The Los Angeles Clippers didn't just win a series Saturday night; they won an epic clash of two Western Conference titans, an evenly matched first-round meeting that won't be soon forgotten.
This series had everything you could ask for—along with a few things you never want to see.
An otherwise fantastic display of basketball was at times overshadowed by the Donald Sterling controversy. If it weren't for the heroics on both sides (and the NBA's swift judgement), we might have forgotten there were two very good teams fighting for their playoff survival.
Both clubs kept fighting all the way to the end, and the leadership on display started at the top. Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson was animated all game long, at one point telling his troops, "you deserve this" during a timeout.
As it turned out, they didn't go down at all—largely because of that fighting spirit. The Clippers battled back from a distraction of monumental proportions. They fought through a roller-coaster series with momentum going every which way. And in Game 7, they came back from an eight-point halftime deficit.
The Clippers will be prepared for anything and everything that comes their way from here on out, including the Oklahoma City Thunder.
After the game, Doc Rivers told his team, "We needed that. The adversity is good for us."
And there was plenty of adversity.
The Warriors were the first source. They played phenomenally in the series.
In his postgame comments to media, Rivers said, "You knew with their shot-makers it was going to be a hard series."
And it was. Point guard Stephen Curry scored 33 points in Game 7, the second time in the series he reached that mark. Draymond Green emerged to have a huge game, putting up an efficient 24 points and filling the stat sheet. In the Warriors' Game 6 win, he had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
Golden State could have used better shooting from Klay Thompson in the series finale (4-of-11 for 15 points), but it was otherwise firing on all cylinders—clearly clicking well enough to drop 121 on L.A.
But the stops were nowhere to be found when the game was on the line. The Clippers were just too determined, too talented and too big. DeAndre Jordan came up huge in the final game with 15 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks.
It wasn't the first time L.A.'s center exploited the Warriors' small lineup, which was missing starting center Andrew Bogut to a fractured rib. Further, backup Jermaine O'Neal was limited with a bone bruise, only playing two minutes in Game 6 and three minutes in Game 7.
Jordan had 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks in the Clippers' Game 5 win. He averaged 12.1 points, 15.1 rebounds and four blocks per contest in the series. But the big story in Game 7 was Chris Paul, himself dealing with a hamstring injury throughout the series.
He was all over the place Saturday night, knocking down a vital fourth-quarter trey and totaling 22 points, 14 assists and four steals for the game. Though it wasn't his best series, the floor general came up big when it counted.
So did the rest of the Clippers, including J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford, who combined for 42 points in Game 7 and shot 14-of-25 from the field. For all of the talk about Golden State's long-range threats, it was Los Angeles' shooters who ended up making the difference.
We knew this was going to be an outstanding series from the outset. Golden State took the first game in Los Angeles by a four-point margin only to be blown out by 40 in Game 2. The Clippers stole back home-court advantage in Game 3 only to watch the Warriors tie the series at two games apiece shortly after the Sterling scandal broke.
The tide turned again in Game 5 after the NBA announced that Sterling would be banned for life from the NBA and fined $2.5 million. The knowledge that the league would push to have the franchise sold surely took a burden off the Clippers' shoulders.
They could start focusing on basketball again, and that's exactly what they did in Game 5, taking the home game 113-103.
You could have been fooled into believing that with some wind back in their sails the Clippers were going to close things out in Oakland. But the Warriors kept things interesting, pushing the series to a classic Game 7.
Blake Griffin had an up-and-down stretch of games, scoring a combined 67 points in Games 2 and 3 only to see his performance subside over the course of the series. The Clippers will need consistently huge performances from him in the conference semifinals, especially if Paul is not at 100 percent.
The Oklahoma City Thunder will host the Clippers on Monday, setting us up for another high-octane battle. The Clippers split their regular-season series with the Thunder at two games apiece, and both clubs can flat-out score.
The Clippers may be the deeper team, and they certainly have the more formidable interior rotation. That said, Durant has established himself as the best scorer in the league and is prone to taking games over, and Westbrook may be the most explosive guard in the game.
The Thunder are coming off a seven-game series of their own, besting the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night 120-109.
There's sure to be wear and tear on both sides in the second round. But after what the Clippers just went through, they're undoubtedly riding a unique high. Nothing could have prepared them better than these Golden State Warriors.
Nothing could have prepared them better than a series like this.
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