Twelve years after an improbable playoff upset created a Bay Area catchphrase, another unlikely — no, unimaginable — comeback was brewing Monday night in Oracle Arena. But instead of roaring as it had 12 years ago, when the “We Believe” Golden State Warriors knocked out the West’s best, the building was hushed.
The eighth-seeded Clippers, down as many as 31 points in the second half, had come all the way back, and then some.
Rookie guard Landry Shamet, off to a dreadful start shooting in his first postseason, rolled off a screen and made a three-point basket to give the Clippers a two-point lead with 15.9 seconds remaining.
The Warriors went for the win. All-Star Stephen Curry, the greatest three-point shooter in NBA postseason history, worked Clippers center Montrezl Harrell off the dribble for an opening and got it on the wing. Curry, capable of making three-pointers given an eyelash of space, had a clean look. He missed.
Silence no longer filled the arena. Instead, gasps.
After free throws by Harrell, and a missed heave at the buzzer, the Clippers emerged 135-131 winners after the largest comeback in playoff history.
“We Believe,” indeed.
Down 23 points at halftime, a hole created by careless turnovers, Shamet asked coach Doc Rivers how many points the Clippers had trailed by Feb. 9 in Boston, his first game with the team after the trade deadline. Twenty-eight, Rivers answered.
“We walked out on the floor feeling good,” Shamet said, because they had experience at such a thing.
The Boston comeback galvanized a team wondering whether its moves at the trade deadline signaled a franchise tanking or making a playoff run. But Game 2 was something else completely given the nature of the competition. The Warriors, winners of three of the last four NBA championships, had won 20 of their last 21 home playoff games. They shot nearly 40% in three-pointers and attempted 14 more free throws than the Clippers.
And yet the Clippers fought back behind a 44-point third quarter, 36 points overall from Lou Williams and the frenetic fight of Patrick Beverley, who kept needling guard Kevin Durant even during the game’s biggest margin.
Beverley fouled out with 4 minutes 29 seconds remaining and the Clippers down by four points, to the glee of Warriors fans and forward Draymond Green, who waved goodbye. When Green dunked on the next possession, the lead felt safe at six points.
But Durant fouled out, too. The Clippers kept coming.
“Once you lose momentum against a really good team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s hard to get it back.”
Clippers executives and coaches listened to Kerr’s comments on a television in the locker room. They crowded around, their ears turned in the monitor's direction, because the music on the stereo, backslaps and cheering coming from the other side of the room was so loud.
“I was honest with them I said I don’t know how,” Rivers said of his halftime message. “I said we’re going to figure this out, but just hang in there with each other.”
Curry scored 29 points to lead Golden State.
The loss was the second setback of the night for Golden State.
Center DeMarcus Cousins slipped near Golden State’s bench four minutes into the first quarter and didn’t get up. He reached for the area above his left knee and attempted to put weight on the leg without success. He hobbled up a tunnel, into the locker room and didn’t return. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI exam by Tuesday, the Warriors said.
Cousins provided the Warriors a fearsome fifth option upon his return from an Achilles’ injury in January but his fit wasn’t seamless. In Game 1, the Warriors starters had been outscored by six points in their 13 minutes together. Another lineup with Cousins was outscored by 10 points in six minutes. Should the injury cost Cousins significant time, it could cost the Warriors as the playoffs continue.
What it did not do Monday, at least at first, was slow them.
Leading by one point at the time of Cousins’ injury, the Warriors were up 23 points at halftime. Curry scored 11 of their last 15 points to end the quarter. His last shot in the stretch, with 3.7 seconds left, was wide open after a defensive miscommunication allowed him to run free around a screen and into the corner. It gave the Warriors 73 points, the second-most scored by the franchise in the first half in the last 20 postseasons.
Even with Curry playing fewer than four minutes in the third quarter, after he’d picked up his fourth foul, the Warriors’ surplus of talent pushed the lead to 31 points. His replacement, Quinn Cook, scored five quick points after entering the game.