It was easy to predict this series was going to get testy at some point, but it needed just three and a half quarters to reach a boiling point.
Draymond Green was more hyped for Durant showing that fire and getting ejected than he was for his own individual accomplishments, which is saying something, because there’s nothing more that Green loves than showing out against Doc Rivers.
Green was the offensive force early, leading the team with 13 in the first quarter on a perfect 5-of-5 from the field and 2-of-2 from deep. Green was everywhere on defense too, completely taking the Clippers starters out of rhythm to start the game.
Steve Kerr said Green played with such needed intensity right from the start:
“Well he was so competitive and emotional, and that’s why he made some brilliant plays. And he made some not so brilliant plays, I think he had four turnovers in the first half, he was throwing the ball all over the place. But he was playing so hard, and that’s what makes Draymond who he is. So we’re always willing to live with some mistakes because the positives far outweigh the negatives.”
The two of them combined for 37 points at the half, while the Clippers starters had just 15 between the five of them. And the Warriors couldn’t get out of their own way, throwing errant passes to no one in particular.
Kerr said that what the team lacked in execution, it made up for with hustle:
“I think we played really hard. We just didn’t play that well or that smart. What we’ve got to think is, are we going to let down because we won a game? No, we have to keep playing hard and just play smarter. Good start, but a long way to go.”
But when Stephen Curry took over. After barely attempting a field goal in the first quarter, he went for 16 points in the third on a variety of impossible shots. He finished the game with 38 points on just 16 total shots, which seems like it shouldn’t even be possible.
Not only was he unstoppable on offense, he also grabbed a team high 15 rebounds and was exceptional on the defensive end. It was a complete game for Curry and an announcement to the league that he’s ready to add the one piece of hardware he’s missing from his collection — a Finals MVP.
Green was more impressed with everything else Curry was doing, besides shooting:
“I thought he was really good defensively, and the rebounding was spectacular. Obviously we know Steph can pass the ball and he made some great on-time on-target passes, but the rebounding was incredible. That was one of our keys, to rebound the basketball.”
He also made history, passing Ray Allen for most 3-pointers in playoff history—in 80 fewer games.
What slowed down the Warriors early was how much they were tying to forcefeed DeMarcus Cousins.
Cousins finally got to taste playoff minutes, but it was a rough debut.
The Clippers left him wide open on every possession, giving him the Draymond Green treatment and while he was able to hit a few shots, couldn’t make them pay for their strategy.
Cousins finished with nine points on just 4-of-12 shooting, with six turnovers and fouled out in 21 minutes.
The strategy flustered him a bit as he was reluctant to shoot, yet stubbornly tried to attack the crowded key. It was obvious he was pressing—especially in the first half—where the flow of the game grinded to a halt every time he touched the ball.
It was evident the other Warriors starters played into it too, as they were playing through the big man, throwing it in to him and trying to get him going.
Green said it’s something Cousins hasn’t seen before, and the playoffs takes time to get used to:
“If you’ve never been in a playoff game, you’ve never really, truly seen, someone scheme against you, but also your entire team. In the regular season you don’t really have time to focus on a scheme… Like there was no difference tonight between Landry Shamat and DeMarcus, it was both of their first playoff games. And that’s kind of what happens.”
Steve Kerr turned to Kevon Looney in light of Cousins struggles and he gave the Warriors exactly what they needed. He was a team-high plus-30 in just 17 minutes and was able to cool off Harrell who had just four points after halftime.
Klay Thompson had himself a rough night shooting the ball going just 5-of-14 from the field.
And with Cousins and Thompson both struggling that second unit was left without much space or scoring abilities, which let the Clippers hang around much longer than they should have—well that and the 21 Warriors turnovers.
Durant credited that to just being overamped for the playoffs to start:
“[There’s] a lot of excitement in the building, especially throughout the locker room. You’ve got some guys it’s their first time, and you know, we had 22 turnovers, we can’t have that going forward. I think more so than anything, it was a lot of just over-excited to play.”
But all that was rendered moot by the way Curry commanded the floor. The defense locked in around him and that combo was too much for the Clippers to handle.
The series picks back up Monday before shifting to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4. There, the games will be a little more spread out with at least two days between each game.
While the technical count resets in the playoffs, Kevin Durant has already picked up two, which puts him just five away from a one-game suspension.