OAKLAND, Calif. -- The greatest comeback ever in the NBA playoffs doesn’t just happen. No, to rise from the mat after falling behind by 31 points in the third quarter, history must be created -- much like a work of art or a perfect melody or a four-course meal that satisfies every single taste bud.
And so that’s what the LA Clippers did in a 135-131 win Wednesday, mixing artistry, striking the proper chord and piecing together the right recipe to stage a rally on the road against the two-time defending champions that, much like the Clippers’ season itself, blindsided everyone.
Here are the scenes that told the story: Pat Beverley stripping Stephen Curry in the open floor … Beverley, buying a house inside Kevin Durant’s head and reducing the Golden State Warriors’ superstar to nine turnovers, eight shots and six fouls while also causing him to miss the final crucial minutes … Lou Williams dropping fadeaways and slashing through the Golden State defense better than a butcher … Montrezl Harrell snatching rebounds and refusing to miss a single shot … and finally, rookie Landry Shamet, who wasn’t even a Clipper until two months ago, tying the bow with the eventual game-winning shot.
Then the Clippers were strutting off the floor, bouncing into their locker room, laughing, yelling, high-fiving and celebrating like it’s June. Allow them that indulgence.
“Sometimes thing happen, huh?” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, offering a shrug.
The Clippers scored 85 points in the second half, their relentless rally over the last 18 minutes catching the Warriors by surprise (and, most importantly, finishing the job). Williams scored 29 of his 37 points in the second half, Harrell 17 of his 25.
“It’s who we are,” Rivers said. “You just love this group. They don’t give in. We were looking for a solution because they were beating us in every facet. We kind of stumbled on one we liked. But I thought t was our spirit more than anything. We just had to hang in there long enough.”
If you’ve been around this team, this is habit. We’ve been down 28, 25, but continue to play the right way. We know how this feels.”
And the Warriors?
“Well,” said coach Steve Kerr, “we stopped playing.”
If the Warriors need to pinpoint a cause, they can start with Durant. Two days removed from Game 1 where he took the bait from Beverley and earned an ejection, Durant apologized to his teammates for putting himself in that position. And then he repositioned himself for Game 2.
How and why a star of Durant’s magnitude has allowed a tiff with Beverley to become a thing is astonishing. Yet, Durant became unglued Monday against an aggressive, physical player who dwarfs him by seven inches. It was the gnat taking on the giraffe and coming away bigger from it.
“Look,” Beverley said, “I just go out there and just be Pat. I don’t try to get in people’s head I go out there and try to be the best defensive player on this planet. I take my role and my job very seriously. I understand my role.”
Beverley was playing it coy. He clearly knows what he’s doing by attacking a star whose mental toughness has been questioned before, and Durant’s refusal to ignore Beverley speaks volumes. More than the verbal tactics, though, Beverley’s defense was stellar -- employing the right positioning and ball denial while forcing Durant to pass up shots. For Beverley, the last two games have been satisfying for him.
“KD’s not an easy cover,” Beverley said. “But I had fun out there.”
Rivers loves Beverley’s energy and passion and how he keeps it confined without losing control.
“He’s so important for us,” Rivers said. “People get lost in his antics but his spirit is so important for our team. He was encouraging everyone.”
Durant picked up early fouls against Beverley, and while the sixth and disqualifying foul wasn’t against Beverley and was borderline at best, the damage was already done. The Warriors were already without DeMarcus Cousins, who suffered a left quad injury in the first quarter, and losing Durant stripped them of another big scorer.
By then, the Clippers had seized momentum and suddenly had one less star to worry about. That allowed them to trap Curry late in a tight game, especially with Klay Thompson (17 points) struggling. Hounded by multiple Clippers, Curry missed seven of his nine shots in the fourth quarter and the Warriors had no other options or answers.
Rivers pushed all the right buttons and the players gathered momentum and confidence as the lead tightened.
“You don’t want to be the guys getting blasted on national television,” Williams said. “You cut the lead to 12 and then to 10 and then you realize you got a game going. We just play hard, hard as you can and live with the results. I really can’t recall a moment when I thought the momentum was changing until it was like a three-point game and then I thought we got a shot at winning this game. This was doable.”
Williams thought for a second, in disbelief: Down 31 points?
“That’s a record we really didn’t want to have,” he said, “but we’ll take it.”
Beverley added: “If you’ve been around this team, this is habit. We’ve been down 28, 25, but continue to play the right way. We know how this feels.”
Curiously, the honor of the final shot went to Shamet, not Williams. Shamet arrived in the mid-season trade with the Philadelphia 76ers that cost the Clippers their leading scorer, Tobias Harris. The main question about the Clippers in the postseason lies with their lack of hero-ball players. On the most important possession of Game 2, the ball found a rookie.
“Soon as he caught it,” Williams said, “I put my hands up. I felt really good about the shot. He’s just a pure all-out shooter.
The loss for the Warriors was more embarrassing than anything. Their composure, smarts and defense were all diminished. For the final two quarters of Game 2, they looked more like disinterested bystanders who didn’t snap to attention until it was too late.
If nothing else, the Clippers have their attention as the series moves to Los Angeles for Games 3 and 4. After such a historic outcome, there might be substantially more Clippers fans than Warriors fans at Staples Center.
“We enjoyed the night of course, but the reality is it’s just one game,” said Beverley. “Still, it’s going to be fun in LA.”
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Shaun Powell has covered the NBA for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here .
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