It was the epitome of a team win for the Golden State Warriors, who survived a wild Game 1 at Staples Center with a 109-105 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. 10 Warriors scored, 12 saw time on the floor, and they all pushed themselves past their limits for their embattled head coach.
“I was watching SportsCenter the other night. And they said our coach was going to be gone. I think Stephen A. Smith said it,” said Andre Iguodala.
“We’re trying to save our coach.”
It didn’t look that way early on, as the Warriors started out horribly with their “traditional” lineup, falling behind 12-1 and taking over four minutes to make their first field goal. Mark Jackson went away from Jermaine O’Neal, and the Warriors made it a tie game (20-20) in about five minutes’ time.
The team’s two best defenders that made the trip (Andrew Bogut stayed in the Bay Area) were both hampered in the first half. Draymond Green fell awkwardly under the basket while trying to defend Matt Barnes in transition, and limped to the locker room. It appeared knee ligaments could’ve been damaged, and maybe they were, but not badly enough to keep him out of the game. Andre Iguodala knocked himself out (or, one could argue, he was knocked out by the officials) with four first half fouls, including two on J.J. Redick in a five-second span, one when contesting a Jamal Crawford three, and the fourth on a questionable call involving Barnes.
The Clippers’ penchant for floppery is well known, and Redick bounced off Mo Speights at one point as if Speights was an inflatable bounce house. But there was probably an undercurrent of precautionary officiating after all the pre-series chatter about how these teams can’t stand one another. 51 fouls were called in this game, including six each on Iguodala and Blake Griffin.
The referees made their presence felt a little too often, but against all odds it didn’t hinder the game’s entertainment value.
The Warriors played their best defense in quarter number two — Griffin playing only 39 seconds helped — and at halftime the game was knotted at 52-52.
Stephen Curry made his name a year ago with sensational third quarters in the postseason. Curry was pretty good in the third quarter today, but David Lee and Jermaine O’Neal led the way. The two combined to go 7-of-7 from the floor and Jackson let the starters (other than Iguodala, who couldn’t stay out of foul trouble) build an eight-point lead.
“(Jackson) did an excellent job of subbing on the fly. I heard somebody try to say a knock of his is x’s and o’s or his rotations. Tonight it was almost perfect,” Iguodala said.
“The second unit was really good for us, especially the second quarter. You’d think they’d play a lot in the second half. But he saw something he liked and got us going in the third and stuck with it.”
The fourth quarter saw Los Angeles climb back and eventually take a 103-102 lead with under two minutes remaining. The Warriors’ difficulties with maintaining leads in last year’s playoffs came to mind, but perhaps the most unlikely hero of all came through at the perfect time.
Harrison Barnes went 2-for-9 in the first half, but he made both of the shots he attempted in the second half. The second one capped the key sequence of the game: Darren Collison blocked Curry’s shot, and Chris Paul raced out for a transition layup that Barnes blocked. The Warriors quickly went back the other way and Klay Thompson assisted Barnes on the most important three he’s ever made.
“I probably should’ve given the ball up to J.J. or Collison who were running with me. I try to make the right decision in those situations, unfortunately I didn’t, and I missed a layup — well, whatever happened — and they came down,” said Paul, who led all scorers with 28 points despite focusing a bit too much on drawing fouls early on.
“We could’ve went up three, but instead Harrison makes a shot and they go up two.”
The Clippers tied it with two Griffin free throws, but he fouled out less than a minute later with 48 seconds remaining. And from there, the game moved to the free throw line. Green grabbed an offensive rebound over Collison, who was called for a foul. Green made both free throws, and then one could almost hear Benny Hill’s theme music.
Barnes made one of two. Paul somehow missed two foul shots with 11 seconds to go and the Clippers down three. Green missed both, but the Warriors got the rebound, Thompson was fouled, and he made one of two.
“The first two, when I was at the line I prayed about them. I made them,” Green said. “The second two, I didn’t pray. Maybe that was God punishing me.”
The famous “We Believe” Warriors squad that upset Dallas in the first round in 2007 aren’t what you’d call an outwardly religious bunch, but these guys certainly are. And their belief in themselves, and in their coach, undeniably provides a large source of their strength and motivation.
“We do a good job of really continuing to grow in our faith with this team. With Mark being who he is, his background as far as the church. Guys believe there’s a higher being that’s in control,” said Iguodala.
“All we can control is our effort and how we back each other and how much love we have for one another.”
— “I’m proud of my guys,” Jackson said. “We’re not going to quit, we’re balanced so I thought when you look at the fact that we had 21 turnovers, the fact that we gave up 16 offensive rebounds, we just had a tremendous will and a tremendous competitive spirit tonight.”
— Lee started off poorly, with six turnovers in his first 19 minutes and less-than-stellar defense on Griffin, and it sounded like he had some butterflies swirling.
“I got off (to a) bit of a slow start really because of getting hurt last year, this is really my first playoff game tonight,” Lee said. “Just like our team, I just tried to be resilient and the guys told me to keep being aggressive. The second half, (I) found a better rhythm and when the shot blockers came, I thought we did a pretty good job with interior passing and getting a lot of easy buckets in the paint through that.”
— Green said he knee was fine, relatively speaking. “It was hurting, it was painful. But it’s the playoffs.”
— I asked Iguodala about how difficult it was to watch the Clippers hound Curry from the bench.
“I thought about that. When a game doesn’t go your way, the win, the “W” erases everything. It was also good to see the guys step up and respond when I’m not there and I’m not that secondary ball-handler. Definitely will keep that in mind going forward with games, how they try take the ball away from Steph and how I can handle the ball, get guys in position to score and still be able to attack, myself.”
— Thompson led the team in scoring with 22. He went just 7-for-20 from the floor (he missed quite a few layups in traffic), but he went 4-for-7 on threes.
— The Warriors committed 21 turnovers, but they dominated in second-chance points (25-16).
— During timeouts the Clippers have this woman on the microphone who tells “Clipper Nation” to get excited, cheer or whatever. Her voice isn’t exactly pleasant over the loud speaker system at Staples, so I have the phrase “Clipper Nation” ingrained in my brain. I made this comment on Twitter already, but aren’t most nations around longer than three years?
— I saw the Clippers’ No. 1 celebrity fan, Billy Crystal, in the media room. He isn’t very tall. No surprise there.
— Staples is much bigger than Oracle Arena, and the press area is above the upper level. You can get an idea of the vantage point from the photo above. It was difficult to tell who was who sometimes, but it make it a little easier to see how plays developed. I still prefer the location of Oracle’s press row (between the lower and upper bowls), because there I can tell without a doubt if a shot went in. At Staples today, not so much — but I’m still very glad I made the trip down last night.
— Griffin didn’t sound too apologetic after the game for what happened here. (GIF via @BenGolliver)
“I didn’t know what I did, but it wasn’t full,” Griffin said. “I apologize. It was water.”