To give themselves one more game, the Clippers tried one last rally.
With 10 minutes remaining in their season, they trailed top-seeded Golden State by 23, and a team that never met a deficit it didn’t believe it could overcome began one, final push.
“We’ve done it all year,” rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “No deficit is too much for us, we believe.”
And so Lou Williams sank a step-back jumper. Patrick Beverley scored a layup. Gilgeous-Alexander made a mid-range jumper. Danilo Gallinari dropped a transition dunk over Draymond Green’s head.
With 7:19 left in Friday’s fourth quarter at Staples Center, in Game 6 of their first-round playoff series, the arena’s volume was up and the Clippers’ deficit down to 14 — a pittance compared to the holes they’d dug out from during an improbable season.
All those comebacks made coach Doc Rivers refer to his team as unkillable “roaches.” But in closing out Game 6, and these Clippers, Kevin Durant played exterminator.
The Warriors’ star forward made a fade-away jumper on the very next possession and was fouled. When he sank the free throw, he had 50 points and the final word in a series in which he had been questioned at times.
The Warriors won, 129-110, and advanced behind Durant’s outburst, Stephen Curry’s 24 points and Draymond Green’s 16 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
“When he gets it going like that, he’s one of those guys, you just have to hope he misses,” Rivers said of Durant. “We put Beverley back on him to start the third, but you knew that wasn’t going to last. And it didn’t. He’s just a great player. That’s why he’s Durant.”
Durant joined Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and Russell Westbrook as the only players in the last 35 seasons to score at least 45 in consecutive playoff games.
“It was one of the great performances I’ve ever seen in my life,” said coach Steve Kerr, who won titles playing with Jordan. “I’ve seen some good ones.”
The Clippers tried everything, guarded Durant with nearly every option they had. It never mattered.
“I promise, we tried,” Williams said.
Gallinari scored 29 and Gilgeous-Alexander added 22 for the Clippers, whose veterans — including broadcaster Ralph Lawler, doing his final game — got an ovation from the crowd in the closing minutes. Even though Williams, in particular, and Montrezl Harrell — the team’s prolific bench duo — never found traction after they starred in Game 5 to extend the series, combining for just 18 points Friday. Williams was three for 21 from the field.
Golden State entered with history to its advantage. The Warriors had gone 4-1 in Game 6s since 2015, won their last five playoff road games and 10 of their last 11 in Los Angeles against the Clippers. But while teams that produced those marks were dominant en route to winning three of the last four NBA championships, these Warriors had proven vulnerable.
Despite the Warriors’ hold over the NBA in recent seasons — and the fact that Clippers rookie guard Landry Shamet had admired much of Golden State’s roster since high school — the Clippers had not put them on a “pedestal,” Shamet said.
“We probably were taking things for granted a little bit the other night,” Kerr said, before the game, of his team’s failure to close out the series in Game 5 at home. “We’ve been in a lot of different situations in the playoffs and always respond well, so I have a good feeling about the way we’ll play tonight.”
His sense came from taking the unusual step of starting 6-foot-7, 33-year-old reserve Shaun Livingston in place of center Andrew Bogut. Livingston had started only 22 games in five seasons in Golden State, and not once this season, but the move signaled Kerr’s desire to play small, and counter the adjustment the Clippers made in Game 4 of replacing a traditional center with forward JaMychal Green.
There appeared to be no immediate benefit. The Clippers led by 10 within the first five minutes and by nine with 5:42 left in the first quarter. Beverley — perhaps fueled in part by the knowledge Houston had arrived in San Francisco on Friday to prepare for a potential second-round series with Golden State — punched the air twice after big plays.
But no lead has been safe in this series. Less than 3-1/2 minutes later, the Warriors were leading by six, their rejoinder fueled by baskets from Durant and Curry.
Curry left for the locker room after rolling his right ankle, but Durant single-handedly destroyed the defense with 20 points — half his team’s total — in his first 12 minutes and sparked a nine-point Warriors lead early in the second quarter. He scored in transition, in the half court, going right, on open shots and one with Garrett Temple’s hand covering his eyes.
The Clippers were better from three-point range than the defending champions — Curry and Klay Thompson finished a combined three for nine from long range — even with Williams going 0 for 3. But Durant erased the advantage.
As Golden State pulled away for a 19-point halftime lead, Durant had scored 38 — only 15 fewer than the Clippers as a whole.