The first question of Doc Rivers’ Game 3 postgame press conference was asked, “Where did things go wrong today?”
Without hesitation, Rivers responded, “When we showed up.”
Nothing went the Clippers’ way in their 27-point decimation to the Golden State Warriors on Thursday night. Kevin Durant’s 38-point performance exposed the Clippers and gave Golden State some revenge after a historic Game 2 meltdown.
Doc Rivers after the Clippers Game 3 loss to Golden State. pic.twitter.com/P1TfIvlsxu
— Blake Atwell (@blakeatwell5) April 19, 2019
Woes of the Clippers’ starting five
Ivica Zubac (18 points) and JaMychal Green (15 points) led the Clippers in scoring, which can’t be the case for Los Angeles to have any chance in the series. The Clippers’ starting five of Zubac, Danilo Gallinari, Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander combined to score 46 points. Two of the Warriors starting five, Durant and Andrew Bogut, tied that total alone.
“The one thing against them, almost a replay of Game 1 in a lot of ways, if you don’t score against them, you can’t beat them, no matter how your defense is,” Rivers said. “But part of the reason scoring was a struggle was because we were taking it out of bounds the entire night.”
Shamet and Gilgeous-Alexander are rookies, but the Clippers need more production from them to stay competitive with Golden State.
“They did what any good team would do,” Shamet said. “Respond to kind of getting embarrassed, I guess that’s how we would look at it. That’s how we feel right now.”
In Game 3, Shamet shot 1-of-5 from the floor and was a -27. Gilgeous-Alexander shot 1-of-7 and was a -33. Both rookies have the ability to impact the series but have been inconsistent. Shamet was nonexistent in the Clippers’ Game 1 loss, but woke up with the rest of his teammates during Game 2’s second half 31-point playoff record comeback.
His right wing 3-pointer tied the series and gave the Clippers life heading back to Staples. Gilgeous-Alexander was a bright spot for the Clippers in Game 1, scoring 18 points, but struggled throughout Game 2. His game-sealing drive and kick to Shamet put the two in positions of confidence heading into the series’ first game in Los Angeles. Neither held momentum, however, and the Clippers suffered the consequences.
“They were just physical,” Shamet said. “Heightened the level of intensity and physicality at that end which we expected after the other night in Game 2.”
Both digressed in Game 3, but will need to step up for the Clippers to have a shot at tying things up before the series shifts back to Oakland for what could be a do-or-die Game 5. When Shamet and Gilgeous-Alexander are making shots and playing with energy, the Clippers are a much more dynamic group. Outside of the two rookies, Gallinari struggled mightily, shooting 2-of-13 in 26 minutes.
“I always think when Gal is missing shots, number one, it’s got to be something they’re doing,” Rivers said. “I think we always just say, he missed shots. He did miss some shots. He had some wide-open shots. But we’ve got to get him even better shots.”
Gallinari must play well for the Clippers to have playoff success, as a slashing forward leading the first unit. Patrick Beverley opened Game 3 defending Kevin Durant and brought his aggressive antics with him. He pushed Durant into committing two fouls within the game’s first two minutes, but couldn’t stop the back-to-back Finals MVP from sinking nearly every shot.
“[Durant] was aggressive from the start at both ends,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. “He attacked. He said it yesterday, he’s Kevin Durant. He showed everybody who Kevin Durant is.”
— Blake Atwell (@blakeatwell5) April 19, 2019
The bottom line
No matter how well or disastrous Clipper starters play, one thing is certain. When one of the Warriors’ three superstars (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant) are at the top of their game, like Durant was for the entirety of Game 3, the Clippers have little-to-no chance. It didn’t help that the Clippers didn’t match Golden State’s intensity in Game 3, of course. But, even if the Clippers are at their best, they don’t have the starpower to match Golden State’s arsenal of offensive weapons.
With their dominant win Thursday night, the Warriors erased floating doubt. With the championship experience they carry, another 31-point meltdown shouldn’t be expected. Looking at the Clippers’ glass half full, Los Angeles now has two days to recharge and make adjustments until Sunday afternoon’s Game 4. Plus, if there’s any coach that can make the proper adjustments for a juggernaut like Golden State, it’s Doc Rivers.
Game 3’s blowout wasn’t a Clipper hangover. It also wasn’t Golden State reaching a level of play they can’t return to. What Thursday night definitely reestablished, rather, is how good the Warriors can become. We haven’t seen a new NBA champion in two years, and there’s no reason to believe the Warriors are relinquishing the throne yet.