The Clippers were significant underdogs entering the series. They started three guards and didn’t have a small forward to match up with Kevin Durant, and they had been blown out by the Warriors in their last two meetings before the playoffs. The series appeared to be going according to script to start; Golden State won relatively easily in Game 1 and then took a 31-point lead in Game 2 before, well, you remember what happened.
The Warriors seemed to regain control of the series in Los Angeles, winning Games 3 and 4 in routs and earning a closeout game at home. The Clippers were doomed to lose, but they’d be owners of the biggest comeback in postseason history, even in defeat.
But no one told the Clippers they were supposed to go down easily.
I am partial to the Game 5 victory in this series over the Game 2 win. It’s possibly because I got to watch the whole game live — I was at a Dodger game (a really good one!) so I was only able to catch the end of the fourth quarter outside of the stadium. Besides, I was hardly alone in thinking the Clippers were a bit outmatched, even once the game started. Much of that game was miserable to watch, and I wondered for days afterwards if the Clippers would have completed the comeback if Durant hadn’t fouled out.
But there were no lingering questions in Game 5. The Clippers looked like themselves throughout the game. Doc Rivers went with a five-out starting lineup, and it worked because Patrick Beverley was a rebounding machine. The Lou/Trezz pick-and-roll was unstoppable, Gallo played big minutes and scored efficiently, and the Clippers managed to out-execute a fully-loaded Warriors team down the stretch. It was a complete performance, which was something that could not be said of their win three games earlier.
(As an aside — I had tickets to see Avengers: Endgame during Game 6, and by halftime, I realized I should probably reschedule. The Warriors fan friend I was going with refused to change them until the clock struck zero.)
The Clippers lost in six, but they established their identity in that postseason. That win was probably the most fun I had watching the Clippers all year, just a true testament to their heart and grit. It’s no wonder Kawhi Leonard wanted to join that group.
Honorable mentions for April 24:
- Michael Cage earns the 1987-88 rebounding title by collecting 30 rebounds in the final game of the season.
- In a bit of a role reversal, David Robinson wins the 1993-94 scoring title by dropping 71 points on the Clippers, edging out Shaquille O’Neal, who put up a modest 32 against the New Jersey Nets. This scoring title race was a pivotal chapter in one of my favorite books as a kid: NBA High-Flyers.