Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:59 AM

Friday's Playoff Essentials

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Western Conference First Round – Game 6
No. 1 Golden State at No. 8 L.A. Clippers (ESPN, 10:05 p.m. ET) -- Warriors lead 3-2
Apr. 13 - Warriors (-13.5) 121 vs. Clippers 104 (Under 233)
Apr. 15 - Clippers (+13.5) 135 at Warriors 131 (Over 234)
Apr. 18 - Warriors (-9.5) 132 at Clippers 105 (Over 234)
Apr. 21 - Warriors (-9.5) 113 at Clippers 105 (Under 236)
Apr. 24 - Clippers (+14.5) 129 at Warriors 121 (Over 232.5)

Watching Game 5 of the first-round series between the Warriors and Clippers bordered on surreal. Even if you don’t watch over a thousand games a year like some of us around these parts, you’ve seen enough basketball to know that the best teams always make a run late. It’s what makes engineering an upset so special.

What we saw on Wednesday at Oracle Arena brought back memories of Duke-Louisville this season. If you’re not as up on the college game, a Blue Devils team that featured three players who will be selected in the top half of the lottery found themselves down 23 points with less than 10 minutes to play against a Cardinals team no one really expected much from in 2018-19. Like the Clippers, brighter days are ahead for the ‘Ville, but they were just out there for the participant ribbon over the past season. Zion Williamson and Co. forced a meltdown, finishing up the largest comeback of Mike Krzyzewski’s career with a 71-69 win.

The hunters, when great, typically chase down the hunted in this sport.

The Warriors, at home, were expected to rally past the Clippers on Wednesday night, which is undoubtedly what many were counting on in what had to be an unfortunately memorable night for those backing the champs’ comeback efforts via in-game betting.

We’ve seen Golden State come back on better teams than these heart-and-hustle Clippers, so even though they were down double-digits for most of the third quarter, it’s no surprise many felt compelled to get in on the Warriors as a pick’em or even getting points as the game progressed deeper into the night. The Warriors pulled within 97-94 with 1:23 left in the third quarter before L.A. scored the final seven points to space the lead out to 10 entering the fourth.

Another uphill climb saw the Warriors catch the Clippers at 117 on a Kevin Durant dunk with 3:29 left. Even those who don’t care for the polarizing superstar had to cheer him then. By the time winning time rolled around in Game 5, only Golden State in-game bettors wanted to see them complete the comeback, but my understanding is that there were a lot of you watching the final minutes with covers over your eyes and an account balance on the brain.

Those who had taken a side pre-game already had the outcome decided. The ‘over’ was coming in. The Clippers weren’t going to lose by 15 points. They weren’t going out like that. The better question ended up being whether they would be going out at all.

A Durant dunk with 2:40 left put the Warriors up 118-117, getting them back the lead for the first time since early second-quarter.

The Clippers’ melt had been completed. What happened next was most unexpected.

Lou Williams outscored Golden State 8-0 over the next two minutes, getting half of them on a four-point play that gave L.A. the lead back for the final time just seconds after falling behind. Durant fouled him. He couldn’t help it. The Warriors turned the ball over twice and struggled to get off quality looks. Ironically, every member of their “Hamptons Five” lineup besides Draymond Green missed a shot or committed an error. Four All-Stars and Andre Iguodala couldn’t manage to score a basket when it mattered most until Stephen Curry hit a long 3-pointer with less than 30 seconds left to trim a deficit that had grown to nine points down in size.

It was too late. There would be no last-gasp miracle. A lot of in-game bets fell victim to an incredible upset in what has been the biggest treat the first round of the NBA playoffs has had to offer. Is it an indictment of Golden State, proof that this group lacks the special formula that delivered consecutive titles?

I’m going to pass on being overly dramatic, though I wouldn’t blame those who dropped a chunk on a monumental letdown from feeling that way.

The Warriors look more vulnerable than they did when the postseason began, having lost DeMarcus Cousins to a quad injury that will likely sideline him for the remainder of the playoffs. You best believe he would’ve been an asset to keep Montrezl Harrell from getting as comfortable as he’s looked in the paint throughout the series. Andrew Bogut and Kevon Looney are getting used to playing the increased minutes they’ll be tasked with over the next few weeks in teaming to replace Cousins, so maybe this time against the Clippers will prove beneficial.

Spoiler alert, the Warriors aren’t going to lose this series. No matter how much of your investment they lost on Wednesday night, they’re still the best bet to yield a return on winning it all. The issue is that like the Clippers, other teams have now seen enough of what they can do that the element of fear is no longer present.

Pat Beverley has gone from overlooked pest to primary antagonist, somehow finishing with 14 rebounds while shooting 5-for-11 from 3-point range when that’s never been a strength. He’s proven he’s willing to do whatever it takes and is testing Golden State’s will. Lou Williams is one of the silkiest scorers we’ve ever seen, gifted beyond belief and in the conversation as one of the top sixth-man in league history. Harrell has raised his level to unprecedented heights in terms of consistency. Rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Landry Shamet and Jerome Robinson haven’t blinked.

Take your hat off to the Clippers for what they’ve done. They’ve dented the Warriors enough that their championship odds have come all the way down from -200 to -150 at Westgate Superbook. They were -350 to win the West when the series began and are now -300. That will be part of the legacy for L.A.’s group of overachievers, at least until we see whether their exploits have gotten the attention of a Durant, Kawhi Leonard or Jimmy Butler enough to want to come play for Steve Ballmer. All that remains to be seen. NBA expert Chris David didn’t expect this series to reach Game 5 let alone Game 6 and he certainly doesn’t believe Game 7 will happen. He’s fading the Clippers on Friday night due to their inconsistent offense.

“Los Angeles has been a fun team to watch all season and seeing them explode on Wednesday wasn’t surprising considering the offensive firepower they have. Unfortunately for Doc Rivers, his troops haven’t been able to duplicate the production on a night-to-night basis,” David said. “Including the result in Game 5, the Clippers have scored 129 points or more 10 times this season. In the first nine contests following those hot-shooting nights, Los Angeles has averaged 113.4 PPG and while the drop-off doesn’t seem alarming, it’s translated into a 3-6 record. Delving into those numbers further, the three wins came against non-playoff teams and five of the six losses were against playoff teams and they came by average of 17 PPG. That includes the Game 3 loss at home to the Warriors by 27 points in this series.”

Green is dealing with a wrist injury and missed both of his 3-pointers in Game 5, but he had punished the Clips for playing entirely off him earlier in the series. Curry has had issues getting off but shot for 4-for-5 from beyond the arc on Wednesday, which makes you wonder why he wasn’t more aggressive. Durant scored 45 points as the offense ran through him after he was criticized for being too passive earlier in the series, so it’s clear that the Warriors haven’t found the right balance against L.A. Credit Rivers and the Clippers for a little of that.

Golden State has struggled mightily on the defensive end to add to its helping of blame pie for why they had to make a return trip to Staples after going up 3-1 on Sunday. The Clippers have scored 105 points twice and 104 once in their three losses but have averaged 132 points in their victories. The pick-and-roll combination of Williams and Harrell has proven unstoppable in those games, so it’s on Kerr to have a counter that makes life more difficult for that elite bench tandem. The Warriors have averaged 123.6 points per game in the series, so keep that in mind when considering the total (233), especially since Rivers is going small at the onset of games with JaMychal Green having replaced Ivica Zubac in the starting five. L.A. is more perimeter oriented as a result and is employing a faster pace.

Expect Golden State to finally get out of the series and on to their highly anticipated matchup with the Rockets tonight. Even though L.A. is going off at over +400 on the money line, resist that temptation. The question thus becomes whether you have enough faith in the Warriors to lay double-digits. Have you seen enough to believe that these Clippers have too much heart to go quietly?

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA or e-mail him at [email protected]

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