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Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plays best game of his career vs. Warriors

Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander plays best game of his career vs. Warriors
Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drives past Warriors guard Klay Thompson during the third quarter Sunday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Clippers have challenged Shai Gilgeous-Alexander all season, pushing him to reach his immense potential during his rookie season, daring the 20-year-old point guard to accept responsibility for his action.

So when Gilgeous-Alexander delivered the best game of his young career Sunday, when he dazzled the Clippers during the most significant time of the season, his teammates praised his performance, even in a defeat that left L.A. on the brink of playoff elimination.

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The Clippers witnessed Gilgeous-Alexander produce a career-high 25 points in Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors, the team’s best playoff performance by a rookie in more than 40 years.

“Words can’t really describe because I see the work every day,” said Patrick Beverley, one of the Clippers veterans who has helped mentor Gilgeous-Alexander in every game and every practice. “I seen the work since training camp. Before he even stepped into training camp, I watched film of him with my best friends, [and I said] ‘Hey, man, this kid is going to be special.’ You see the grind throughout the year and he embraces it.”

Beverley added that coach Doc Rivers and assistant Sam Cassell, former NBA point guards, cut Gilgeous-Alexander no slack.

“He loves the grind. Whether it’s up or down … coaches, they on him like they supposed to be. Sam Cassell, Doc on him and he never folds. … Very poised,” Beverley said. “Cool under pressure, and I think what you guys seen tonight — despite the loss — what you guys seen tonight is starting to make him for sure.”

Gilgeous-Alexander had the most points by a Clippers rookie in a playoff game since John Shumate had 23 on April 18, 1976, playing for the Buffalo Braves. Gilgeous-Alexander’s 14 points in the first quarter tied Brandon Jennings, who had that many for the Milwaukee Bucks on April 28, 2010, for the most points by a rookie in the first quarter of a playoff game since 2003.

“He was aggressive. He was attacking,” Rivers said of Gilgeous-Alexander, who had two assists, two rebounds, one steal and only two turnovers in 30 minutes. “That’s what we needed him to do. They’re playing off of him and instead of just standing there and being a spot-up shooter, he actually decided to make plays tonight. So that’s what we like. We need him to keep doing that.”

Gilgeous-Alexander struggled in Games 2 and 3, his shot and play-making ability betraying him. He was particularly bad in the third game, missing six of seven shots in scoring seven points.

But in Game 4, Gilgeous-Alexander shot nine for 15 from the field, three for five from three-point range and four for four from the free-throw line.

“He played well,” said Lou Williams, another of the Clippers veterans who has counseled Gilgeous-Alexander. “I’m glad he responded to the way he had played last game and that’s the way we’re going to need him playing.”

The Clippers will depend on Gilgeous-Alexander in Game 5 on Wednesday night in Oakland, hoping the 6-foot-6 point guard can help them out of the 3-1 hole they have fallen into in the best-of-seven series.

“He’s a really good young player,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “For a rookie to come in and attack with confidence the way he did, that shows you what he’s about. I thought he was great. He really hurt us, especially in that first half. I thought we did a better job with him in the second half. He’s got a great future.”

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