The Warriors officially clinched their third-straight playoff berth Monday night.
It wasn’t the 108-105 victory over the Lakers that confirmed Golden State’s postseason position though. Midway through the second quarter, the Mavericks beat Oklahoma City, guaranteeing the Warriors a spot in the playoffs.
During a timeout in the second frame the Warriors showed the score of the Mavericks win along with the word ‘clinched’ on the jumbo screen and the crowd rose to their feet celebrating.
There wasn’t much celebrating from the team and the echoing sentiment was that the Warriors have higher expectations. But Stephen Curry told SFBay the moment was special and the gratefulness of the fans was not overlooked:
“We looked up and saw the board and had a moment where we said ‘ok that’s cool’ but we were obviously in the middle of the game. But then steadily the noise picked up and it was almost a standing-O throughout the arena. That’s a special feeling.”
Meanwhile, the Lakers made the Warriors scratch and claw for their franchise-record 16th-straight victory against a Western Conference opponent.
While Golden State suffered a poor shooting night from distance — just 7-of-27 from beyond the arc — the Lakers delivered excellent numbers, shooting 53.3 percent from three. It was Curry with the cold touch most of the night, converting on just one jumper in the first half.
Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes kept the Warriors afloat, combining for 37 of the team’s 58 first half points. But as much as the Warriors fought to push the lead, the Lakers young roster was pesky and shooting with confidence.
Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr said:
“The Lakers played us tough. They hit some really big shots. Obviously we weren’t really on our game. We never really found our offensive rhythm. We weren’t bad but we never really exploded and so they hung around and did a really good job.”
Wayne Ellington led the Lakers efforts and finished the first half on 6-of-7 shooting including three treys and finished the game with 17 points.
But just as soon as it looked like Curry would be a non-factor, he rattled off an 11-point third quarter capped off with a four-point play to give the Warriors an 82-74 advantage.
Curry told SFBay he wasn’t discouraged by shots not going in since they were coming from well-played sets and knew he would find the basket at some point:
“The shots that we had tonight were all within the offense that we were trying to execute … You’re confident that eventually you’ll start to knock some shots down and figure it out.”
Despite Curry finding his rhythm in the third, Golden State still had trouble with Jordan Hill (15 points, 12 rebounds) tying the game 95-95 with 4:42 to play.
Late in the final quarter, after Jordan Clarkson hit a three to cut the Warriors’ lead to three points, Golden State squandered three scoreless possessions, leaving itself vulnerable with the Lakers controlling the ball.
Green fouled Clarkson going for the steal, sending Clarkson to the line where he converted on both tries with just six seconds remaining.
Fouls and free throws were traded in the final seconds with Ellington and Curry perfect at the charity stripe.
The Lakers’ last effort with three seconds left sputtered when Green deflected the ball as Wesley Johnson attempted to advance the ball but instead dribbled out of bounds.
Kerr said with little time to practice late-game strategy it was beneficial for the Warriors to be put in a close-game situation:
“It was good for us to be in that situation, being up three and playing the strategy game down the stretch with the ‘do we could or not foul.’ I don’t remember us being in that situation once this year and I thought it was a really productive night.”
With a spot in the playoffs guaranteed the Warriors will continue through the season fighting to keep their top-seeded position in order to lock up home-court advantage.
The Warriors, now 53-13, continue their six-game home stand Wednesday against the East-leading Atlanta Hawks (53-14) before hosting the Pelicans (36-30) Friday.
Golden State clinched its 31st playoff berth in the franchise’s 69-year history. … The Warriors have made three consecutive postseason berths for the first time since qualifying for the playoffs in 1975, 1976 and 1977. … Stephen Curry, appearing in his 400th career game, finished with 19 points, six assists and three steals while extending his three-point streak to 57 consecutive games. … Draymond Green tallied 16 points, eight rebounds and five steals, one shy of his season-high.