It was never easy, but the Los Angeles Clippers kept the dream of an NBA championship alive with a first-round win over the Golden State Warriors.
The No. 3 seed survived a dramatic Game 7 with a 126-121 win on its home court, sending the Warriors home after an incredible series.
Los Angeles had a balanced effort with six players in double figures and four scoring at least 20. Blake Griffin led the way with 24 points, but Chris Paul also had a huge effort with 22 points, 14 assists and four steals.
DeAndre Jordan was dominant in the low post as well, with 15 points and 18 rebounds.
Stephen Curry was able to rack up the buckets like usual, totaling 33 points while going 16-of-16 from the free-throw line. Draymond Green also had a strong showing with 24 points, but it was not enough to put the team over the top.
This truly was an exciting battle from start to finish, a contest so good that fans of all types could not look away:
Although it went down to the wire, the Clippers were able to make the shots when needed.
It makes sense that both franchises would be nervous heading into the dramatic Game 7. However, Warriors head coach Mark Jackson noted that it was no different than any other day for him:
Golden State certainly carried this fearless mentality over to the court, as the squad was able to build up a 19-10 lead early on. This became a 32-22 advantage by the end of the first quarter, as the road team seemingly could not miss.
Chris Palmer broke down the Warriors' shooting in the first quarter:
The Clippers found themselves down 12 in the second quarter, but remained aggressive and did a good job of getting to the free-throw line in order to keep the game close. They eventually tied things up at 49-49 while getting the home fans involved.
This did not last long, though, as Curry went back to his impressive shooting. The guard converted a four-point play and almost buried a three-quarter-court shot at the buzzer (time expired), but it was still enough to give the Warriors a 64-56 lead at intermission.
Mike Wise of The Washington Post was certainly not alone in thinking this:
Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead had a different thought process going into the second half:
This obviously did not occur, which was good news for the Clippers, who were able to claw their way back into the contest thanks to the play of J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes. The pair started hitting jumpers, finally giving Los Angeles a lead:
In the third quarter, Barnes and Redick combined for 16 points and helped put the Clippers on top, 87-84, going into the fourth period.
It appeared as if the home team was going to pull away after going ahead, 89-84, but surprisingly it was Jordan Crawford who stepped up in the fourth quarter to put his team back in front. He managed an old-fashioned three-point play followed by a legitimate three-pointer in the first few minutes. He then continued to make plays, as ESPN noted:
Once again, Los Angeles was able to answer, and the two sides battled back and forth throughout the quarter. The Clippers then built a slight advantage thanks to a few huge dunks from Jordan and Griffin in the closing minutes.
The superstar did his best to keep the fans' energy up, via Bleacher Report's Kevin Ding:
Griffin later showed a little finesse with an incredible circus shot while being fouled, giving L.A. the 116-111 edge, as ESPN's Skip Bayless described:
The Warriors made some shots in the closing minutes, but they could not get any stops on the defensive end of the court. Los Angeles sunk the necessary free throws and secured the win.
No one was more excited than head coach Doc Rivers, who showed his emotion as time ran out, according to Arash Markazi of ESPN:
Los Angeles will now advance to the second round to face the Oklahoma City Thunder, who also needed seven games to get past the Memphis Grizzlies. While the Thunder struggled to score against tough defense for much of the series, they had no problem in Game 7 while scoring 120 points on over 60-percent shooting.
If the Clippers want to keep this run going to the conference finals and possibly beyond, they will have to not only make their shots but also continue to play great defense. They have the athleticism necessary to slow down Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, but it will take a lot of focus to force tough shots throughout the series.
The good news is they are certain to relish the opportunity after fighting their way into the second round.