The Golden State Warriors were lucky to be in the position they found themselves with 8.6 seconds to go. After falling behind by 18 in the third quarter and looking like a team that might lose by a huge margin to the Los Angeles Clippers once again, the Warriors were down 98-96 after Chris Paul made one of two free throws.
“You know what was really big was we had that foul to give,” said Clippers head coach Doc Rivers.
“That was huge, because they didn’t have a timeout. We knew that. We had the foul to give, we gave it. Then usually teams run the same play and Chris was able to make Steph go another way to get open and I thought that was huge for us.”
Everyone who’s reading this saw the play (GIF via @BenGolliver)
To say fouls are rarely called on last-second shots like these is an understatement. And Paul, who knows how to sell calls as well as anyone, sold his defense pretty well here.
“I’m sure (the officials) were looking at my release to see if he hit my arm, but (there was) a lot more going on than that. They probably didn’t want to have a conversation. All they said was ‘I didn’t think you got hit there,'” said Curry, who didn’t mince words when asked if he thought a foul should’ve been called.
“100%,” said Curry. “If a guy is going up to shoot the ball and (there’s) forearm body contact on the jump, that’s usually a foul.”
Mark Jackson agreed.
“You are supposed to be able to come down,” said the Warriors head coach.
Not surprisingly, the Clippers saw it differently.
“I thought it was a great play,” Rivers said. “I thought Steph just jumped up into him to try to draw the foul. I don’t think a ref’s going to bail anybody out on that play.”
I didn’t think it was a foul at the time, but then again I was sitting across the court in the opposite corner, and at that point in a game it’s hard to not follow the ball. I’m not surprised at the lack of a whistle either, because I’ve watched hundreds of NBA games and officials like to let players decide things in the last 10 seconds. But even though Curry is nowhere near as adept at earning sympathy from referees as Paul, that foul is probably called nine times out of 10 during the first 47 minutes of a game.
Rivers may look at the replay and change his tune tomorrow about the “jumped up into him” part, just as the NBA might tap the Warriors on the shoulder and offer a completely meaningless “it should’ve been called” pseudo apology. But Paul is the guy who’s known for launching himself into guys. Did Curry really jump in any direction besides straight up?
“I felt (contact on the arm), but I knew I got hit on the body. That’s why I was off balance,” Curry said.
“That’s my go-to move, the step-back. I don’t shoot airballs pretty often. Frustrating.”
The Warriors missed their first nine three-point attempts, and were 2-for-24 from long range going into the last six minutes. They went 4-for-7 on threes the rest of the way to end up at 19% from beyond the arc for the game, giving the Clippers a scare in the process. Curry was responsible for three of those, as he went from almost nonexistent in a scoring sense to the guy who looked ready to pull off another miracle.
I thought we had a shot to win it. I thought we were going to win it,” said Draymond Green. “But when you’re at home, you want to put them in a position where they need a tough shot at the end.”
Green was the spark that got the Warriors’ blood flowing in the third quarter. After a turnover-filled first half, Green scored 11 points and ripped three steals in the second half. After the Warriors went small, they got back into contention with 49 points over the final 18 minutes. Before that, their offense was a mess of missed threes, turnovers and shots at close range getting affected by the monstrous DeAndre Jordan.
Jordan had 22 rebounds and five blocks to go along with 14 points. He provides the Clippers with a more athletic version of what the Warriors are missing with Andrew Bogut out — a guy who scares the crap out of anyone with the ball in his hands in the paint.
Then there’s Blake Griffin, who until late in the game was on higher than a point-per-minute pace for this series. Griffin finished with 32 points on 15-of-25 from the field in 44 minutes; for the series he’s shooting 62% and has 83 points in 93 minutes. He also wore slim-fitting cargo sweats tucked into his boots after the game.
How do the Warriors stop Griffin? To borrow the old SportsCenter line, it’s probably about containing him in Game 4 … with Green, preferably. Jackson noted that Griffin hit some jumpers over Green as well, but David Lee — whose hamstring is probably bothering him more than he or the Warriors are letting on — was overmatched yet again in this game. When Griffin makes the catch 15-plus feet away, Lee stands a chance. But when Griffin gets the ball in the interior and Lee presses his forearm against his back, Griffin has no problem juking, spinning and bull-rushing his way to the rim for an easy score — and if he misses, Jordan usually gets the put-back.
— Curry ended up with 16 points (5-of-12), 15 assists and three turnovers. His passes were much better in Game 3 than in Game 2, and with the Clippers double-teaming him so often through the first two-plus quarters it was tough to get many looks early.
“I try to take the right shots at the right moments and force the issue, especially late in the game. I might not get 20 (shots) up with the way they’re defending the pick-and-roll because other guys are getting wide open shots out of it. That’s great offense,” Curry said.
— Get ready for a lot of talk about going small in Game 4, which the Warriors obviously have to win. “It’s harder to defend if everybody can put the ball on the floor and make plays from the perimeter,” said Curry. “It’s very unconventional and obviously you’ve got to make up for it on the defensive end. But it’s tough to guard when you can spread the floor, when the ball gets moving and people are making plays. Especially closeout situations, it’s tough.”
— A three from Green put Golden State within eight with 3:20 left in the third quarter, and it looked like the Warriors had something going. Then Jamal Crawford hit three consecutive shots (including a three) to extend the lead to 13.
“That was huge,” Paul said. “Mal made that move there in the third quarter, and I jumped off the bench, because we just feed off his energy.”
— Klay Thompson would’ve been the star of this game had he not gone 2-for-11 from three-point range. He had 26 points, played more great individual defense on Paul and others, and scored 19 in the second half by taking it to the basket with a lust for contact not seen from any other Warrior.
“I thought Klay did a great job of attacking (Jordan’s) body and finishing,” Jackson said. “Other than that, I think we’re doing a bad job of forcing him to make plays. If you allow him to be an athlete, he’s going to disrupt you.”
— Jackson gave the “hockey rotation” one last try in the first half, but pulled the plug early and sent a few starters back in. Unless Steve Blake comes in and provides an unexpected spark on Sunday, it’s tough to look back at the last two months and call that trade a successful one.
— Thursday night’s crowd wasn’t quite as loud as I remember in the Denver series last year, and definitely not even close to the “We Believe” crowds, but those were moments that can never be replicated. Still, the decibel levels at Oracle dwarfed what we heard at Staples. We’ll see if the crowd can rally at 12:30 pm on Sunday — that’s a time that usually leads to sleepier audiences, but the Warriors will need every ounce of energy the fans can provide.