OAKLAND, Calif. -- On the first day of the NBA playoffs, a familiar sound was heard, a warning actually, and it was tim-ber! Heavily-favored and highly seeded teams falling in unlikely places, and then the Golden State Warriors began defense of their back-to-back championships, and you know what dropped to the floor?
In order: Stephen Curry right on his wallet after swishing a long distance 3-pointer that shook the building; Patrick Beverley after colliding with and then having to hear about it from a trash-talking Kevin Durant; and finally, any faint hopes the Clippers might have had to make this first-round series even remotely interesting.
Yes, while madness reigned in other playoff cities, Oakland enjoyed a ray of reality.
Warriors vs. Clippers could very well be the lone mismatch in these playoffs because simple arithmetic says so. Five stars for the Warriors going against zero stars for the Clippers equals a four-game sweep, or at least it seems. At 121-104 Warriors, Game 1 was pretty much a wash, with the only drama being the game within the game.
Specifically: Pat Bev being Pat Bev.
Beverley is the NBA's resident porcupine, bringing a prickly exterior designed to rub folks the wrong way. His purpose is to disrupt with defense, and he is among the league's best at that, and also with chatter, which he uses to get under more skin than a tattoo.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers made the curious if gutsy decision to use Beverley at times as a second layer of defense against Durant. That's a salute to Beverley; although the guard gives away seven inches to Durant, he works hard to minimize that disadvantage but mostly, the Clippers have no one better to offer on the double team.
Besides, the genius behind Rivers' ploy was knowing Beverley would not hesitate to use some snarl and try to get Durant or maybe Curry to take the bait.
"I just competed out there," said Beverley. "This is the playoffs."
And so, Beverley nearly became hoarse after so much trash talking to Durant, who was only too willing to send it back. For three quarters it was entertaining. By the fourth quarter, it was tiring, because a pair of incidents resulted in technical fouls and eventually the ejection of both.
First: Beverley rose and successfully challenged Durant's shot at the rim, and when the ball bounced out of bounds, Beverley jumped on the chance to get into Durant's ear.
Next: Minutes later, as both players chased a loose ball, Durant collided with Beverley, sending the guard into the scorer's table and then the floor, where Durant stood over him and taunted him. That was enough for veteran referee Ed Malloy, who rushed over and tossed both players.
"It's an emotional play, so he's going to show his intensity after that [first] play," said Durant. "It was the same play for me on the other end when I had an opportunity to bring some intensity to the game and for my team. I thought that was the perfect time to do so."
What Malloy doesn't realize, or didn't care to, is that Beverley never gets into a fight and doesn't throw anything more harmful than an insult. Likewise, Durant had a grin on his face when he got into Beverley's face. But just to be safe, and also to send a message for the rest of the series, Malloy bounced both.
Durant later expressed a measure of respect for Beverley's incendiary approach to the game.
"He's a Chicago kid," said Durant. "Brings a different type of grit. I have to appreciate that. We all know what he brings to the table, with his physicality, mucking up the game with his physicality and talking … that what he brings, that's his identity."
The Clippers have bigger problems than Durant, namely Curry, who once again became a handful for the Clippers; he averaged 32 points on 54 percent shooting against LA this season. On Saturday he scored 38 points on only 16 shots, and just for good measure chipped in a career-high 15 rebounds and seven assists. It was an all-around display of efficiency from Curry, and a historical one as well, as he passed Ray Allen for first place on the all-time career playoff list for most 3-pointers made.
"Curry has destroyed us all year, he really has," said Rivers.
As is his custom when he's rolling, Curry hit shots from all sorts of weird angles and distances, each getting a rise from the Oracle Arena crowd. And it underlined the problem faced by the Clippers. If they choose to double Durant, there are times when Curry will punish them.
"I mean, I've seen this so much from him, it's just another night at the office," said Durant.
So that's the tone set for this series. The Warriors bringing more firepower and star power, plan to overwhelm the Clippers with both and finish off the No. 8 seed as quickly as possible. Given that the Clippers' two most productive players, Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, both come off the bench (they combined for 51 points), the Clippers will be under a bit of pressure to start games with a stronger surge, or else spend the rest of the night swimming uphill against a better team.
They've defied logic during a regular season that saw them overachieve and nearly reach 50 wins despite trading their leading scorer, Tobias Harris, at the deadline. But this is a whole ‘nother level here in the playoffs, where the intensity rises and the Warriors suddenly get serious about basketball and where stars rule.
On a night where the Nets, Spurs and Magic all pulled surprises against higher seeds in their playoff openers, the Clippers went quietly and rather expectedly.
"It's alright," said Beverley. "We didn't back down, we won't back down."
Well, true, when it came to standing toe-to-toe and talking a good game, the Clippers were nearly equal to the Warriors. That makes for a nice sideshow, a diversion, a splash of spice that creates a level of hostility that can be entertaining.
Yet this is Big Boy Basketball now, and you need a few great players to pull you through, and an experienced hand when one is needed, and a feeling of belonging. The Warriors bring all of that, and more; they don't play down to the competition in the playoffs.
What are the Clippers bringing? Well, it better be something we haven't seen yet, or else this series will be shorter than Beverley's temper.
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