Facing the end of their season Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, the Clippers didn’t want to go quietly. Because they were so tenacious, because they again showed that teamwork and schoolyard scrappiness can be powerful weapons against a team stocked with game-changing superstars, they didn’t go at all.
They might have merely prolonged the inevitable against the two-time defending champion Warriors, but the Clippers’ 129-121 victory over Golden State was an important moment in the evolution of a team whose history reeks of failing to meet even the lowest of expectations. The Clippers brought their first-round series back to Staples Center for a sixth game, on Friday, and they extended the career of soon-to-retire broadcaster Ralph Lawler by at least one game. Oh me, oh my, indeed.
“My guess is there probably weren’t a lot of tickets sold because nobody thought a Game 6 would happen,” coach Doc Rivers said. “I think our guys did. And that’s all that mattered tonight.”
Guess what: They’re going six. And it’s because they managed to cling to the new identity they’ve forged since they put the Lob City era behind them.
“All we talked about is being us,” Rivers said. “We really felt, and I told our guys, ‘They’ve been them in the series. We have yet to put together a game where we are us through the game.’
With the Warriors hoping to close out the series and begin focusing on a second-round matchup against the Houston Rockets, the Clippers rose up and became stubborn and opportunistic and shot well, too, 54.1%. Beverley had 17 points and 14 rebounds and was singled out by Warriors coach Steve Kerr as a difference-maker.
“Patrick Beverley came in and just kicked our butts right away,” Kerr said. “He had more energy than we had.
“We weren’t right from the very beginning. I just think we let our guard down.”
The Warriors surged and rained threes but couldn’t wear down the Clippers, to the dismay of a sellout crowd that was in the mood to celebrate but instead uttered murmurs of concern as fans walked out into the soft spring evening.
“To beat this team in a game, you literally need everybody, and I thought every single guy came in, did their role,” Rivers said. “Each guy was a star in their role and that’s why we won the game.”
Unlike the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs, where chaos overtook the first round and resulted in early exits for the defending champion Washington Capitals and the top seeds in both conferences, the NBA playoffs have gone according to form. The Clippers still might not change that in this series; remember, Golden State responded with a convincing win in Game 3 after the Clippers’ record 31-point comeback in Game 2.
“They’re up 3-2 still,” Rivers said, “but I just loved how we played.”
The Warriors are champions for many reasons, including their depth and playoff experience. But the Clippers ripped through their defense Wednesday, which seemed to bother Kerr the most. Golden State committed only eight turnovers — the Clippers committed 10 — and Kevin Durant poured in 45 points and still the Warriors couldn’t prevail.
“You’ve got to defend with some urgency,” Kerr said. “Everything we did in [winning two games] in L.A. we did not do tonight. We sort of seemed to take it for granted that we were going to be OK.”
They weren’t, despite an energetic second half.
“We played harder but we didn’t play smarter, and that’s what we’ve got to do,” Kerr said. “And I’m very confident that we’ll do that on Friday.”
No matter what happens after this, the Clippers have won on many fronts. Their all-out effort will enhance the perception of who they are and what they’ve have unexpectedly become even since the season began, and that’s a big promotional point when they woo marquee free agents this summer. The stability of their organization is an attraction too — yes, the words “stability” and “Clippers” can appear in the same sentence and be true.
The words “Clippers” and “winning” are found in the same sentence increasingly often too. Their grit and teamwork carried them to a sixth game, at least, and toward a brighter future.
“We were just playing our style of basketball,” Montrezl Harrell said, “and we were going to live or die on what the result was.”
They lived to play another game and make another statement about who they are.