- Through depth and sheer will, the Clippers stunned the Warriors again to pull their first-round deficit to 3-2. Can Golden State weather the storm?
This is a simple, understood principle: when you have Kevin Durant, you want Kevin Durant to shoot the ball. By being taller than almost everyone on the floor and being a better shooter than anyone who isn’t already on his team, Durant bends the general notion of what a good shot is or isn’t. He is almost always open, and he’s a safety valve for dead possessions in a way few others ever have been. These are things we know to be true.
Still, the Warriors fell 129-121 to the Clippers on Wednesday night, meaning there will be a Game 6 in Los Angeles on Friday. We’ll stop well short of saying Durant shot too much—his 45 points on 26 attempts was efficient, and he was the only Warrior who finished as a net positive (+2) in an eight-point loss. Positing that Durant needs help wouldn’t exactly be accurate, either—Steph Curry had 24 points on 15 shots, Klay Thompson a less-stellar 22 on 20. But it’s noteworthy that Durant has taken 20 shots in each of the past three games while Curry has shot more than 15 just once this series, during a vintage 38-point Game 1 showing.
That’s a distribution we can fairly assume will start shifting closer to last year’s balance, where Curry and Durant each averaged 20 shots per game. If Durant is Golden State’s dominant, pounding wave, Curry is a nasty riptide. If you’re picking your poison, you’d rather harass KD into as many twos as possible and live with the results than chase Steph around for 40 minutes in fear of the inevitable one-man barrage. When you’re playing directly through your stars, the ball is going to stick a bit—the pre-Durant Warriors were unguardable because it never seemed to. Their present iteration just lives with it. At any rate, the Warriors were never quite in peak flow mode Wednesday, and the Clippers got a result.
There are bigger things going on with the Warriors, and none of this is to blame any one player. The Warriors are so good that sometimes you have to qualify any phrasing that might possibly suggest otherwise. Nobody would suggest Golden State needs more talent to win this series, or the next one (though Houston earned a couple extra rest days after beating Utah on Wednesday), or the Finals. But Klay Thompson admitted after Wednesday’s game that he’d overlooked this matchup. Surely, he wasn’t alone. The Warriors were still up a point in the final three minutes of the game before Lou Williams led a late charge and the Clippers took over the final stretch.
It has been somewhat pointed the way in which the Clippers have been able to beat the Warriors by brunt of depth and effort. It’s not the way teams generally try to tackle Golden State, but L.A.’s supporting cast was better in Game 5 (though you could argue that their entire roster, in essence, is one big supporting cast). Is it fair now to say the Warriors miss DeMarcus Cousins? Probably. It won’t be a good excuse for anything, and they’re probably going to be fine, but the Clippers are, at worst, setting a real example for how other teams might go about it.
It is exceedingly difficult to win on the road at Oracle Arena—the Warriors haven’t lost more than three games there in a postseason under Kerr—but L.A. has managed the feat twice in a week, racking up gaudy point totals in the process. On Wednesday, they managed to boil Golden State down to their stars, taking advantage of a lax defensive effort, exposing some of the Warriors’ issues when it comes to depth. It can also just boil down to the fact the Clippers just played harder. Generally, that’s not enough four out of seven times. Now, in a more compelling series than expected, we’re going to find out.