Kevin Durant, Steph Curry Dominate as Warriors Crush Clippers 132-105 in Game 3

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2019

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 18:  Patrick Beverley #21 of the LA Clippers looks back at a smiling Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors during Game Two of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 18, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.
Harry How/Getty Images

The Golden State Warriors returned to a level of normalcy Thursday with a 132-105 win over the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series after blowing a 31-point lead in Monday’s Game 2.

The two-time defending champions split the first two games at Oracle Arena with the eighth-seeded Clippers and needed to win at least once in Staples Center to advance. They wasted little time by doing just that in their first opportunity.

Kevin Durant was unstoppable, pouring in 38 points on 14-of-23 shooting to go with seven assists and four rebounds. Stephen Curry added 21 points on 4-of-6 shooting from deep, while Klay Thompson (12 points) and Andre Iguodala (15 points) provided support.

Lou Williams (16 points, six assists) and Ivica Zubac (18 points, 15 rebounds) led the way in the losing effort for the Clippers.

          

Game 2 Collapse Best Thing That Could've Happened to Warriors

Blowing a 31-point lead would be a disaster for almost any team in NBA history and place doubt in the back of players' minds for the rest of the series.

The Warriors doing so is a disaster for the rest of the Western Conference.

Golden State has been on cruise control for much of this season after four straight trips to the NBA Finals and needed something to increase its engagement level in these playoffs. It didn’t even have a potential matchup with LeBron James—who has served as the team’s primary roadblock during the past four postseason runs—to point to for motivation.

An embarrassing wakeup call will do the trick.

The internet had a couple days to relive its "Warriors blow a 3-1 lead" jokes after Monday’s loss, but the two-time defending champs will have the last laugh. The blown 31-point lead is not only the wakeup call they needed, but it also changed what to expect from Durant the rest of this series.

He was ejected in Game 1 and fouled out in Game 2 as he got too caught up in the individual battle with Patrick Beverley instead of focusing on finding his shot as an absolute scoring machine. In fact, he attempted a mere eight shots from the field in the Game 2 loss, and it’s not a stretch to suggest Golden State wouldn’t have lost its lead if he took 15.

Head coach Steve Kerr told reporters Durant is "the most skilled basketball player on planet earth" who "needs to be more aggressive." He went as far as to suggest Durant should take 20 or 30 shots in Game 3.

The two-time NBA Finals MVP was dialed in from the start, serving as a vocal leader with teammates and attacking the basket with his trademarked silky smoothness. He went right at Beverley as well, posting him up on the high elbow and either shooting over him or finding cutters when multiple defenders came his way.

His comments also made it clear how dialed in he would be entering the game, as he reminded the Clippers just who they would be dealing with the rest of the series:

Durant sought out the ball any time Los Angeles built momentum, sending a message by taking Shai Gilgeous-Alexander to school when Beverley was in foul trouble on his way to a head-turning 27 first-half points and driving home the point with a stretch of made threes in the third quarter.

An assertive Durant is a nightmare for the rest of the Western Conference, especially since he still has Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green around him to take advantage of any openings created by the additional attention he attracts.

The loss of DeMarcus Cousins to a quadriceps injury also shouldn’t derail this team, as it sported a net rating of 4.6 when he was on the court and 7.0 when he was off it during the regular season, per NBA.com.

The Warriors can play at a faster clip when Cousins is not on the floor and use either Iguodala or Green as de facto big men in small-ball lineups. Los Angeles is just one of many opponents who can't keep up with the ball movement in those pace-and-space looks, especially since Curry needs the smallest slivers of space to unleash a three-point barrage with a flick of the wrist.

Motivation and overall focus with Durant and Thompson as potential pending free agents were the only questions for a Warriors team that has been flipping the switch on and off all season with no real sense of urgency given the talent on which it can fall back.

It turned that switch off for too long in Game 2, and it cost them.

That blown lead will cost the rest of the Western Conference in the long run, though, as the Warriors are dialed in again with an aggressive Durant after a notable wakeup call.

           

What’s Next?

The Clippers host Game 4 on Sunday.

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