Let’s just say it — the wrong team won, but the right team lost.
Los Angeles’ 98-96 victory in Game 3 of this Western Conference quarterfinal over Golden State ended the only way it could, with Stephen Curry sitting on the floor and chewing on his mouth guard like it was gristly meat. He’d just missed a three-pointer that would have won this ghastly game, and he was unhappy that Chris Paul hadn’t been called for a foul he would never have been called for, and before he left the debated the non-call with official Ken Mauer while assistant coach Lindsey Hunter was snipping with Paul.
Both came up empty. Like the game itself. Which explains why both coaches, Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson, took the postgame presser podium wearing their best disgusted faces.
“We have to play better,” Rivers said, telling the baldfaced truth, “and they will too,” speculating without any evidence to back his claim. “There will be a great game in this series.”
Not that that’s the way to bet, mind you.
This game boiled down to three factors, none of which helped the Warriors.
One, they shot dismally (41.6 percent, 66.7 percent from the line), and especially from behind the arc (6-for-31, a hideous 19.4 percent).
Two, they were scared straight by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who finished with 22 rebounds, five blocks and a conservative nine changed shots. He removed David Lee’s inside game, thus rendering the Warriors’ lineup perpetually small, and the poor outside shooting made it all the worse.
And three, they proved that they have no answers at all for Blake Griffin, who finished with 32 and eight, and that’s despite missing seven of his nine free throws.
All that, plus the general unpleasant tone of the game, left both Rivers and Mark Jackson viscerally displeased with what they had seen, and scurrying back to see the tape with a bottle of Pepto Bismol within reach for those special moments.
If there was an up side for the Warriors, and losing playoff games usually means that finding an up side is largely delusional thinking, it is that they could have been routed for a second consecutive time and steeled themselves for their late rally. They fell behind 68-50 halfway through the third quarter and looked for all the world like they were going to dissolve as they had in Game 2, only to slowly but carefully trim the lead to 11 by quarter’s end, and to one with 4:24 to go.
But because the Clippers have sufficient snarl to hide their artistic deficiencies, they punched the lead back to eight at 94-86 in slightly more than a minute, and kept the Warriors just far enough away for just far enough to take a 2-1 advantage in this hot mess of a series.
Barring an adjustment that neutralizes Griffin and Jordan, this series does not look to get much closer. Their control of both basket areas is almost complete, and the Warriors’ best response — big nights from Curry and Klay Thompson — has not been forthcoming.
Curry is 20-of-45 overall, 6-for-21 from three, and has largely become discouraged by the veteran’s attention paid him by Paul. Thompson, the Warriors’ one creditably performer both statistically and purposefully, is a slightly less damaging 19-for-46, and 7-for-20 from three. And Lee has altered enough of his own shots to make the ones Jordan has altered for him seem like dozens.
Of course, the Warriors never leave without some defiance in the message, and Thompson delivered. “We got good shots,” he said of the 6-for-31 stat. “I got some great wide-open looks from the corner . . . when I see Stephen release them, I think that’s a layup. We probably hit half of those on Sunday.”
That’s certainly conceivable, but hitting half of them may not be enough given the way the Clippers own both basket areas. The absence of Andrew Bogut will always be felt in this series, but the Warriors did nothing in the other areas to counter that except enjoy one of the Clippers’ less appealing games.
–Ray Ratto, CSNBayArea.com
The Kings of Los Angeles, a proud group just two years removed from a Stanley Cup run, did what you would expect them to do here Thursday night.
They skated like crazy. They hit hard. They refused to go down easy. And they beat the Sharks by a score of 6-3 to extend the teams’ playoff series to a fifth game.
So, Sharks: No sweep for you.
(Sorry. It was an irresistible line, considering that “Seinfeld” writer Larry David was in the crowd at Staples Center.)
The concern would be that, even though the Kings were dogged in their attack, the Sharks helped them along a little too much. That cannot continue at SAP Center on Saturday night.
“They played well,” said the Sharks’ Logan Couture, speaking of the Kings. “We knew they were going to be desperate, and they were. We didn’t forecheck in the first two periods, the way we’d like. We’ve got to tighten that up in San Jose. But we’re still up, 3 games to 1.”
It wasn’t that far from being 4-0, however. Los Angeles goalie Jonathan Quick was giving up juicy rebounds and still hasn’t resembled the stopper he can be. But for Sharks goalie Antii Niemi, the trouble really began late in the second period, with the score tied at 2-2. Niemi was hanging in there, along with the rest of his team.
“I thought I felt fine, was seeing the puck well,” Niemi said.
Then, in a flash, the Kings played pingpong and scored. Willie Mitchell was out front and slammed the puck hard off the end boards as Niemi came out a smidgen too far to anticipate the shot but lost track of the puck when it whizzed past him. As the rubber wedge ricocheted back toward the net, Justin Williams flicked his stick at it and tucked the thing into the net.
“When I found the puck, it was too late,” Niemi said. “Weird bounces.”
But sometimes, a goofy goal like that can bring a team to life. That’s just what it did for the Kings, who scored again a few minutes later — and then again less than a minute into the third period to take a 5-2 lead. Niemi was pulled off the ice and replaced by Alex Stalock.
Sharks coach Todd McLellan was harsh in his assessment of what had happened.
“I didn’t like our net play,” he said. “As simple as that.”
McLellan then clarified his statement — to say that he was talking about the way his defensemen allowed secondary scoring chances on rebounds off Niemi and his forwards did not provide proper support when necessary.
“I’m definitely not talking about one individual with pads on,” McLellan said.
That should settle the issue of who starts the next game. Niemi has not been the best goalie of the NHL playoffs. He probably could/should have stopped one or two of Thursday’s goals — including Marian Gaborik’s shot that Niemi saw all the way.
“Not too many times can you say that you cannot stop one,” Niemi said, taking some blame.
But as McLellan said, the Thursday assault was not entirely his fault.
Among other things, the Sharks could have controlled the puck far more in their offensive end, as they did in the first three games of the series. And they allowed another power-play goal by the Kings after giving up two in Game 3.
But let’s face facts. If someone had told the Sharks they would split their two games at Staples Center this week to take a 3-1 lead back to SAP Center, most would have taken that scenario in a heartbeat. These Kings are not the fragile Vancouver Canucks who were ready to be swept by the Sharks in the first round a year ago — and were indeed ousted in four.
No, these Kings have more spine than that. But they clearly do not enjoy playing at the Shark Tank and realize winning Game 5 in San Jose will be tougher than winning Game 4 was at Staples.
–Mark Purdy, San Jose Mercury News
Marginal notes from what almost, nearly, coulda, woulda been, was so paper-thin-close to being the greatest Warriors’ win in, oh, 20 years …
— Good omen for Warriors (and this is a flashback to their regular-season home opener): Stephen Curry, after early warm-ups, retreats to the hallway behind the Warriors’ bench, 45 feet from hoop and at an angle behind the backboard, shoots and … rims out. “Same spin, same distance,” says Curtis Jones, the courtside security man who feeds Curry for this shot before every home game. Second attempt: swish.
— Warriors coach Mark Jackson shows up for the pregame news conference. So apparently he hasn’t been fired.
— Keys to the game? For the Warriors, this game has more keys than the janitor at thePentagon. One key for Warriors: Don’t let the Clippers’ Matt Barnes hurt you if he slings you to the hardwood. Andre Iguodala shakes off a Barnes slingdown (flagrant foul) to hit one free throw for 13-9 lead.
— Warriors’ (and fans’) reaction: “The refs saw that?”
— First flop: Jermaine O’Neal sets a routine pick on Chris Paul, who catapults himself into the first row. Gets the call. Just like Robert DeNiro will always get the close calls at Oscars time.
— Old NBA superstition: It’s bad luck when the visiting team scores the last 10 points of a quarter. So huge sigh of relief in the building as Jordan Crawford scores on a drive, cutting Clippers’ first-quarter lead to three.
— Is Joe Lacob wondering, “What would (fill in the blank) do?”?
— If you throw a black-tie party and some schlubs show up wearing overalls, that’s bad form, right? So why do Peter Guber’s and Lacob’s courtside buddies not get with the yellow T-shirt theme? Grab some cotton, meat.
— That said, staring at a sea of 20,000 yellow T-shirts, I’m feeling slightly jaundiced.
— Wonder if the Kiss Cam will zero in on Larry Ellison and the empty seat next to him.
— One minute before halftime, Klay Thompson hits the Warriors’ first three-pointer, after 10 misses. Suddenly the fairly subdued crowd comes to life.
— Nothing nukes the Oracle like a three-point bomb. But Thompson misses one, so it’s 1-for-12 for the half, which is 8 percent, which will not do the trick – the trick being to win the basketball game.
— Can’t shake Thompson’s description of Blake Griffin, “Bull in a china shop.” Thrice, Griffin has human-torpedoed himself into defender. Crash-tinkle, olé!
— At the half, Draymond Green has four blocked shots. The Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan is miffed that he finished third in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, but he should give his bronze medal to Green.
— Who’s winning the point guard battle? At the half, I’ve got Chris Paul ahead of Curry, because bad leg and all Paul is defending Curry well.
— Ellison sits front row, a few seats from Guber and Lacob. If the Warriors lose, will he make ‘em an offer they can’t refuse? Or is Ellison just here to recruit Griffin as a grinder?
— Sign of desperation? Griffin stages one-man, eight-point run, Warriors call timeout, Jackson has long talk with ref Ken Mauer. Usually Jackson is the refs’ best friend.
— Another timeout, another Jackson discussion with Mr. Mauer.
— No question who the killer in this series is. Griffin showed up ready to rumble, at least after his Game 1 disappearance. At midseason a national writer nominated Curry for third best player in the league (behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant). Right now there’s no question Griffin is Top 3.
— Crash Brothers? They started out from three-land (1-for-13) more like the Smothers Brothers.
— That slam-slam-slam you hear is Bob Myers hanging up the phone on other GMs calling to ask about Green. Muscle and hustle, and desperately needed points, off the pine.
— Paul, with a bad hammie, was on Curry for his desperation last shot. Clippers coach Doc Rivers: “I was gonna take (Paul) out, I think it was the middle of the third. I told our trainer, ‘That’s it.’ … (Paul) said, ‘Just trust me, please trust me.’ ” In Paul they trust.
— Can a three-ball-happy team win in gritty playoffs? Rivers: “If anyone breaks the mold (of thriving in playoffs on three-balls), it’s them. … You are who you are. If I had those cannons, I’d fire ‘em every time downcourt, too.”
–Scott Ostler, San Francisco Chronicle