© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
The Warriors decided to be the Warriors again. They beat the Los Angeles Clippers, 129-110, to advance to the Western Conference Semifinals, where the Houston Rockets await.
Here are four thoughts from Golden State’s dominant win.
Kevin Durant with an all-time great performance
What is there to say about Durant’s performance? He was simply too dominant and too overwhelming for the Clippers from start to finish.
He found his spots whenever he wanted and rose above the Clippers defenders as if they weren’t there, splashing one jumper after another. Here was one example: with the Warriors facing a two-for-one opportunity late in the second quarter, Durant pulled up from well beyond the arc, despite everyone knowing he would, and drilled the three to put him at 36 points on the night. At halftime, he had notched 38 points, the second-most for any player in one half of in NBA Playoffs history.
Each time the Clippers gained some momentum, Durant was there to extinguish it. By the eight-minute mark in the fourth quarter, he had reached 50 points. He finished with 50, a personal playoff career-high, on 15-26 shooting.
Friday night was further validation that Durant can score whenever and wherever he wants — not that it needed to be validated. He has shown this for 12 years. And in this series, Durant has played like the best player in the world. He entered Game 6 averaging 32 points on nearly 57 percent shooting. He dropped 38, 33, and 45 points in the past three games, as the Warriors offense funneled through him.
He elevated his play even more in Game 6. This series felt like it went one more game than it should have, and Durant simply wasn’t letting the lesser-talented Clippers hang around any longer.
Draymond Green set the tone
Durant built, then extended, the lead with his prolific shooting, while Draymond Green set the tone.
The Warriors were lethargic in the opening minutes of Game 5. By the time they upped the intensity in the fourth quarter, it was too late. That wouldn’t happen again Friday. As usual, Green led the charge in the energy department. He ran the floor relentlessly, finishing layups, chasing down blocks, and yelling into Staples Center abyss.
It felt like a triple-double night for Green early on. He needed just five assists after halftime to reach it. He ultimately did, with fewer than five minutes remaining. He finished with 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, notching his fifth triple-double of his playoff career.
What to make of the Shaun Livingston start
Shaun Livingston started Friday night for the first time all season. He has 15 starts in the past five seasons. So, why did Steve Kerr opt to start another wing over Andrew Bogut or Kevon Looney?
He likely did it to provide an energy boost and change of pace as the Warriors seemed to need one. Livingston didn’t play well Friday night, particularly early on. In a quick span, he missed a layup, fouled Landry Shamet on a three-point attempt, then got stripped by Patrick Beverley on a midrange attempt. On the night, Livingston went 1-5 with two points and three assists. He was the only Warrior, aside from Alfonzo McKinnie, with a net-negative output.
But the decision to start Livingston is what’s important here. It showed that Kerr is willing to toy with new approaches to jolt his team and surprise opponents if it means gaining even a slight advantage. The Livingston start could also foreshadow more unexpected personnel moves in the Rockets series.
The defense was much improved
The Warriors defense has been spotty throughout this series. It’s either been very good or very bad. They have given up 104, 105, and 105 points, and also 135 and 129 points. Which defense would we see Friday?
As it turns out, the good one. Behind Green, the Warriors flew around the court and made things tough on Los Angeles throughout the game. The Clippers jumped out to a 10-point lead, but the Warriors tightened up thereafter. In particular, they eliminated Lou Williams’ airspace and prevented Montrezl Harrell of making easy layups rolling to the rim. Stopping just one of these two would likely yield a win. Stopping both would likely yield a blowout. Klay Thompson, who struggled mightily offensively, deserves a lot of the credit for Williams’ eight-point night on 3-21 shooting.
There was no letup despite a double-digit lead for the majority of the game. On Los Angeles’ first possession of the second half, Golden State forced a shot-clock violation. On the next possession, the Clippers turned the ball over with one second left on the shot clock.
The Clippers shot just 38.9 percent Friday night. If the Warriors focus defensively the way they did in Game 6 on a consistent basis, it’s hard to envision them losing a series.