Lou Williams Leads Clippers to Game 5 Win vs. Warriors Despite Kevin Durant's 45

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistApril 25, 2019

OAKLAND, CA - APRIL 24: Lou Williams #23 of the LA Clippers handles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of Round One of the 2019 NBA Playoffs on April 24, 2019 at ORACLE Arena in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2019 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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It was a surprise when the Los Angeles Clippers won a single game in their first-round playoff series with the Golden State Warriors, but they are a victory away from forcing a decisive Game 7 after Wednesday's 129-121 win in Game 5.

Los Angeles has now won two of the three contests at Oracle Arena in this series but will need to win a home game to return.

Lou Williams went into takeover mode down the stretch and turned a one-point deficit into a seven-point lead with a four-point play and two shots inside the arc in the final minutes. He finished with 33 points and 10 assists, while Montrezl Harrell (24 points and five rebounds), Patrick Beverley (17 points, 14 boards and four assists) and Danilo Gallinari (26 points and seven rebounds) provided support.

Kevin Durant spearheaded the losing effort for the Warriors with 45 points, but it still wasn't enough.


Clippers Prove Worthy Free-Agency Destination for League's Top Stars

Nobody gave the Clippers a chance entering this series, and all they did was make NBA history by overcoming a 31-point deficit in the second half of Game 2, battle throughout Game 4 and control the pace for extended stretches of Game 5 on the road.

It would have been easy for the No. 8 seed to pack it in and look ahead to the offseason on Wednesday, but the Clippers poured in 71 points in the first half alone and sent a message to the Warriors and the rest of the league.

Los Angeles proved it can compete with one of the best dynasties in NBA history and played with the same type of mettle it displayed during the regular season when it still made the playoffs after the front office traded leading scorer Tobias Harris to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Prospective free agents who are looking for teams they can take over the top surely took notice with the offseason around the corner.

Shaun Powell of NBA.com broke down the litany of reasons the Clippers are an attractive potential free-agency destination.

They feature one of the league's best coaches in Doc Rivers, a supporting cast that willingly accepts its roles and doesn't stress about shot distribution, and the benefit of playing in a major market without the pressure that comes with being the primary show in town thanks to LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers. That's a tantalizing combination, as Powell wrote.

"What's happening here in the playoffs, to the surprise of some, is the showcasing of an entire organization, in this case, the Clippers. They're sprucing themselves up and using their first-round series with the Warriors to spread their peacock feathers and get the attention of top free agents looking for a landing spot."

Those prospective top free agents include Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler and D'Angelo Russell, among others.

Add any of those players to the group that hasn't backed down from the mighty Warriors, and legitimate championship contention is not far away.

Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are rookies who will only improve. Williams is under contract until 2021 and can provide a spark off the bench while whichever primary scorer the Clippers sign does the heavy lifting. Harrell and Gallinari are under contract next season and can take advantage of openings playing alongside a star by rolling to the rim for dunks and offensive rebounds or hitting threes, respectively.

The Clippers have made a statement in this series that will resonate into the summer.


Warriors Dynasty Will End at Rockets' Hands Without Drastic Defensive Improvements

The Warriors were a solid but unspectacular 11th in the league in defensive rating during the regular season, but they more than made up for it with the top-ranked offense, per NBA.com.

Still, the defensive inconsistency was not exactly befitting of a dominant dynasty, especially one with four-time All-Defensive selection Draymond Green as an emotional leader. It was fair to wonder if motivation played a role, as winning three of the last four championships and an NBA-record 73 games makes regular-season defense feel less important when a team knows it can flip the switch.

The Warriors still haven't flipped that switch this postseason.

Golden State has allowed triple digits in every game this series and completely collapsed on defense by giving up 85 points in the second half of Game 2 as it blew a 31-point lead. Los Angeles deserves plenty of credit for playing with a notable level of determination in the face of daunting odds, but a much stiffer test awaits the Warriors' vulnerable defense when it inevitably wins this first-round series.

The Houston Rockets may have beaten the two-time defending champions in last year's Western Conference Finals if Chris Paul didn't suffer a hamstring injury and miss losses in Games 6 and 7.

Now, they bring an offense that improved (114.8 offensive rating) from last year's group, which posted a league-best 114.0 offensive rating. James Harden is as dangerous as ever as the NBA's best scorer, Eric Gordon and PJ Tucker can consistently drill threes when defenders collapse on the backcourt, and Clint Capela will be a matchup problem.

Without a healthy DeMarcus Cousins, the Warriors will be less equipped to deal with Capela's ability to explode to the rim on pick-and-rolls and battle for offensive rebounds.

The Rockets just beat a Utah Jazz team that featured the league's second-best defense in a mere five games. The Warriors will not intimidate the Rockets on that end of the floor, especially after struggling so badly against the Clippers.

Houston is the perfect team to torch Golden State's defensive weaknesses and end the dynasty in the second round unless the champions finally do flip that switch.


What's Next?

The series returns to Los Angeles for Friday's Game 6.