NBA Playoffs 2019: For Warriors, it's not just about beating the Clippers, it's about beating them quickly with Rockets ahead
Houston is up 2-0 on Utah and, barring something crazy, should be heading to the second round very fresh
The Warriors obliterated the Clippers, 132-105, in Game 3 on Thursday to take a 2-1 lead in their first-round series, and yeah, you could say it was something of a statement. Three days earlier they'd squandered a 31-point lead to lose Game 2, and home-court advantage in the process. But the thing about statements is there has to be some level of doubt in the air, and there was absolutely no doubt the Warriors were going to win Game 3. Thursday night wasn't so much a statement as it was an inevitability.
Of course, that's what got the Warriors in trouble in the first place. Thinking a game was over before it actually was. The Warriors had outscored the Clippers by 48 points through the first six-and-a-half quarters of the series. They forgot to play the other quarter and a half. That was never going to happen again.
You know what else wasn't going to happen again? Patrick Beverley shutting down Kevin Durant. These are unsustainable things. Indeed, Durant went for 38 points and seven assists on 60-percent shooting.
In a truly odd performance, Durant had more turnovers than shot attempts in Game 2 -- nine to eight. Beverley was definitely under his skin, but the lack of offensive aggression dated back a bit farther, to the end of the regular season. It was almost getting to the point where you wondered if Durant was trying to make a point of not shooting, for whatever reason. But again, that wasn't going to continue. As KD said before the game when asked, basically, if he was worried about Beverley: "I'm Kevin Durant." Indeed he is, and the Warriors are the Warriors.
Again, we got caught up in that blown lead, and we used it as an extension of the "concerns" we tagged to this team in the regular-season. The defense was suspect. The focus was lacking. Then came the DeMarcus Cousins injury and the fluke loss, and all of a sudden, hey, look at that, we have a story. No, we don't.
The Warriors have looked phenomenal these playoffs. Draymond Green is playing like it's 2016. Andre Iguodala and Andrew Bogut are looking positively 2015-ish. Stephen Curry is shooting 59 percent 3-pointers in the playoffs. The Warriors are running. Passing. Most importantly, they're defending. Yes, I know they gave up 85 second-half points in Game 2. Lou Williams can cook anyone on any night. But the Warriors stopped playing in that game. It was a slip-up. A fluke. They are getting after it defensively, and it's the key, as always, to fueling their energy. They held the Clips to 37 percent shooting on Thursday. L.A. barely crested 40-percent in Game 1. If there has been any statement, it was made then, in the first game of the series, literally from the first minute. That's when they flipped the so-called switch, and save for accidentally bumping it off with their elbow and stumbling in the dark for about 19 minutes, it's been on ever since.
Now this Clippers series becomes about efficiency. When the Warriors dropped Game 2, Kenny Smith said on TNT that this was going to be a six-game series. It doesn't need to be. And the Warriors have every incentive to not let it be. In all likelihood, the Rockets will be waiting in the second round. A lot of people said Houston got a bad draw by falling to the No. 4 seed, thus having to play Golden State one round earlier. I disagree. I think it was the perfect draw for Houston.
Think about it: Their season is make-or-break on beating the Warriors, as opposed to, say, Portland or OKC or Denver, all of which would feel incredible about making it to the conference finals. For Houston, there are no moral victories. It's beat Golden State or bust. You have to go through them at some point to get to the only place that will deem your season a success, an NBA Finals, so why not get them earlier, when James Harden is fresher?
Houston is looking at a short series with Utah, which can't match the Rockets' firepower any more than the Clippers can match Golden State's. The Warriors don't need to drag this this out with L.A. any longer, and besides those 19 fluky minutes in Game 2, there is no indication that they will.
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