Rejoice, Warriors fans — the real season has begun.
The Warriors’ 2019 playoff run started with a highly entertaining, 121-104 win over the visiting Los Angeles Clippers Saturday night. Here are four observations.
Chippy, emotional game sets the tone
Earlier this week, Stephen Curry acknowledged that Clippers guard Patrick Beverley, one of the NBA’s most pesky defenders, would try to get under his skin. It’s part of Beverley’s DNA.
“Historically speaking, it hasn’t worked,” Curry said.
The chippy plays didn’t come for a bit, but this game had many of the emotional moments you’d expect from the jump. Draymond Green, after making a layup as he was fouled, flexed in Clippers center Ivica Zubac’s face. Green had plenty to be fired up about — he poured in 13 points in the first quarter, the most for him in any quarter this season.
There was never a question that a technical would be assessed in Game 1, but how quickly it happened, and how many would come, would be a better question.
About 31 minutes, two technicals came in quick succession.
The Clippers had withstood one Warriors run to take the lead with Kevin Durant and Curry on the bench in the first three minutes of the second quarter. Once Curry returned, he took over, especially as the first half drew to a close. He poured in 12 points in the final two minutes of the first half, and Los Angeles’ frustration mounted. Lou Williams was unhappy with no-calls. Beverley disagreed with a foul call on Durant, claiming he didn’t touch him.
Danilo Gallinari must have gotten too mouthy. He was called for a technical in the final minute of the first half. After the buzzer sounded, the Clippers bench was assessed a technical. And as the teams walked into the tunnel to their locker rooms, Beverley exchanged words.
All of this made for a testy second half. Beverley guarded Durant all game and picked him up at full court, refusing to give him any air space. The two barked at each other all game long. It appeared Beverley made fun of Durant for flopping at one point.
Fast forward to five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Durant leaked out and got fouled out on a fast-break layup. Beverley fouled him from behind. The two started chirping, again, and were assessed with double-technicals.
Less than a minute later, Durant ad Beverley got tied up out of bounds. Durant, staring at Beverley on the ground, smiled and clapped his hands. Beverley sprung himself up and got in Durant’s face. The two were promptly ejected. Judging by Durant’s grin, he wasn’t necessarily unhappy with the call.
Altogether, there were six technical fouls.
Bring on Game 2.
Classic Curry performance
It’s impossible to rank Curry’s playoff performances because there are so many great ones. Saturday night featured prime Curry, who unsurprisingly put on a show in front of a packed Oracle Arena crowd eager to explode with every made bucket.
Curry used the first quarter to involve his teammates, dishing six assists in the first 12 minutes. He didn’t score his first points, a catch-and-shooter three-pointer, nearly eight minutes into the game. Three minutes later, he splashed another three.
Curry sat out the first three minutes of the second quarter, and the Warriors were outscored six points in that time span. After building a double-digit lead, it had vanished, as Williams almost single-handedly brought the Clippers back.
Everything changed when Curry returned. Steve Kerr had subbed Andrew Bogut in for DeMarcus Cousins and let Bogut play for a couple minutes. Then Andre Iguodala replaced Bogut, giving Golden State its indomitable ‘Death Lineup’ that seems to extinguish opponents at a perfect rate in the playoffs.
The Clippers hung around for the majority of the first half, until Curry went off in the final two minutes. A pullup 20-footer preceded a catch-and-shoot 27-foot three – swish. Curry sunk two more free throws, another three, a floater, and two more free throws in the next two minutes, and the Warriors’ lead grew to 15. He tortured Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all night. Gilgeous-Alexander struggled to fight through screens and stay down on Curry’s shot fakes.
Curry played a very good defensive game, too. He primarily matched up with Beverley and Gilgeous-Alexander and contained the precocious rookie, who generally operates within the three-point line. Curry forced Gilgeous-Alexander to make tough shots, which he struggled to do in his first playoff game.
Somehow, Curry continued to get open threes as the game progressed. He continued to knock them down.
With Curry’s eighth three, he surpassed Reggie Miller for the most three-pointers in postseason history.
The two-time NBA MVP finished with 38 points on 11-16 shooting. He pulled down 15 rebounds and added seven assists in a truly dominant performance.
Clippers’ youth shows
The Clippers rely on a pair of rookies (Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet) and Zubac, a second-year center, in their starting lineup. Los Angeles leans on its bench for scoring so that these three players don’t have to shoulder too much of the offensive load, but they still have to get theirs — and they didn’t in Game 1.
The three combined for 21 points, 18 of which came from Gilgeous-Alexander.
Gilgeous-Alexander, one of the league’s brightest rookies, never really looked comfortable. He missed mid-range shots he normally makes and failed to take advantage of Curry, Golden State’s worst starting defender. Gilgeous-Alexander went 6-16 from the floor. The majority of his production came in garbage time.
Shamet, who shoots 42.2 percent from three, spreads out defenses with his shooting and ability to move off screens. He never got going Saturday, largely because he didn’t actively look to score. From the opening possession, Klay Thompson denied Shamet the ball and got physical with the sinewy rookie. In 21 minutes, he went 1-6 with three points. His lone make was on a catch-and-shoot three in the fourth quarter to cut the Golden State lead to 13.
Zubac won’t demand the ball much, though he is capable of posting up and scoring via isolation. He, too, never got going. Durant played him well several times, either blocking Zubac or contesting his shot. Cousins, Green, and Iguodala mixed in and contained Zubac, too.
If the Clippers hope to keep this series competitive, they will need better production from these three young guys.
Clippers’ bench keeps the game relatively close
The Warriors have historically struggled to contain active big men who clean up offensive boards and finish. Montrezl Harrell, enjoying the best season of his career, fits that description.
Harrell dominated Cousins and the Warriors big men Saturday night. Harrell went 11-15 from the floor for 26 points. Most of that production came from Harrell just overpowering the Warriors bigs and finishing off the glass, rather than simply finishing dump-off passes. Cousins, conversely, went 4-12 for nine points, nine rebounds, and four assists, with a -17 plus-minus, in 21 minutes. He fouled out with 7:16 to go in his first playoff game.
Harrell, in the conversation with teammate Lou Williams for Sixth Man of the Year, may be too valuable to start on the bench in this series. He was arguably Los Angeles’ best player Saturday night.
Williams also showed up. His best stretch came with Curry and Durant on the bench in the opening three minutes to start the second quarter. Williams, on back-to-back possessions, blew by Warriors defenders and finished layups. He made a couple tough mid-range jumpers, as he typically does. He scored 15 of his 25 points in the first half. Eventually, the Warriors kept him in front, and the Clippers offense didn’t find the same success.