© Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors jumped out to an early lead and never relinquished it, drubbing the Los Angeles Clippers 132-105 in Game 3 Thursday night. The Warriors now lead the series, 2-1. They have now won a road game in 20 straight playoff series.
Here are five thoughts from Golden State’s statement win.
The Warriors’ energy was much better
After the Warriors’ stunning loss in Game 2, Klay Thompson predicted the following.
“We will come back, bounce back, and play with great passion in a few days,” Thompson said.
That held true.
The weird, seemingly testy energy that has radiated throughout the Warriors headquarters throughout recent months reached a crescendo after they blew a 31-point lead in Game 2. During the game, Draymond Green grew upset and threw a seat cushion after he was taken out late in the third quarter. Kevin Durant and Steve Kerr barked back and forth during an offensive possession. After the game, the Warriors conducted a team meeting, and Durant and Green dipped out early before speaking with the media. The negative energy was more noteworthy than the actual collapse. No one is concerned about the on-court product, but perhaps the only opponent that can beat the Warriors are themselves.
Thursday showed a different team in this regard — the Warriors from past championship runs.
You could tell the energy was more positive from the beginning. Durant got in an early groove. Stephen Curry methodically picked his spots. The overall intensity was exceptional, and so were Golden State’s defensive rotations.
Thompson struggled to get off to a hot start, but Durant lifted him up. On one play in the second quarter, Durant found a cutting Thompson, who tried finding Andrew Bogut under the hoop for a layup, but the ball bounced out of bounds for a turnover. Durant complimented Thompson, telling him, “great offense,” as the team gathered for a timeout.
KD after Klay's turnover:
"Yo, Klay! Great offense." pic.twitter.com/xItH7fxNlP
— KNBR (@KNBR) April 19, 2019
On the Warriors’ next offensive possession following their timeout, Thompson hit a three. All of a sudden, the easily combustible Thompson started to heat up. He made a jumper on the following possession, then finished a backdoor cut for a dunk to force a Los Angeles timeout. Durant chest-bumped Thompson after the play.
Kevin Durant — who assisted Klay on a couple buckets just before this — was HYPE for this Klay dunk pic.twitter.com/dcPKzWNAlD
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) April 19, 2019
This an important breakthrough for the Warriors. They lifted each other up and fed off one another’s energy. Durant and Kerr joked back and forth on the early in the third quarter. Shortly after this, Durant and Jamychal Green got double-technicals for trash-talking, though it seemed to be in good nature. Both players were surprised with the call. (Durant now has three playoff technicals, which means he is four away from being suspended.)
Despite the technical, Golden State’s improved energy may be the biggest positive of the night.
Warriors kept the lead
Everyone knew the Warriors would be laser-focused in the first quarter after their unprecedented collapse Monday. They were. Behind Durant, who made his first six field goals of the night, Golden State outscored Los Angeles, 41-24, in the first quarter.
The Clippers’ best two players — Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell — come off the bench. For the Warriors, sustaining leads with Curry, Durant, and Draymond Green out for the first few minutes of the second quarter, with Williams and Harrell playing, is vital. It will continue to be important in this series. By the time Durant entered the game, the Warriors held a 15-point lead. By the time Curry and Draymond re-entered, about four minutes after Durant, the lead had grown to 21.
A huge six-point swing came with about three minutes left in the second quarter. With the Warriors leading by 16, Landry Shamet missed an open corner three, and Durant responded with a layup while being fouled. He made the free throw to extend the Golden State lead to 19. The Clippers never made the game close thereafter.
The Warriors pushed their first-half lead to 24 and entered halftime leading by 21. They extended the lead to 35 midway through the third quarter. Contrary to Game 2, that deficit was ultimately too great for the Clippers to overcome.
Durant’s aggressiveness a positive breakthrough
Durant is stuck in a bizarre, probably unfair position. He knows he can score on any touch, but his role in Golden State’s egalitarian offense, along with the Clippers’ propensity to double-team him in the post, doesn’t equate to volume shots. He eloquently explained this to reporters earlier this week.
Kevin Durant goes extremely in depth on the Clippers style of defense, the overhelp, why he won’t get caught up in a 1-on-1 battle with Patrick Beverley pic.twitter.com/nOdmTDY4yi
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 17, 2019
Kerr has said he would like to see Durant shoot more. So, what did the Warriors do? They funneled their offense through Durant, a product of Kerr’s coaching, and built the lead behind Durant’s rhythm shooting, obviously a product of his assertiveness.
Durant put on an offensive clinic in the opening half. He made his first six shots, nearly all via mid-range jumpers. The heat check came when Danilo Gallinari poked the ball loose as the shot clock ticked down, leaving Durant scrambling to the three-point line. He gathered the ball and flung a fadeaway without seeming to glance at the rim during his release — swish. He continued to look for his stroke in the second quarter. He finished the first half with 27 points on 10-15 shooting and 7-8 from the free throw line.
Durant’s big night was fueled by Kerr’s trust. The Warriors head coach left Durant in the game after he picked up his second foul 101 seconds in the game. Durant played the following six minutes, finishing out his typical first-quarter run, and was able to establish a rhythm as a result.
At halftime, Durant attributed his big first half to Kerr calling his number.
Kevin Durant on his 27-point first half: “Nothing different. I just think Coach drew more plays up for me.” pic.twitter.com/eztvOOZ9xn
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) April 19, 2019
Durant didn’t cool off. He hit back-to-back threes to extend the Golden State lead to 33 in the third quarter. He poured in 11 points in the period to reach 38 points — his most since Feb. 10 — on 14-23 shooting in just 30 minutes. He didn’t play in the fourth quarter.
No Cousins, no problem
How important does the Bogut signing look now with Cousins likely out for the rest of the season?
Neither Bogut nor Kevon Looney will consistently put up the offensive numbers of Cousins. But both centers execute on so many little details — an extra pass, a hard screen, a charge — that help the Warriors hum. Thursday night exemplified that.
Bogut got the start for Cousins. The Australian native played exceptionally well, finishing dump-offs and gathering missed shots for tip-ins. On one sequence in the second quarter, Bogut took a charge on Harrell, then located Thompson for an open three-pointer to make the score, 51-32, in Golden State’s favor. Bogut finished with eight points, 14 rebounds, and five assists. His first playoff start in four years was a resounding success.
Looney, meanwhile, continued to play some of the best basketball of his career.
In a Game 1 filled with endless Curry highlights and Durant’s and Patrick Beverley’s dual ejection, Looney’s six-point, five-rebound performance probably won’t be remembered. But he owned arguably the most impressive statistic — he was plus-30, meaning Golden State led by 30 points in the 17 minutes he played.
Looney continued all of that in Game 2, while upping his offensive presence. He went 6-6 from the floor and 7-8 from the line for 19 points. He made a handful of layups that didn’t seem to be open until he used his body to gain separation.
Fast forward to Game 3, and Looney was near-perfect, again. He made his first three shots, including a backwards dunk and a midrange jumper with little hesitation. He drilled another one early in the fourth quarter. Looney made five of seven shot attempts for 10 points in 17 minutes. He went plus-11 on the night. He has missed just three shots this series.
From the early sights, the Warriors seem to be just fine without Cousins.
Defense much improved
The Warrior stymied the Clippers offense from the tip. The Warriors rotations were impressively quick, as they consistently erased open looks. Even Curry, probably the weakest starting Warriors defender, stood out on that end. On one play in the first quarter, he contested Beverley’s layup, gathered the rebound, pulled up for a 29-foot three-pointer, and drilled it.
Even when Los Angeles’ super subs — Harrell and Williams — entered the game, the Warriors defense remained sharp. Williams never got in a flow. He finished with 15 shots on 4-11 shooting — and most of his made shots were contested.
Harrell was relatively quiet, too. He finished with 15 points and four rebounds, while producing a minus-24 output.
As a team, the Clippers shot just 36.6 percent and made seven of 32 three-point attempts. If the Warriors play this well defensively, they will be nearly impossible to beat.