The Los Angeles Clippers survived 14 Golden State Warriors three pointers, 16 Stephen Curry free throws, 24 points on 13 shots from Draymond Green and came away with a huge Game 7 win. How big was this win? At the end when it was finally in the bank, Doc Rivers was pumping his fists and giving high fives to courtside fans -- according to him, showing more emotion than even when he won a title in Boston. That's how big it was.
It was important for the Clippers to not go out in the first round in the first season with Rivers as the head coach. But more than that, the Clippers needed to move into the next round, to move beyond the Donald Sterling controversy. A conference semi-final against the Oklahoma City Thunder is certainly not going to be easy -- but after the events of the last week, the Clippers are thrilled to have a chance to start over. They are in the next round, the worst of the scandal is behind the organization, and now the team feels battle-tested and ready to play again.
According to Rivers, Matt Barnes went into the locker room and said to his teammates: "Thank you for trusting each other." There's no substitute for going through adversity together and this situation will certainly make the Clippers better in these playoffs.
The Clippers had four players -- Blake Griffin (24), Jamal Crawford (22), Chris Paul (22) and J.J. Redick (20) with 20 or more points. That's in addition to DeAndre Jordan with 15 points, 18 rebounds and three blocked shots (including on the key play of the game).
Actually, there were so many huge plays in this game, it's almost impossible to pick just one play of the game. But when Jordan blocked Curry's layup while the Clippers nursed a one point lead, it triggered a fast break that ended with a Redick to Griffin lob dunk and a four point lead, and the Clippers never trailed again.
But Chris Paul's lob to DeAndre Jordan just a few moments before, and Jordan's following dunk just after -- those were also the plays of the game.
And Blake Griffin's acrobatic finish through contact, followed by a back somersault, was surely the play of the game.
One thing you had to love about the way the Clippers finished this game was that their final five of their final six baskets were four dunks and a fast break layup through contact. The playoffs supposedly don't allow teams to run and dunk and play fast -- but the Clippers scored 70 points in the second half and 39 in the fourth quarter against the team with the highest rated defense in the Western Conference. Perhaps my favorite moment was when Griffin pushed the ball against the Warriors pressure and lobbed the ball to Jordan for an emphatic dunk with 20 seconds remaining in the game. That's just crazy -- that's the power forward beating defensive pressure and lobbing to his front court mate in the final seconds of one possession playoff game.
I'm not even mad that the refs made such a concerted effort to help the Warriors keep it close in the final minute. (The consecutive fouls called on Griffin and Paul which led to five Warriors free throws were complete jokes. That's another thing they say about playoff games -- the refs let the players play, let the players decide. Another myth apparently.) In the end, those calls just made for a more exciting finish. The Warriors scored three points on three of their final four possessions and managed to cut the lead to two at one point, but the Clippers hit six straight free throws to keep them at bay.
This entire series I feared a big Warriors outburst on offense -- I feared the Clippers would lose at least one game that they couldn't have won because Golden State was simply on fire. Through three Warriors wins that wasn't the case -- they had some wins, but they were more of the grind it out variety (and of course the distraction derby in Game 4). The first half seemed to be that breakout game -- though not from the usual suspects. Curry finished with 33 points (16 from the line!) but it was really several role players -- Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, Marreese Speights and Jordan Crawford -- who did a lot of the damage. Green, Iggy and Crawford made 9-13 three pointers between, and the foursome combined to score 60 points on 40 shots. The Clippers schemes loaded up on the likes of Curry and Thompson to try to limit their shots. That means other guys will be open and the Clippers were willing to live with whether or not they'd make shots. They almost died with it.
This is arguably the biggest win in Clippers history. It's their second Game 7 win ever (and second in the Chris Paul era), but given the excitement level of the game itself and the overall situation, this win becomes that much more big. Of course, the hope is that it won't be their biggest win for very long.