He was victorious, yet Steve Kerr nonetheless appeared resigned.
For two days leading up to Golden State’s opening game of the NBA playoffs against the Clippers, the Warriors’ coach repeatedly told players not to engage with the antics of Patrick Beverley.
The Warriors went on to win Game 1. But the moment Warriors All-Star Kevin Durant engaged with Beverley’s won’t-back-down trash talk, a decision that ultimately led to both players’ ejections during the fourth quarter, the Clippers’ guard won something, too.
“We took the bait,” Kerr said.
Six years after Beverley transformed from a journeyman to one of the league’s most well-known pests after a playoff dust-up against Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook, he returned as a playoff villain Saturday against the Warriors. And perhaps no one in the NBA has a better perspective on it than Rex Kalamian.
As a former assistant with Oklahoma City, Kalamian saw Beverley as an irritant. Now, nearing the end of his first season as the Clippers’ defensive coordinator, he regards Beverley as irreplaceable.
“I appreciate him so much more being on this side,” Kalamian said. “There’s a method to his madness.”
Kalamian can empathize with Kerr’s postgame lament because he once sat in long meetings as the Thunder coaching staff tried to minimize Beverley’s impact during their first-round series with the Houston Rockets. Beverley had bumped Westbrook’s knee while attempting a steal, injuring him. With one play, Beverley suddenly became public enemy No. 1 in Oklahoma and took a disproportionately large amount of the spotlight inside the Thunder offices.
“The playoffs are about focus, composure and adjustments,” Kalamian said. “There are multiple things that happen throughout a series and sometimes when he gets under your skin like he did with us in Oklahoma City, you have to take a step back and say what are we doing here? Are we focusing on this too much?
“Are we putting too much emphasis on this matchup right here? Because it’s throwing us off what we want to do as a team.”
“I’m not an irritant,” Beverley said. “I’m tired of people putting that on me because I don’t back down. Irritating to people, but that’s not me being an irritant.
“It’s reaction. If someone does something I’m going to say something. If someone’s flopping I’m going to tell the bro, don’t flop.”
Attempting to curb Beverley’s intensity even slightly is known to be foolhardy. Not only because it would snuff out an essential part of his game, but because Beverley can operate at full emotion without sacrificing focus, Kalamian said.
“People think he’s just a pit bull who’s going to get out there and just get into people,” Kalamian said. “Nah, he knows and understands the game. Angles, how to cut people off, where to be to help when he’s guarding non-shooters, to help other guys who are guarding good players.”
The question of Beverley’s Game 1 effectiveness remained up for debate Sunday. Durant said he respected Beverley’s grit and appeared to enjoy the exchanges more than find them frustrating. Several players felt officials, interpreting the guards’ competitiveness for something approaching a boiling point, had been too quick to reach for their whistles.
Durant took nine shots while guarded by Beverley and made six of them. Beverley will live with that. His focus was on the quality of the shots.
“I got him taking turnaround jump shots on me,” he said. “I’ll take that any day.”
A truer gauge of Beverley’s performance could be felt later. Players are allowed up to seven technical fouls in the postseason before they earn a suspension. Durant, whose 17 technicals during the regular season tied for the league lead, now has two.
“He knows he can’t keep getting techs and ejections, so you probably won’t see that no more,” Thompson said. “I think he just wanted to set the tone for the team and set the toughness and energy that we are going to be here and we aren’t going nowhere.”
Neither, of course, is Beverley.
“I’m telling you,” Kalamian said. “The things that he does are un-statable. At the end of the game, there are no stats for what he has done to help impact the game. And we’ve seen it really all season.”