The Clippers knew exactly who Durant was before this series started. Everyone did. That’s a very different thing than stopping him.
“I promise we tried…” Lou Williams said after Durant dropped 50 on the Clippers and ended their playoff run. “We tried everything. We tried everything.”
Just two nights before, on Wednesday, Durant set a personal new career playoff high scoring 45 points. It wasn’t enough, the Warriors lost.
Friday night he upped his game, scoring 38 points in the first half and 50 for the game.
That was enough. The Warriors won 129-110, taking the series 4-2.
The Warriors will start their second-round showdown with a well-rested Rockets team Sunday in the Bay Area.
“That was one of the great performances I’ve ever seen in my life. And I’ve seen some good ones. I’ve been around some decent players,” said Warriors’ coach Steve Kerr, who was teammates with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, David Robinson, Tim Duncan, and coaches Stephen Curry. “So he just carried us these last couple of games of the series. He’s the ultimate weapon because there’s no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot.”
It was more than Durant that propelled the Warriors Friday night. The focused Warriors showed up, for one. For most of the night Klay Thompson was a defensive beast, and as a team Golden State did a much better job on Lou Williams, trapping and being physical with him, pressuring him into a 3-of-20 night. Part of that was Williams missing shots he made the rest of the series, but for the Clippers they have to live and die with Williams. He’s been too good all season and deserved the standing ovation he got when taken out of the game.
“I was locked in from the jump,” Thompson said of his defensive effort. “I was just trying to play with intensity and make it tougher on whoever was in front of m. I thought I played well tonight.”
The Warriors also made an adjustment with Draymond Green setting very high picks for Stephen Curry, and the Clippers trapped Curry to get the ball out of his hands. However, the result was Curry finding a rolling Green to create a 4-on-3, making Green the playmaker, and he had 10 assists on the night, throwing lob after lob in the former home of Lob City. Green had a triple-double with 14 points and 14 rebounds, too.
There was also cause for concern for the Warriors: Both Curry and Thompson tweaked their ankles.
“I’m sore, and I will be for the next few hours, but I anticipate going fully on Sunday,” said Thompson, who was limping noticeably after the game.
“It’s fine,” Curry said of his ankle, adding he will be ready to go on Sunday.
Curry tweaked his ankle chasing Landry Shamet across the lane halfway through the first quarter. He stayed in the game and drained a three on the next play, but later went to the locker room to have it worked on. He returned to the game but didn’t move the same after that.
Those injuries are exactly why the Warriors needed to take care of business in Game 5 on Wednesday. They didn’t. Now there is less than a 48-hour turnaround before they play at 12:30 Sunday, and both backcourt starters could be slowed a little.
That said, the Warriors, in general, were not concerned about the short turnaround.
“In the NBA, we’re pretty used to this schedule. We play a game, a day off, another game. We pretty much do that all year,” Durant said.
“We know [the Rockets] well. We kind of know what they’re going to do,” Kerr said. “They don’t make you think too much about what they’re going to do. They let you know. They’re going to come after you and pick-and-roll. We played them three times in the playoffs the last four years.”
The Warriors all were filled with praise for a Clippers team that won over a lot of fans — both in Los Angles and around the country — with their passionate, gritty style of play. The Clippers unleashed the beast in Montrezl Harrell, got a healthy Danilo Gallinari playing his best most of the season, got another Sixth Man of the Year season out of Lou Williams, and had Patrick Beverley’s feisty heart. And that on a team that started two rookies in this series and showed promise for the future.
“I love their team. I just love how they compete, how they fight and play for each other,” Kerr said. “That’s a beautiful basketball team. They made us work for everything. So they’ve got a bright future.”
The Clippers future could take a big step this summer, they are linked to Kawhi Leonard among other top free agents.
The Warriors future is Sunday. The question is, did the Clippers sharpen a team that was bored and grew dull during the regular season, better preparing them for the Rockets? Or, did they wear down Golden State and soften them up for Houston?