Doc Rivers worried before Game 4 that his team might start out well, but eventually run out of gas and become emotionally spent after what they’ve dealt with over the last two days. A David Lee basket gave the Warriors a 5-4 lead in Game 4, and Golden State never looked back in a decisive 118-97 victory to tie the best-of-seven first round series at two games each.
The Clippers had experienced so much success trapping and hounding Stephen Curry, but the Curry breakout game we all figured was coming was underway from the opening tip. Curry made five threes and scored 17 of Golden State’s 39 points in the first quarter, as the Warriors turned this series on its head with a new lineup that’s given them a new opportunity.
Big man suggests small-ball
Each Warriors victory in this series has at least been helped by suggestions from one of the team’s centers. In Game 1, Hilton Armstrong had an idea how to take advantage when the Clippers double-teamed Curry. After the Warriors lost Game 3, Jermaine O’Neal had a different kind of thought, one that would mean fewer minutes for him.
“(O’Neal) came up to me after last game,” said Draymond Green.
“He said, ‘Hey, I’m going to go up to Coach and I’m going to tell him that I think it would be better for me to play with the second unit and you starting. I think it’d be better for us. And I said, ‘OK.’
“So the last two days, he was like, ‘Hey, don’t make me and coach look like no fools. You’d better back it up.'”
Green responded with 41 ferocious minutes that included everything but pretty scoring numbers. As a team the Warriors were able to spread the floor in ways they hadn’t before, taking away the Clippers’ resounding edge on the interior. David Lee (15 points, 7-of-11) benefitted with several layups and dunks, Andre Iguodala (22 points on eight shots, nine assists) had one of his best games since joining the team.
O’Neal, a player Jackson has repeatedly said he didn’t want to overuse throughout this season, scored five points in 10 minutes. And he couldn’t be happier.
“Ego is for losers. No ego in winning,” he said.
“Evaluating how things can help a team is what makes you a professional. Sitting home and looking at tape and saying, ‘Wait a minute. They’re not leaving the paint with me in there. Let’s play faster.’
“To me, I think that’s what’s most important, especially when you’re a veteran player and one of the leaders of the team. Being able to go up to a coach and see if he can buy into the idea, like the idea. We talked a lot about it, we worked on it the last two days in practice.”
Jackson said he’d stick with the Game 4 lineup the rest of the way, which should be a surprise to no one. Now the Clippers will have to adjust to the Warriors.
Sterling sucks … the life out of the Clippers
Rivers sounded worried before the game. Really worried, and more than a little weary. His demeanor changed my way of thinking, to the point where I went from expecting the Clippers to win in five games after Game 3 to wondering if Donald Sterling ruined his team’s chances in the same way he took a blowtorch to his already shoddy reputation.
“There will be certain players that have been thinking about this all night and they can’t function. That’s what I expect. My job will be to figure out who’s functioning and who’s not.”
The Clippers made a few apparel-based statements today. They wore their warmup shirts inside-out, black armbands and black socks. Even the compression garb Chris Paul wears under his jersey was black today. But DeAndre Jordan, the man who dominated Game 3 on defense and the glass, and posted his own form of protest with a “blackout” on Instagram, was there without actually being there: no points, six rebounds and two blocked shots in 25 minutes. I asked Rivers about his pregame quote.
Q: Before the game you said this was an individual thing and your job was to see which guys …
Rivers: There’s too many of them.
Q: … weren’t functioning. Was DeAndre Jordan in that category?
Rivers: I don’t know. I think we all — I just didn’t like our spirit tonight. I liked it today. I liked it before the game. I was just wrong on it. And I understand it. I can’t blame them for that. But that’s where I keep saying that’s my job. I have to find a way.
He’s the team’s best player, and he has had a tough series. It’s not that he’s played poorly — even in Game 2 he had that third quarter, and he’s been an assist machine. But he’s had to fight a little too hard for everything, and Game 3 ended with an airball and Curry on the ground, wondering how the officials could’ve missed such an egregious foul.
The game looked a lot easier for every Warrior today — especially Curry, who had 33 points and triple-sevens: seven rebounds, seven assists and seven threes.
Curry has talked about the importance of body language and expressing emotion multiple times throughout the season, and after every three, every converted lob, every steal that led to a dunk in transition, Curry let the world know how he felt. But Curry may have been as excited as we’ve seen in weeks when he smothered J.J. Redick’s jumpshot attempt in the fourth quarter.
“When you make a play like that, I don’t get too many blocks. So I was definitely happy,” Curry said.
In the locker room I told Curry that I hadn’t seen him block a shot like that since he rejected David Lee before the two became teammates.
“Yep,” Curry said with a smile. “Five years ago.”
What home court advantage?
The series shifts to Los Angeles for Game 5, and Rivers’ worries transition from how his players will react to who the hell is going to show up at Staples … and will they be fully behind the home team?
“We’re going home now. And usually that would mean we’re going to our safe haven. And I don’t even know if that’s true,” Rivers said. “We have the home court, but I don’t know if home court matters in this series.”
Besides a photo of two Warriors fans holding signs that went viral during the game (one saying “I BROUGHT A BLACK GUY 2 THE GAME” and the other saying “I’M BLACK”), this was just another game at Oracle Arena besides all the yellow shirts and extra crowd noise. There could be a significant number of protestors outside Staples Center before Tuesday’s game, which Sterling will not attend. We’ll see how many Clippers fans choose to stay home as well.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about what it is going to be like. Because our fans have been amazing all season long, and obviously I hope that it will be the same,” said Paul, who was being really kind to the team’s fans with that comment.
“You just never know. They’ve been amazing, and we wouldn’t be where we are without them. But it’s tough.”
After the game, O’Neal refused to go along with questions presupposing that the Warriors took advantage of a squad with poor morale due to the recorded words from their racist dinosaur of an owner.
“A lot of it had to do with what we did. Picking up the pace, flying around, playing defense, quick offense. That’s a team that likes to set up on the defensive end. That’s what hurts them, to be able to put their big guys in screen and rolls all the time, have them stand on the perimeter instead of standing in the paint,” said O’Neal.
“I wouldn’t be a part of this team the way I am if I allowed you guys to say that that was the reason why they lost. Let’s be real … That comment wasn’t just about the Clippers or the Warriors, it was about any African-American.”
That’s true, and with commissioner Adam Silver here and Kevin Johnson speaking to the media at halftime, this is clearly more than just a one-team issue. But the gap between these teams seems to have narrowed, and within a week one of these squads will see its season end.
“Golden State surely didn’t care. It’s like when a player plays with an injury,” Rivers said.
“They don’t care they’re injured, they’re going to come out and try to attack you. If we were injured physically or mentally, the other team, they didn’t care, and they shouldn’t care because it’s a competition. And we didn’t handle the competition right tonight.”