The combination of do-or-die desperation and a rocking home crowd can be a powerful one in the NBA playoffs, as the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers found out Thursday in the Warriors' 100-99 victory in Game 6.
Golden State, behind 24 points from Stephen Curry, outlasted the Clippers in a back-and-forth affair that featured a handful of runs and a very stressful final minute for the fans. Los Angeles cut a seven-point lead to a single digit with less than two seconds remaining, but the home team was able to hold on to win and force a Game 7 Saturday.
The Warriors were fighting for their postseason lives in front of their home crowd, and the NBA on ESPN set the scene before the game even started:
Road teams are 2-0 today. Teams down 3-2 are 2-0 today. One of those trends will end as the Clippers take on the Warriors in Oakland.— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) May 2, 2014
The Golden State Warriors official Twitter account gave fans a peak at the warm-ups and also let those watching on television know just how loud it was inside the stadium before tip-off:
It's about that time. WAAARRRIORS WAAARRRIORS https://t.co/ionCe1M7ky— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) May 2, 2014
Eric Patten of Clippers.com gave the road team’s perspective of the buildup leading to the game:
#Clippers wearing road reds for the first time in postseason.— Eric Patten (@EricPatten) May 2, 2014
The "Beat L-A" chants were in full force after intros.— Eric Patten (@EricPatten) May 2, 2014
Once the game actually started, Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group noted that the Warriors couldn’t afford a slow start given the stakes. However, that is exactly what happened, as the Clippers jumped out to an early lead in the opening minutes:
The Warriors cannot afford a slow start— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 2, 2014
Clippers jump out to 10-2 lead. Oracle already nervous— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 2, 2014
A big reason Los Angeles controlled the start of the game was the defense of DeAndre Jordan, as the NBA and Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group acknowledged:
DeAndre Jordan should get gold in the finger-wagging Olympics.— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 2, 2014
Despite Los Angeles’ hot start, Golden State came roaring back. Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle realized that Curry was being much more aggressive in the first quarter on the offensive end than he was throughout all of Game 5:
It's taken Stephen Curry only 2:41 in Game 6 to match his shot total from the entire first half of Game 5.— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) May 2, 2014
Thompson and the NBA on TNT gave a shout out to the raucous crowd during the comeback:
Warriors rip off 6 straight ... Yeah, that changed the tone— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 2, 2014
You couldn't even hear that whistle— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 2, 2014
It was just the type of crowd that Warriors guard Steve Blake expected, according to The Associated Press, via ESPN.com: "We knew it was going to be loud and that's what will be waiting for us on Thursday at home. We've got to believe and if we do that, we can come back and win two games."
It was appropriate given the back-and-forth runs in the opening 12 minutes that the game was tied at 25 after one quarter. ESPN Stats & Info painted the picture of just how important Curry was in the first quarter:
Stephen Curry was 6-12 for 14 Pts in 1st quarter. His teammates were 5-19 for 11 Pts. pic.twitter.com/wyawHpnoFG— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 2, 2014
A critical moment in the game happened in the opening minutes of the second quarter. Jermaine O'Neil was hit hard by Glen Davis, and the Warriors big man fell to the ground in pain. Considering Andrew Bogut is already out with injury, this was particularly worrisome for the Warriors.
Team broadcaster Time Roye and ESPN's Arash Markazi provided details, while Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports pondered what it meant in the long term for O'Neal's career:
O'Neal gets up walking gingerly after getting knocked to floor by Davis, timeout GSW 28 LAC 25 9"39 left 2nd quarter— Tim Roye (@warriorsvox) May 2, 2014
Looks like O'Neal's knee buckled on the play. No official word yet from the Warriors but again, it doesn't look good.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 2, 2014
Jermaine O'Neal doesn't look good. He can't put much pressure on his legs and is getting helped off the court.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 2, 2014
Veteran Warriors center Jermaine O'Neal has been contemplating retiring after this season. Hope that wasn't the end for him.— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 2, 2014
Patten and Adam Kramer of Bleacher Report added some humor to the situation by bringing in football comparisons:
Baby might have gotten the role as Michael Oher if he'd have shown that during his "Blind Side" audition.— Eric Patten (@EricPatten) May 2, 2014
After that hit, Big Baby is now ranked higher than Teddy Bridgewater in the scouting world.— Adam Kramer (@KegsnEggs) May 2, 2014
Things got worse for Golden State's big men when Marreese Speights picked up a critical fourth foul, as Leung and Dan Woike of The Orange County Register noted:
Marreese Speights has four fouls.— Diamond Leung (@diamond83) May 2, 2014
Mo Speights fouls CP3 - then after some talking, Speights gets a T.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) May 2, 2014
The Clippers took advantage of the situation in the immediate aftermath of the injury, but they had some issues of their own to worry about:
Since GSW led by 8, LAC has gone on 17-5 run, over 5 minutes, soon after O'Neal went to locker room, LAC 44 GSW 40 2:48 left 2nd qtr— Tim Roye (@warriorsvox) May 2, 2014
Chris Paul with three fouls and a bad hamstring.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 2, 2014
Chris Paul's left hand is being worked on by the trainers. Looks like it's his thumb.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 2, 2014
If nothing else, this may give an insight into why the Clippers were able to seize the lead back in the second quarter after David Lee picked up his third foul:
Warriors super small for last 50 seconds. H. Barnes is the center— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) May 2, 2014
Despite Los Angeles' extended run, Curry put home a layup in the final seconds and trimmed the halftime deficit to 51-48.
As the teams came out for the third quarter, the Warriors provided an update on O'Neal's status:
X-rays on @jermaineoneal (sprained right knee) were negative. He will not return to action tonight.— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) May 2, 2014
As it was in the first half, foul trouble quickly became a story in the opening minutes of the third quarter:
Four fouls on Draymond Green and now Chris Paul (early 3rd)— Eric Patten (@EricPatten) May 2, 2014
All the whistles were interrupting the flow of the game, and the team's combined shooting numbers suffered as a result:
Ragged start to 3rd. Teams are 4-for-14 combined— Eric Patten (@EricPatten) May 2, 2014
Golden State found a way to at least temporarily address the offensive issues, via Geoff Lepper of NBA.com:
Clippers are trying to hide Paul defensively on Iguodala, so the W's respond by feeding Iggy repeatedly.— Geoff Lepper (@geofflepper) May 2, 2014
If the outside shots aren't falling, there's nothing wrong with a dunk to fire up the crowd. That is exactly what Lee did off of this impressive pass from Draymond Green:
After the low-scoring third quarter came to an end, the Warriors held onto a narrow 70-67 lead. GSW Stats made a point of letting fans know why that advantage was so important:
Warriors lead 70-67 after three... the team that has left after three quarters has gone on to win every game of the series— GSWStats (@gswstats) May 2, 2014
It didn't take long for foul trouble to rear its ugly head in the fourth quarter:
Warriors on 6-0 run, but Lee and Green with 5 fouls now. CP and Blake at the table— Eric Patten (@EricPatten) May 2, 2014
As if right on cue, Lee fouled out. While it certainly hurt the Warriors in the depth department, it wasn't necessarily the worst thing in terms of stopping Blake Griffin from scoring:
David Lee fouls out with 9:44 left in the game. As @DanWoikeSports points out, "How is Blake going to score?"— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) May 2, 2014
The teams traded blows throughout the fourth quarter, but there was one interesting development given the sheer amount of shots that Curry shot in the first half:
When is the last time Stephen Curry took a shot?— Marc J. Spears (@SpearsNBAYahoo) May 2, 2014
Curry may have been quiet, but it was a role player who stepped up big in the final minutes in typical NBA playoff fashion. Andre Iguodala drained a three-pointer and drew the sixth and final foul on Griffin. It stretched the lead to 96-89 before he shot the free throw:
Ballgame. Griffin fouls out on Iggy's made 3.— Geoff Lepper (@geofflepper) May 2, 2014
IGGY POP! Andre Iguodala nails the corner three and the foul. Warriors lead the Clippers by seven with 2:31 to play, trying to force Game 7.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) May 2, 2014
Despite the assumption that the Clippers chances ended with that three, they did cut the lead to one with less than two seconds remaining. However, it was simply too little, too late, and the Warriors held on to win 100-99.
Buckle up because this series is heading to a decisive Game 7.
Curry and the Warriors will have some momentum on their side after the victory Thursday, but the Clippers will be playing at home. Expect plenty of emotion from the Los Angeles fans.
Who wins Game 7?
The Clippers have gotten off to impressive starts throughout much of this series, and will do so again Saturday with their supporters on hand. Curry and the rest of the sharp shooters on Golden State's roster will certainly make a game of it, but Los Angeles might be too much to handle on its home floor.
With O'Neal's status in doubt, look for the Clippers to exploit the lack of depth down low for the Warriors throughout the contest. Eventually, that advantage will wear Golden State's defense down and should lead to a Clippers victory.
The winner of Game 7 Saturday will face the winner of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies series.