Who knew that what could topple the giant, at least for one more game in a series that should have been over two games ago, was a wiry 6-foot-1 shooting guard with an expressionless face and a killer clutch instinct? Who knew that the team that could give the Warriors the most trouble in the first round was the team least expected to—the one that wasn’t supposed to be here in the first place?
The Clippers knew.
Doc Rivers has called his team “roaches,” and they’ve lived up to that billing over and over again. Persistence has defined their season—and now their postseason. That persistence was highlighted in Game 2 of the series when they came back from a 31-point deficit to win in Oracle Arena, and it surfaced again on Wednesday when the team was on the brink of elimination in Game 5. On the back of Lou Williams’s 33 points and Montrezl Harrell’s 24—both off the bench—the Clippers beat Golden State 129-121, again in Oakland, to push the series to a Game 6. It’s the first time the Warriors have lost two games in the first round since 2014, and it’s only the third playoff game that Golden State has lost at home since Kevin Durant joined the team. Two of those losses have come in this series.
Warriors home losses in NBA playoffs— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) April 25, 2019
- 2015: 2 out of 11 games
- 2016: 3 out of 14 games
- 2017: 0 out of 9 games
- 2018: 1 out of 11 games
- 2019: 2 out of 3 games
While the 31-point comeback came in a flash, this victory was more of a slow burn. The Clippers were down by four at the end of the first quarter but had an eight-point lead at halftime after Williams scored the team’s final six points in the second. We expected the classic Warriors onslaught in the third, but Williams’s display was a preview of what was to come.
At one point in the third quarter, the Warriors trailed by as many as 15. But Golden State toys with deficits because it can evaporate them in the blink of an eye. And as expected, the Warriors erased it. With 3:29 left in the fourth quarter, a thunderous Durant dunk tied the game. That’s when Lou Will took over. First, he got to the line and made one of two free throws, then he hit a running 26-footer for 3 and drew a foul on Durant. Four-point play. Another off-balance jumper with less than two minutes left extended the lead to seven. The Warriors folded.
In the fourth quarter, Williams waltzed through Golden State’s porous defense and scored or assisted on 19 of the Clippers’ 25 points. More than a few came in the pick-and-roll two-man game that he and Harrell have made nearly unstoppable this season. The loud and abrasive Harrell is a perfect contrast to the composed Williams. And when they’re on the floor together, it’s like watching fire and ice combine to make something even more dangerous—something the Warriors have had trouble stopping.
To watch Williams work inside the Clippers’ scrappy machine is a wonder in and of itself. Bench scorers are so often branded as “energy guys,” but Williams makes his killing with his quiet scoring and playmaking, unlike Harrell who takes out his fervor on the rim and the opponents who try to stop him. The Clippers have relied on both all season, and in this series, both acted as the defibrillators that kept the team alive.
“A little mix of arrogance and hard work,” Williams said in his TNT interview postgame, describing the Clippers. Later, in the postgame presser, he added: “For us, our focus was to extend the series. It was their mistake for looking ahead. That’s on them.”
Williams’s irrational confidence does not show as much Harrell’s or even Patrick Beverley’s, but it’s there every time he pulls up for an off-balance jumper or drives to the rim against a 7-footer. The hard work is what makes the ball actually go in, but having the gumption to try it is where the Clippers have found their edge. Take Beverley, for example. He has been talking the talk all series long, and in Game 5, he backed it up by simply outhustling and outworking anyone in a Warriors uniform. In 37 minutes, Beverley grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds through sheer force of will. It was seven more rebounds than any single Warrior had. Beverley, like Williams, is 6-foot-1.
All season long, the Clippers—especially Doc—have been vocal about how they would never try to be a team they’re not. It’s that awareness that has helped them overachieve all season long, and now, it’s helped them push the Warriors close to the limit. They have no fear. David may not slay Goliath by the time this series is over, but he’s given the giant a sizable dent. Maybe another team will finally bring the Warriors dynasty down. And if it happens, it will be impossible to avoid pointing to this series against this Clippers team as the inception of it all.