There weren’t any buzzer beaters, but this was the best series of the first round. Just the basketball was good enough, but add in all the subplots (highlighted by the Donald Sterling story that exploded midway through) and this was an unforgettable set of seven games. Unfortunately for the Warriors, they were unable in the end to ward off the two players many thought would cause this series to go four, five or six games instead of the max.
The Clippers advance to the second round after a 126-121 Game 7 victory at Staples Center. Now they’ll face the Thunder. The challenge posed by Kevin Durant and his supporting cast is real, but it’ll be impossible to top this series as far as animosity is concerned, let alone the clash of styles that came to the surface when Golden State decided to go small. Going without a true center almost took the Warriors to Oklahoma City, but instead they fly back to Oakland wondering what if.
“I think we could’ve won (without Andrew Bogut),” said Draymond Green, who was the Warriors’ most important player of the series other than Stephen Curry.
“But there aren’t any regrets, because I don’t feel like we gave the game away. They made plays.”
Green finished with 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting (5-for-8 on threes). If anything, Green should’ve gotten more shots in this game.
This is a tough article/post/column/recap to write, because so much went on in this game and this crazy series as a whole. I was right along with everyone else a few weeks ago. When Andrew Bogut clutched his ribcage in Portland and we found out a day later that there was indeed a fracture, I thought the Warriors were done. In such a tough conference, going against any team in a playoff series without home court or their second best player seemed like a suicide mission.
But Game 1 planted a seed of doubt in the Clippers’ minds, whether they’d admit it or not. When the Warriors routed a dazed Clippers squad in Game 5, anything seemed possible. During the “We Believe” run, I didn’t really believe anything. I just sat and watched, transfixed by the spectacle of that ragtag playground bunch riding emotion and Nellie’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Mavericks. During this series, I went from skeptical to a full-on believer. Not in the religious sense — and that needs to be clarified when talking about Golden State these days — but I really thought they’d win a close, low-scoring Game 7. I was wrong on both counts.
When the Warriors shot lights out from the jump and took a 10-point lead at the end of quarter one despite all those turnovers, and the Clippers were the ones who looked tentative, well damn. Maybe they were on their way. The Clippers tied it up in the second quarter, but the Warriors finished the half on a tear and took a 64-56 lead into the locker room. It was at that point where I said they’d need to play the best defensive half of the season. That didn’t happen. But the cliche stands — it’s time to give the Clippers credit. Chris Paul scored 15 in the second half, J.J. Redick had 14, Blake Griffin had 11 and two blocks. DeAndre Jordan had eight points, 12 rebounds and three blocks over the last two quarter.
“They made a couple shots. We turned the ball over a few times. We started off good, the first play was really good for us,” said Andre Iguodala, who was referencing Green’s 15-foot jumper to start the half.
“Then we had an offensive foul call. Carrying call, that might have been the first one of the whole series. Just little things threw us out of rhythm and got them right back into the game really quick and gave them some tempo.”
We all knew the Clippers are better on paper without Bogut. They may be better than a Warriors team with a healthy Bogut, although I wouldn’t concede that point right away. But when the Warriors kept pushing to make this a game after falling behind in the third quarter, and Griffin and Jordan seemed to have an answer in the way of a block or a dunk every … single … time (other than the plays where Paul, Redick or Jamal Crawford nailed an outside shot), reality started overcoming fantasy. And that’s what belief is, sometimes. Fantasy. That’s what it was for me, as I watched the game in the media room during the first half, then took an elevator up to the secondary press row that’s perched about 200 feet above the floor for the third quarter, then back to the media room in the fourth quarter when I couldn’t take the awful view. Also, I wanted this Warriors season to continue and I thought maybe I left some mojo back in that media room. It’s stupid, I know. And I never do that kind of stuff anymore, now that I get credentialed to cover events in press boxes where cheering or even silent rooting is discouraged. I wanted the ride to keep going, and so did they.
The Warriors kept it close at the end. Most teams would’ve let the Clippers cruise to victory in the last 20 seconds, but the bastards kept fighting. Curry scored 10 of his 33 points in the final two minutes, including a three with three seconds left. It was a fitting end for this bunch, who most of us counted out before the playoffs even began. That’s no consolation, however.
I’ll never forget the scene in the locker room after the Spurs knocked Golden State out of the postseason at Oracle a year ago. The only thing missing was cigars. It was different after Game 7 at Staples.
“It definitely stings a little more (tonight),” Curry said. “Last year we were kind of on a joyride.”
I asked Green if the team was angrier after this loss than after dropping Game 6 to San Antonio, not knowing that members of both teams reportedly got into a bit of a shouting match in the hallway outside the locker rooms after the game.
“Definitely,” Green said emphatically. “Because last year was like, ‘Alright we’re out the first round? Let’s see what we can do.’ This year you expect to win. So it definitely hurts more. Definitely more frustrating. At that point last year, it’s like what more could we do, let’s put some icing on the cake. This year, you expect to do more.”
It wasn’t easy to watch this Warriors team lose to this floppalicious squad, a team that until a few days ago was an extension of Sterling. Also, Golden State would’ve put a scare into the Thunder. It’s tough to take solace in anything, and no one in the locker room was in a mood to do so, but I asked Iguodala what it meant to battle until the closing moments.
“We’ve got a bunch of fighters, guys who like playing the game. Guys who want to win. You can’t teach that. We’ll continue to have that trait as our calling card as long as we’re with this organization,” said Iguodala, who had 14 points, seven rebounds and a game-high five turnovers.
There’s always next year, but that’s not exactly true for this group. Their head coach — who wore an odd suit that included a black shirt and a red tie — has probably coached his last game with the Warriors. My next post will focus completely on that part of this team’s journey, as they try to push toward title contention while figuring out exactly what went wrong during a tumultuous season where a lot went right.