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5 Clutch Points: Warriors notch Game 1 win vs. Clippers, but fail the ultimate test

5 Clutch Points: Warriors notch Game 1 win vs. Clippers, but fail the ultimate test

After a pair of unexpected finishes in the NBA Playoffs, the Golden State Warriors were the first home team to avoid defeat on Saturday, notching a 121-104 Game 1 win over the eighth-seeded L.A. Clippers. While the night wasn’t short of fireworks, the Warriors failed the ultimate test, allowing the Clippers a slight sense of hope in this series.

Those and more below in our 5 Clutch Points:

Stephen Curry, the all-time playoff 3-point king

Curry had yet another sharp shooting night — that isn’t news to most Warriors fans who have watched his play all season long. Yet Saturday night was especially remarkable. He bested Ray Allen for the most 3-pointers in playoff history after hitting his eighth trifecta of the game in the fourth quarter.

The shot gave him 386 for his career in his 91st playoff game, while it took Allen 171 contests to reach the previous all-time mark.

Curry shot the ball very effectively in Game 1, scoring a game-high 38 points. He went 11 of 16 from the floor, 8 of 12 beyond the arc, and 8 of 9 from the free-throw line.

What’s most impressive was seeing him set a career-high in rebounds with 15, including three offensive rebounds (one off his own missed free throw and two off long jumpers).

Doc Rivers gives Don Nelson’s playbook a crack

L.A. Clippers coach Doc Rivers pulled a trick out of an old book, using former Warriors coach Don Nelson’s strategy of using a smaller player to bother a taller, longer star.

Patrick Beverley started on Kevin Durant. Rivers deployed a three-guard lineup to counteract Golden State’s passing game, much like a vintage 2007 Nelson put smaller players such as Jason Richardson, Matt Barnes and Stephen Jackson on Dirk Nowitzki during the memorable “We Believe” era of the Warriors franchise.

That strategy, coupled with pesky guards Baron Davis and Monta Ellis, constantly poked at the 7-footer’s hips, harassing him in every post-up situation.

Yet Rivers’ gambit failed miserably for the Clippers. The 6-foot-11 Durant ruthlessly scorched the 6-foot-1 Beverley in post-up situations, easily creating separation and shooting over the top of the Clippers’ guard with supreme comfort.

Unlike Nowitzki, Durant is a mobile forward with guard-like ability. He’s a nifty operator on the baseline who can draw fouls with extreme ease, especially on undisciplined defenders who tend to reach. Beverley was simply overmatched, giving up 10-plus inches to Durant, who serenely buried 8 of 16 shots from the floor en route to 23 points.

Kevin Durant, Patrick Beverley get ejected

Durant was having a perfectly sound game and toasting Beverley on offense. The two exchanged friendly verbal jabs all night long until a fourth-quarter clash in which Durant pressured the prickly defensive guard, who lost the ball out of bounds.

Durant taunted a prone Beverley, finally giving him a defensive play in which to poke the self-professed Mr. 94 feet. Referee Ed Malloy had enough of the two going back and forth, ejecting them both with 4:41 left in regulation.

This didn’t mean much in terms of the outcome of the game, but in the end, it gave the Clippers a glimmer of hope.

Both players were ejected, but if this happened in the first half, the Clippers would have gained a massive upper hand. Beverley contributed three points on 1-of-6 shooting, while Durant’s strong play kept the Warriors in the lead before Curry caught fire from deep in the third and fourth quarters.

Getting ejected is another notch on Beverley’s belt. Now he knows he can get in Durant’s head and provoke him throughout the game, which could result in technical fouls and, as in Game 1, ejections.

Steve Kerr was not particularly happy about this, as he noted in his postgame press conference.

“He took the bait,” said Kerr of Durant’s ejection. “That’s two technicals. You get seven technicals, your seventh one is a suspension in the playoffs. Whether you play four playoff games or 24 — seven is the magic number. He’s got four to play with after one game. That’s what Beverley does, we talked about it for the last couple of days. He’s a hell of a defender, he plays hard, we have a lot of respect for him, but we cannot take the bait, because that’s a bad trade for us.

“The Clippers have made a lot of good trades this year. That was maybe their best.”

The Warriors entered this game as whopping favorites — so much so that several betting sites in Las Vegas didn’t even make room for this series.

The Warriors know they are their own worst enemy, and keeping their cool against a habitual instigator like Beverley was one of their priorities entering the game, as Kerr said in the post-game presser.

They failed that test on Saturday night, as Durant now holds two strikes with plenty of games left to play.

The Hamptons 5: Remastered

Steve Kerr went to his Death Lineup a lot earlier than most expected, bringing it in at the 6:37 mark of the second quarter to calm the waters after Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell spurred a 10-0 run to bring L.A. within a point.

The combination of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant, and Draymond Green completely changed the momentum. Iguodala caught a lob a few seconds after checking in, providing the “stabilizer” role Kerr so badly needs during pressure situations.

This lineup, so greatly feared by the rest of the NBA after its first season together in 2016-17, was a mind-blowing minus-4 through December this season. Since then, this quintet has recorded a plus-37 in January, plus-42 in February, plus-46 in March, and plus-2 in two minutes in April — totaling a sharp plus-127 in 130 minutes together (h/t Anthony Slater of The Athletic).

Kerr said in his postgame presser that he will play this lineup more often after playing it rarely during the regular season.

The Warriors were stunned by the high-octane combination of Harrell and an agile Lou Williams in their up-tempo pick-and-roll game, but this Hamptons 5 lineup was able to contain it and put Golden State back in control.

Is TREYmond Green back?

Draymond Green’s struggles shooting the ball are well-chronicled, but perhaps the giant truth that hides behind the second-lowest 3-point percentage of his career (28.5%) is how well he has shot threes since the All-Star break.

Green has shot a much-improved 37% since the break. That showed on Saturday, when he canned his first two treys of the game, going a perfect 5 of 5 from the floor in the first quarter.

His 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists represented a vintage performance despite his game-high six turnovers.

The Warriors will need him to at least be a small threat beyond the arc if they are to generate sound offense for their perimeter players — and nothing screams that more than making opponents pay for leaving Draymond wide open.

Green’s defensive impact also proved vital to this team. DeMarcus Cousins struggled to defend a quicker, more athletic Montrezl Harrell, who feasted in the paint to the tune of a team-high 26 points.

Harrell and Lou Williams combined for 51 of the Clippers’ 65 bench points, using their dynamic pick-and-roll game to cause matchup problems for the Warriors.

Green was able to keep Harrell from going for 30, but he will surely adjust to him more closely in Game 2.

. . .

The Warriors will take on the Clippers on Monday in Game 2 of this first-round series.

Stay tuned for 5 Clutch Points after the game.