Warriors win ugly to extend compelling series with Clippers to Game 7
OAKLAND -- Of course there will be a Game 7. How could there not? This weird, disjointed, political, contentious, compelling series seems destined to wring every drop of energy, emotional and otherwise, from the Clippers and Warriors. Going the distance was inevitable. It was never as pretty a series as expected, even before the Donald Sterling mess turned it into a cause celebre, and Game 6, a 100-99 Warriors victory that allowed them to avoid elimination, might have been the ugliest of all.
Both teams shot poorly -- 39.3 percent for the Warriors and 36.8 for the Clippers -- and the referees felt the need to blow a whistle on seemingly every possession. But what we're finding out about the Warriors is that they thrive on ugly, which is a surprise for a team that has a pair of guards -- Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson -- with two of the most beautiful shooting strokes in the league. The Warriors can get down and dirty -- "This is who we are," coach Mark Jackson said -- maybe a little bit better than the Clippers can, and that's why they get to go back to the Staples Center on Saturday to try to grind out a series-clinching win.
The young Warriors have precious little experience in Games 7. "It's new to Steph Curry, it's new to Draymond Green, it's new to all my guys, other than (a few) veterans who have been on other teams," Jackson said. "It's new to me." But they are armed with a motivational speaker of a coach in Jackson, a preacher who clearly plans to lean on those skills going into the deciding game. He was already trying to pump his team up through the press almost from the moment Game 6 ended. "We're playing against a three-seed with two of the top 10 players in the world and a future Hall of Fame coach," Jackson said. "We're going to Game 7 in spite of all the sideline music, and I like my chances because I've got a group of guys that want to do whatever it takes to win."
If they pull it off, it will probably be because they turned the game into the kind of slog Game 6 was, the kind of contest that hustle players like Draymond Green thrive in. Green was the perfect symbol for this game, a second-round draft choice, role-playing, undersized-for-power-forward who was serenaded with chants of "MVP" when he went to the free-throw line late in the game. "I felt like Steph Curry," he said, with Curry smiling next to him on the interview podium. "It was great. I embraced my moment."
He deserved a little love from the Oracle Arena crowd after contributing 14 points, 14 rebounds and maybe most importantly, stellar defense against Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who shot only 8-of-24 and finished with 17 points. The 6-foot-8 Griffin wasn't exactly ready to praise the work of 6-foot-5 Green, though. "I just missed some easy shots the last couple of games here," he said. "Whenever you have a smaller defender it's not really a one-on-one matchup because other people are running at you."
Green's performance was especially important for the Warriors since by the evening's end, they were running short of size around the basket. Jermaine O'Neal went down with a sprained knee in the second quarter, David Lee fouled out with 9:44 left in the game, and center Andrew Bogut remains sidelined with a broken rib. While the Warriors were low on big men, the Clippers didn't get much from the most important little one. Point guard Chris Paul was significantly limited, and the only question was whether his pulled hamstring or sprained left thumb was the bigger hindrance. "I'm OK, just bumps and bruises," he said. "Just have to get through it." He could only play through it well enough to score nine points on 3-of-10 shooting. Paul has not been the best player on the floor in any of the six games of this series. Given that, and the Sterling distraction, in some ways it's a wonder they've survived this far. But even if they win Game 7, if Paul isn't much closer to his old self soon, the Clippers aren't likely to go much further.
However far they go, Sterling goes with them -- not the man himself, but the issues he raises even in his absence. During the game there were reports, the first from the New York Post, that Sterling has cancer, which coach Doc Rivers and his players learned of shortly after the game. "I have no reaction," Rivers said, before adding, "I hope it's not true." Said Griffin: "Our thoughts and prayers are with him. Obviously no one deserves to go through that."
So it all comes down to a seventh game, one last trip through the emotional wringer. The youthful, underdog Warriors, somewhat ignored once the Sterling scandal broke, will be under a spotlight that is new to them, trying to handle the pressure of a Game 7 on the road in front of what Jackson called "a We Are One" crowded house, not to mention the rumors that Jackson is on shaky enough ground with Warrior ownership that his future with the team may rest on Saturday's outcome. When he said that after this season "this group will never be together again," it seemed he could have been hinting that he won't be back. (He insisted that he just meant there would be the normal, inevitable roster changes.) Meanwhile, the mentally fatigued Clippers are dealing with playing for a reviled owner who may be seriously ill, and trying to push through it all to concentrate on the task at hand.
The postseason will continue for one, and the offseason will begin for the other. No matter the result in Game 7, both promise to be equally fascinating.