The Los Angeles Clippers survived a wild late rally by the Golden State Warriors and held on for a 98-96 victory in Oakland. The win means that the Clippers once again have the home court advantage in the series that they lost briefly when the Warriors stole Game 1 in L.A.
The Clippers opened the second half on a 19-4 run to turn a three point halftime lead into a game high 18 point margin. Blake Griffin scored the first 10 points of the half for the Clippers, including back to back face up bank shots, which is quickly becoming a signature shot for him. With the Warriors clearly having no answer for Griffin, it seemed as if the Clippers would run away with the game.
But Mark Jackson went to a small lineup of featuring Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes as his "bigs" and the Warriors put together a mini-run to cut the lead back down to size. Fortunately for the Clippers Jamal Crawford answered the small-ball run of 10-0 with seven straight and the Clippers still led by double digits heading into the fourth.
The Clippers had held the Splash Brothers, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson in check through three quarters, but they suddenly woke up in the fourth, and when they hit back to back three pointers followed by another Thompson basket, the Clippers' lead that had once been 18 was cut down to just one. When the Clippers responded with a 7-0 run of their own capped by a Paul three, it seemed like the Clippers had re-established their hold over the game.
But the Warriors were not finished.
The Clippers lead was eight points with just 90 seconds left in the game, but a couple of ridiculous Curry triples and a couple of missed free throws gave the Warriors one final chance, down two with just eight seconds remaining. Everyone in the building knew that Curry was going to take the shot, and Paul stuck close to him and forced him into an airball as time expired, allowing the Clippers to escape.
The Clippers will be thrilled with the win for several reasons, but one in particular may be the simple fact that had they lost they would have had their own terrible free throw shooting to blame. As a team the Clippers were 10-23 from the line. Griffin and DeAndre Jordan combined to miss a dozen free throws themselves, with Griffin doing most of the damage, going just 2-9. It was quite a contrast to the first two games in which Griffin had made 13-14. The game really shouldn't have been close if the Clippers had made their free throws.
On the other end, the Warriors couldn't make their threes. Through three quarters, the Dubs were just 2-21 from deep -- their fourth quarter threes were quite the contrast, especially when you consider how difficult Curry's last two were. You can credit the Clippers three point defense, which was tops in the NBA this season -- or you can just conclude that the Warriors missed a lot of shots. The reality is that it's a little of both, and the Clippers are certainly cognizant of running shooters off of the line and making an effort not to leave either Curry or Thompson.
In a series that has already been chippy, there were three flagrant fouls called (though only two of them remained flagrants upon review). Matt Barnes threw Andre Iguodala to the ground in the first quarter to earn the first flagrant of the game. Then our old pal Draymond Green swung down on Griffin's head as Griffin was shooting in the third quarter. Green mostly missed Griffin, or he probably would have been ejected with a flagrant two. Green pulled a similar maneuver against Paul in the fourth quarter, but wasn't swinging quite as hard. The officiating crew called that one a flagrant as well, which would have resulted in an ejection for Green, but they downgraded it to a common foul upon review. It didn't seem like a legitimate play to me, but he was probably saved by the fact that he simply didn't swing as hard. Regardless, Green is almost certainly going to get a message foul from Barnes or another Clipper in the near future for chopping down on the Clipper stars.
The bad news for the Clippers is that the supporting cast that was so great on Monday was a no show tonight. Griffin had his second straight 30 point game, finishing with 32, and four other Clippers had between 13 and 15. But Matt Barnes was scoreless in 29 minutes (and had to leave the game with a painful jammed toe) and the bench aside from Crawford was pretty sad. As good as Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu were on Monday, they did nothing tonight.
It's going to be interesting to see where this series goes next. Don't be surprised if Jackson uses the small lineup a lot more given the success they had tonight. The Warriors doesn't have a lot of options, so I guess the small lineup is something -- but it's a gimmick at best. Then again, Jordan is already dominating the Warriors bigs who are actually big, Jermaine O'Neal and David Lee, so Harrison Barnes can't do that much worse. Jordan had a Clipper playoff record 22 rebounds in this game, and also had five blocked shots for the third time in three games.
Of the three favorites trying to take back home court advantage tonight, only the Clippers managed to get the job done. They need two more wins to move on to the next round, and they'll have two more chances in L.A, to do so. But with two straight wins, they'll be looking to get one more win in Oakland on Sunday so that they can close it out in Game 5.