This Saturday will mark the first time in NBA history that there have been three Game 7s on the same day.
You can thank the Golden State Warriors for that. They held on to take Game 6 100-99, becoming the third team to stave off elimination on Thursday night.
They did it without Andrew Bogut (still nursing a fractured rib) and—for most of the game—without Jermaine O'Neal, who sprained his knee in the first half. Before it was all said and done, even David Lee fouled out.
The Los Angeles Times' John Cherwa has the details:
Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal left the game early in the second quarter when he collided with Glen (Big Baby) Davis and sprained his right knee. It left the Warriors short of big men. And things didn’t get any better when power forward-turned-center David Lee fouled out with 9:44 left in the fourth quarter.
That left the Warriors scrapping and fighting with a small lineup, relying on little-used reserves like Marreese Speights (who had 12 points and six rebounds in just 12 minutes).
Golden State also managed to pull this out despite shooting 39 percent from the floor. Klay Thompson went just 3-of-11 from the field. It took Stephen Curry 24 shots to score his 24 points. None of this sounds like a formula for success.
And yet somehow the Warriors pulled this out.
Much of that had to do with the little things. Golden State tallied 18 offensive rebounds, giving themselves second-chance opportunities early and often. As Doc Rivers put it after the game, "[Golden State] won the 50/50 game in a big way...it was one of those hustle games."
Head coach Mark Jackson's team also valued its possessions, turning the ball over just eight times. In comparison, Curry alone had eight turnovers in Golden State's Game 5 loss.
The Warriors also played inspired defense. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul combined to shoot 11-of-34 from the field. That's not going to get it done for the Los Angeles Clippers, but give credit where it's due. The Warriors were aggressive all night long, bothering shots and fighting for position despite being undermanned and over-matched on the size front.
Even L.A.'s supporting cast struggled to overcome the Warriors' energy. J.J. Redick made just two of his 10 three-point attempts. And after exploding for 25 points in Game 5, center DeAndre Jordan was held to just nine points in Game 6.
This wasn't about hero-ball. It wasn't about electric offense. It was about effort and fundamentally sound basketball. The Warriors are starting to understand that they can't rely on talent alone. And they're going to have to gut one more game out to take the series, this time on the road.
They'll need another huge game from Draymond Green. Though he struggled a bit from the field, the 24-year-old had 14 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and five steals. More importantly, he deserves a lot of the credit for slowing down Griffin.
Green was inserted into the starting lineup to provide a different look against Griffin. Jackson reasoned that a smaller, more energetic defender could frustrate the Clippers' premier post presence, and so far it's worked out pretty well. In his last two games, Griffin has has shot 14-of-38 from the field.
Jackson called Green a "gamer" in his post-game comments, an apt description for a guy who does a lot of the work that won't show up on the stat sheet.
While the Warriors' offense wasn't exactly flowing, there were some positive signs. The team increasingly exploited mismatches against smaller defenders like Redick and Jamal Crawford. With longer shooters like Thompson and Iguodala having a clear size advantage on the wing, the Warriors put their swingmen in isolation and in the post to gain an upper-hand.
That was especially critical in a game where half-court execution became decisive. Iguodala benefited the most, scoring an efficient 15 points as Golden State's second-leading scorer.
Now the question turns to whether the Warriors can replicate their success in an all-important Game 7.
The good news is that both Curry and Thompson are due to shoot the ball better. Thompson was 9-of-17 in Game 5, so we know he's capable of shooting the ball well in Los Angeles. He's one of the purest shooters in the league, and it's hard to imagine him having two bad games in a row.
Curry's best game of the series came in Game 4, when he scored 33 points. In Game 5 he took just 10 shots. It's encouraging that he was more aggressive in Game 6, but the Warriors will need him to cash in a little more often—especially from beyond the arc, where he was just 2-of-8 on Thursday.
The Warriors will also continue to seek more from the supporting cast, particularly Iguodala and Green. With David Lee having to contend with DeAndre Jordan's size in the paint, the Warriors may be better-served looking to their swingmen for scoring help.
In that sense, Game 6 was a step in the right direction. Iguodala doesn't always think like a scorer, often looking to make plays for others. But he was a little extra selfish on Thursday, and Golden State will need more of the same on Saturday. After getting off to a slow start in the series, Iggy has a combined 55 points in his last three games.
Wherever the offense comes from, Golden State's biggest key to victory will once again be the little things, the hustle plays, the "fight" that Curry talked about in his post-game interview.
That means limiting turnovers, going after rebounds and pushing the Clippers around at every opportunity. At this point, Los Angeles is the more talented team. Jackson has noted on a couple of occasions that he believes his opposition boasts two of the top-10 players in the world. It's hard to argue with him.
But because of those little things and because of some stout defense, it didn't look like we were watching any top-10 players on Thursday. The Clippers looked distinctly mortal, overwhelmed by the Warriors' intensity at several critical junctures, including late in the fourth quarter.
Their mortality may have a distinctly concrete dimension to it, as well. Trainers worked on Chris Paul's hand for much of the third quarter, and his nagging hamstring injury could be in large part responsible for his less-than-elite performance. The wear-and-tear could be damning for Paul come Game 7.
Make no mistake about it. The Warriors didn't run away with this one. Nor can they count on doing so in Los Angeles. Game 7 will be another tightly-contested battle, a game decided by execution and hustle. If Game 6 is any indication, the Warriors will be prepared to bring just that.
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