The NBA playoffs are in full swing and there can be a lot to unpack in a series of intense games, to help out we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Clippers make their best free agent pitch on court, beat Golden State Warriors to force Game 6. It’s hard not to root for these Clippers — they are passionate, feisty, believe in themselves, are not afraid of the big moment, they play hard every night, and they do not ever give up. Ever. They are the kind of underdogs fans can get behind. It’s just fun to watch, and it’s not just fans who are taking notice.
It is a team that plays with passion on the court and gets along off it. They have a popular player-friendly coach. They are young — the Clippers are starting two rookies this series — and energetic. They are the kind of team that looks to be just one piece away. The kind of team a major free agent (or two) would want to take a long look at.
Los Angeles best free agent pitch — to Kawhi Leonard, or Kevin Durant, or both — has come on the court in these playoffs.
Durant has gotten an up-close look at these Clippers. He scored a playoff career-high 45 in Game 5 at Oracle, but he didn’t get near enough help. The onslaught of threes from Golden State early was not enough to shake Los Angeles. The Clippers would not roll over and accept their fate (even after a late run gave the Warriors the lead inside three minutes left in the game). Los Angeles kept making plays, kept getting buckets — 33 points from Lou Williams who took over the game late, Danilo Gallinari broke out with 26 points, Montrezl Harrell owned the paint and dunked his way to 24 points — and would not go away.
The result was a 129-121 Clippers win in Game 5 that forces a Game 6 the Warriors did not want to be in on Friday night in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles has won two games in Oracle Arena this series, and suddenly them forcing a Game 7 in the first round looks to be a real possibility. The last time the Warriors lost two games at Oracle in a playoff series? The 2016 NBA Finals to the Cavaliers.
The Warriors got caught looking ahead and brought their bad habits — a lack of caring on the defensive end in particular — from the regular season to the playoffs.
After the win on Easter Sunday to go up 3-1, Klay Thompson said: “We see our opponent, they’re up 3-0 [the Rockets]. So we don’t wanna give them any more rest days.”
“It’s their mistake for looking ahead. So that’s on them,” Williams said after the Clippers win Wednesday.
The Warriors made little secret this was the first-round matchup they wanted — because of the easier travel — but they have not respected their opponent and now have paid a severe price for that.
The was a time, years ago, when the Warriors played every night with the passion we see from the Clippers. Now Golden State just looks comfortable.
The Clippers looked hungry and played with desire.
If you were a free agent, which team would you want to join?
2) Houston Rockets win twice. Once to eliminate Utah, then again with Clippers win. The Houston Rockets believe they can beat the Warriors. As Keith Smith of Yahoo Sports noted on the PBT Podcast this week, they have the formula: Win a couple of games because of an onslaught of threes, have James Harden take over a game and be unstoppable, put themselves in position — as they did a year ago — and this time catch a couple breaks.
Breaks like getting more rest while the Warriors keep on playing.
While the Warriors forgot to defend at Oracle, the Rockets went home and took care of business, closing out a Jazz team that found itself the past couple of games and put up a real fight. Houston won Game 5 100-93 behind 26 points from James Harden, but more importantly another strong defensive performance.
The Rockets showed in this series why they are a threat to the Warriors, or anyone else. A defense that struggled to start the season is all the way back now and did a good job not letting Donovan Mitchell take over (although nobody can completely contain him). That defense also caught a break as the Jazz struggled from three in this game — 9-of-38 from behind the arc — and all series, even when they got open looks.
It’s more than the defense. Clint Capela is playing with energy in the paint. Chris Paul is playing closer to the guy we saw last season. The Rockets are moving the ball. Oh, and they have Harden.
The other thing they have is rest. It’s the first of a few breaks they will need to beat the Warriors in the next round.
3) Watch Montrezl Harrell owns the paint down the stretch. Harrell is going to be on a lot of Sixth Man of the Year ballots this season, because he and Lou Williams had great chemistry, because he brought great energy off the bench for the Clippers every night, and because he could just take over the paint down the stretch of games.
Watch him do that to the Warriors in Game 5 Wednesday. This is why the Clippers are just fun to watch.