play.
I’m telling you, Doc letting the Clippers just keep playing through these huge Warriors haymakers was brilliant. The pressure never settled in on the Clippers and the rhythm kept up. Doc made it simple: just keep playing basketball, don’t think about losing this lead, and his team responded.
Warriors’ defense is an issue
When I talked to Steve Kerr down the stretch of the regular season, I asked him if he was concerned about the Warriors having been a middle-of-the-pack defense throughout the regular season, and whether he thought they could just flip the switch in the playoffs. He pointed out that the Warriors were also a middling defensive team in the regular season last year, and then they turned it on and were the No. 1-ranked defense in the postseason and won the title. “But I was scared to death we weren’t going to be able to turn it on,” he said.
You have to wonder if some of that same fear is starting to crrep back in this year, because the Warriors’ defense has not looked goo. They gave up 85 second-half points to the Clippers in blowing that 31-point lead in Game 2, then the 71 first-half points on Wednesday.
“The playoffs are all about defense, and we just did not defend. We didn’t fight,” Kerr said after the game. “We gave up 129 points, and they shot 54 percent on our home floor. We seemed to take it for granted that we were going to be OK.”
They weren’t OK, and now they’re one road loss from being on the ropes against a No. 8 seed. Even if they get out of this series, you have to wonder what they’ll take from getting cooked by Lou Williams. The Warriors are, for lack of a better term, kind of an arrogant defensive team in that they don’t feel they need to employ any gimmicks to shut people down. We saw the Jazz doing all kinds of crazy stuff trying to slow down James Harden, to the point of literally playing behind him, but the Warriors don’t do things like that. They let their good defenders go straight up against great scorers. They’re not afraid to switch big men onto smaller guards and let them try to hold their own. Williams is a beast, and Harden is an even bigger beast. If the Warriors are the 12th-ranked defense out of the 16 teams in the playoffs after five games with the Clippers, what are the Rockets going to do to them?
Do the Warriors actually need to worry?
Had the Warriors come out and just laid an egg in Game 5, while frustrating, you would still have the excuse of them just not getting up and be able to figure they will get their act together in Game 6. But the Warriors played pretty well. At least offensively. Durant had the 45 points. They tallied 31 assists against just eight turnovers. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 46 points on 8-of-16 shooting from three. The Clippers just beat them. At home. For the second time in this series.
So it’s not like it’s out of the question that the Clippers could now go back to their home court and win Game 6. I mean, if you can beat the Warriors on their home floor when Durant, Curry and Thompson combine for 91 points on just under 50-percent shooting, you can beat them any time and anywhere. So, yeah, I’d say the Warriors need to worry just a little bit. Even having to go seven games in this series would be a bad sign.