The Los Angeles Clippers had a dream start to their Game 6 in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors. Leading three games to two, with a chance to close out the series and move on in the postseason despite the most tumultuous week imaginable, the Clippers jumped out to a 14-5 lead. They made six of their first nine field goals, including a pair of threes, and DeAndre Jordan blocked three shots in the first five minutes of the game. And that was the last time anything came easy for the Clippers.
And for essentially the rest of the evening, one thing or another kept the Clippers from taking control of Game 6. In the first (in addition to the turnovers) it was giving up offensive rebounds. The Warriors (playing small and sometimes tiny mind you) grabbed an astonishingly 14 offensive boards in the first half alone. Taking that into consideration, it's amazing that the Clippers were able to maintain a three point lead at the half.
In the third quarter, it was the Warriors defense that stood in their way, plain and simple. Golden State was the top rated defense in the Western Conference this season, but to be honest, we've rarely seen anything overly impressive from them against the Clippers. In the third quarter, they were completely stifling -- and bear in mind this was without Andrew Bogut. The Warriors managed to double Griffin on the catch but also be able to cover the other four Clippers with three men. Whether it was the defense being that good or a failure to handle the doubles on the part of the Clippers offense, Golden State forced the Clippers into tough possessions throughout the third. If you're looking for adjustments the Clippers need to make heading into Game 7, start with those double teams. They'd better handle them more effectively -- and Griffin is a good playmaker and passer while there are plenty of options on the floor around him, so they certainly have the tools to do so -- or they could actually lose this series.
The final quarter began with the Warriors up three, and the Clippers probably felt pretty good about their chances. Golden State's defensive energy was so completely off the charts in the third that there seemed little chance that they could maintain the same intensity level. The Clippers seemed to be on the verge of making runs several times, but the Warriors always seemed to answer with a key basket. You might expect that key baskets would come from Stephen Curry or Klay Thompson, but you'd be wrong. The fourth quarter offensive stars for the Warriors were -- wait for it -- Andre Iguodala and Marreese Speights.
David Lee picked up his fifth personal foul on the Clippers first possession of the fourth quarter. In inimitable Mark Jackson fashion, he took Lee out of the game for a matter of seconds -- and then put him right back in for Draymond Green when he picked up his fifth! Thirty seconds after returning Lee fouled out. With Lee gone, Green on the bench with five fouls and Jermaine O'Neal out of action with a sprained knee, Jackson turned to Speights, and he proceeded to score seven of the Warriors next nine points.
Iguodala has been huge for the Warriors for the last few games, and tonight was no exception. He hit two massive shots in the fourth quarter -- one a turnaround fallaway jump shot with the shot clock running down and the second a three pointer that gave Golden State a seven point lead with two and half minutes left -- and the Warriors certainly needed both of them to get the win.
The three pointer seemed especially important at the time, as it was also the final foul on Blake Griffin, and Iggy had a chance to stretch the lead to eight with a four point play. It would be easy to get indignant about the call -- if indeed the refs called the hand on the hip thing that Mike Smith pointed our during the Prime Ticket broadcast then that's a joke, but honestly it's hard to see any other contact on the play at all -- except for a couple of truths: (1) Iggy missed the free throw, so if did not result in any additional points and (2) Griffin had been somewhat ineffectual and the unit that closed the game almost stole it back.
The Clippers immediately cut the lead to two points and for the final 100 seconds, the Clippers need to put two things together in succession -- a basket and a stop -- but unfortunately they could not do it. When they got the basket, they couldn't get the stop, and it was only after missing out on a stop that they got the basket.
They thought they'd gotten the key stop a couple of times. They forced a miss with 80 seconds left, but but somehow Green managed to sneak in and get the rebound between DeAndre Jordan and Jamal Crawford. (It was a fitting play, since both offensive rebounding and Draymond Green had huge influences on the game.) On the next Warriors possession with the Clippers still down four, J.J. Redick thought he'd beaten Harrison Barnes to the spot, but they called the foul on Redick (also his sixth) and Barnes made two free throws to make it a two possession game once again. (iIncidentally the NBA is incredibly inconsistent on the charge/block call, but I have to disagree with Ralph and Mike who thought it was the correct call. We talk about the defender being set, but honestly that's not a requirement. More times than not, if the defender takes the blow directly in the chest, particularly if the offensive players lowers his shoulder, it's called a charge. That's exactly what happened, but it was called a block and the Clippers once again found that they were down two possessions when they got the ball back.)
When they finally got the stop in the final seconds, it was after Chris Paul had missed a layup. They simply could not put the score and the stop together.
So the teams return to southern California with the series all even at three games apiece. As frenzied as the Golden State crowd was, the Clipper faithful will be just as crazy on Saturday for the first home game seven in franchise history. But it will take more than a friendly crowd. Griffin will have to break out of his slump after his second subpar performance in a row, and importantly and the team will need to adjust to the double teams.
It should be fun.