The early run had been withstood, the 11-point hole erased, and instead of gasping for air to keep pace with the super-charged Golden State Warriors, the Clippers instead were gaining steam as Saturday afternoon became evening.
Freed by screens above the three-point line, Lou Williams dribbled untouched for layups and floaters. Montrezl Harrell, his running mate from the bench, was everywhere in the process of scoring 22 first-half points.
The Clippers — the 100-1 underdogs — were showing their resilience was not limited to the regular season.
And then, as it happens so often against Golden State, the Warriors dismissed any potential of a Game 1 postseason upset in mere minutes. Technically,3 minutes 21 seconds.
The Western Confer-ence’s top seed turned a 51-51 tie with that much to play in the second quarter at Oracle Arena into a 13-point halftime lead. Twenty-four minutes were left to be played, but the game was never again so close or contested in what became a 121-104 Warriors victory.
“The end of that half, that swing was huge,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said.
For the Clippers, Harrell (26 points) and Williams (25) were brilliant. They became the only bench duo since bench statistics were first recorded in 1970-71 to each score 25-plus points in a playoff game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
If postseason openers can be considered tone-setters for what is to come, then consider its game-changing run before halftime a reminder that Golden State — coming off its worst regular-season record since it began its dynastic run four seasons ago — is still loaded with talent it can activate at the flip of a switch.
Star guard Stephen Curry went from a facilitator early — his first shot attempt came halfway through the quarter — into a white-hot scorer. He finished with 38 points on 16 shots to go with a game-high 15 rebounds and seven assists, and passed Ray Allen for most playoff three-pointers. Kevin Durant added 23 points.
Drama remained but it had less to do with the scoreboard and more with the back-and-forth talk that ultimately led both Durant and the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley to be ejected.
Beverley gave up at least nine inches in his defensive assignment on Durant but tried compensating with his presence. He never left Durant’s side and kept a running, oftentimes animated discussion with the star. Beverley mocked what he felt was a flop that earned Durant a foul call in the first half by flailing his arms in Durant’s face, which drew a smile from the Warriors star. After fouling Durant from behind in the fourth quarter, the two faced off within inches of each other under the basket and kept talking at midcourt. Within 19 seconds, both had earned two technical fouls and an ejection.
Golden State coach Steve Kerr was disappointed Durant “took the bait” after preparing the team for Beverley’s style of defense that tries to get in a player’s face and head.
Beverley believed officials had been too cautious and felt their exchanges had been contentious but not close to spilling over into physicality.
“No one’s going to fight, no one’s trying to get kicked out, of course, so let us play,” Beverley said. “Just let us play. I understand they have to do a job and I understand they don’t want things to become scrappy and they want to control the games and that’s OK, but at the same time we’re professionals and we’ve been doing this for a very long time, so it’s the playoffs. Let us play.”
Beverley wasn’t the only Clipper who left frustrated by officials, and the ire was central to their struggles to close out the first half.
Williams, lauded within the team for his even-keel demeanor once a game begins, hotly argued no-calls with official Courtney Kirkland late in the first half, following him from one end of the court to another. Danilo Gallinari was called for a late first-half technical for saying, according to Rivers, “Where was the foul?”
Rivers was given one too while walking off the court at halftime, he claimed for saying, “All I want is consistency.”
Noting that several Warriors had been more demonstrative, and cursed, toward officials in the first half, Rivers called Gallinari’s technical “disgusting.”
“I’ve said this before, it’s an emotional game,” Rivers said, “but just like players can lose their emotions and their composure, coaches do it all the time, officials can’t.”
While the Clippers ended the half appealing to officials, the Warriors found their groove and put the game away.