For all of Game 5, and for the first five minutes of Game 6 Friday night, the Clippers had the Warriors on the ropes.
A do-or-die Game 7 on Sunday against a pesky, eight-seeded Clippers team seemed more likely than a quick, painless first-round series.
Stephen Curry would say after the game:
“These six games felt like it was two months.”
The Warriors were forced to make adjustments when they thought they could breeze through a team without an All-Star. They went through the emotional roller coaster that was blowing a 31-point lead in Game 2 and another home letdown in Game 5. They were tested, and it appeared like they were failing again in Game 6.
But then arose Kevin Durant, who had enough of this narrative.
Durant poured in 50 points, 38 in the first half, to propel the Warriors past the Clippers 129-110 in Game 6 to send Golden State to the second round to face the Houston Rockets.
Steve Kerr said:
“That was one of the great performances I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’ve seen some good ones. I’ve been around some decent players. He just carried us these last couple of games of the series.”
Durant, who scored 45 points in Game 5, became the eighth player in NBA history to score at least 45 in back-to-back playoff games. Draymond Green also keyed the Warriors’ win, finishing with a triple-double — 16 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
The final score might have been a blowout, and if not for Durant’s first half outburst, it might have been a lot closer. The Clippers came out energetic, out-hustling and outplaying the Warriors to take a 18-8 lead. It was the same story from Game 5, except the Staples Center crowd roared for the Clippers as loud as it ever has.
That’s why Shaun Livingston thought that in this series, the Warriors weren’t locked in all the time, did not take seriously enough how desperate and scrappy the Clippers would be to claw for every inch, sneak up on the favorites and give them a worthwhile run. For Kevon Looney, it served as a gut punch, a recognition that the West will not be a cakewalk:
“The Clippers punched us in the mouth and woke us up.”
And then it was like lava pouring out of Mount Vesuvius.
The Warriors ended the first quarter outscoring the Clippers 27-13. Then in the second, Durant cooked. Pull-up jumpers from the mid-range. Open 3s. Contested 3s. Fadeaways over 6-foot-10 Danilo Gallinari. Catch-and-shoot 3s on the fastbreak with the ball barely in his hands. Twenty-three points in all, 38 in the first half, tied for most in the first half of a playoff game in history. No defense can stop a 7-foot gazelle with the mobility of a shooting guard and the wingspan of a center when he is on a roll.
When a reporter asked the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley and Lou Williams if they could have done anything more to stop Durant, they were a bit incredulous. Williams promised they tried:
“We didn’t roll over. We didn’t say, ‘Come on, man, just give us 50 tonight.’ He’s a hell of a player. The shots he took … if you were a coach, what would you tell us to do?”
The Clippers tried everything, putting different guys on Durant, different defensive coverages. Beverley said:
“It didn’t work.”
Durant, on this night, was a special player who was unstoppable. Williams said:
“He came out in that game and he said, ‘I can really shoot over these guys and he did it.’
Durant’s first half onslaught put the Warriors ahead 72-53 at halftime. This time, there would be no historic comeback a la Game 2. The Warriors, for the first time all series, tightened up on defense, holding the Clippers to under 40% shooting.
Lou Williams shot 3-for-21 for 8 points. Montreal Harrell had 10 points. The duo that killed the Warriors on the pick-and-roll prior to Game 6, serving as a lite version of the Rockets’ vaunted scheme, were shut down.
“That was a great job by Klay [Thompson], Andre [Iguodala], making them see bodies and hands … Tonight we just locked in more.”
The defending champions finally put the clamps on a team they should have closed out a long time ago, and they are on to round two.
The Warriors face the Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Sunday at Oracle Arena.
Curry left for the locker room at the end of the first quarter after tweaking his right ankle, but returned to the bench early in the second. Klay Thompson also hurt his right ankle, but Kerr said they both should be fine … Kerr made a switch to the starting lineup, going small by putting in Livingston in place of Andrew Bogut. … The Warriors now have a 17-8 record in Game 6 of a playoff series. … They have an all-time record of 40-23 in close-out series of playoff games. … Golden State has won its last six playoff road games.