Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press
Kevin Durant scored 50 points on 15-of-26 shooting and Draymond Green added a 16-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist triple-double as the No. 1 seed Golden State Warriors eliminated the No. 8 seed Los Angeles Clippers from the NBA postseason with a 129-110 win on Friday.
Golden State won its best-of-seven Western Conference first-round series over Los Angeles 4-2.
Durant scored the second-most points in one playoff half thanks to his 38 before halftime:
☔️ #NBAPlayoffs career-high for points in a half
☔️ Tied for 2nd most points in a half in postseason history
Kevin Durant erupts for 38 1st half PTS on 12-17 shooting! #StrengthInNumbers
📺: @ESPNNBA https://t.co/a4TK7LejxB
KD also became just the fourth Warrior to score 50 or more points in a playoff game, per Mark Medina of the Mercury News:
Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina
Kevin Durant is the fourth Warriors’ player to have a 50-point playoff game, including Sleepy Floyd, Wilt Chamberlain and Rick Barry.
Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press also noted that Durant is one of four players to score 50 points on the road in a series-ending matchup:
Tim Reynolds @ByTimReynolds
50 or more on the road in a closeout game
– Kevin Durant, 50 and counting, tonight (assuming Warriors win)
– Charles Barkley, 56, Suns def. Warriors 3-0, 1994
– Michael Jordan, 56, Bulls def. Heat 3-0, 1992
– Sam Jones, 51, Celtics def. Knicks 3-1, 1967
(Never done in best-of-7)
Danilo Gallinari led the Clips with 29 points. Patrick Beverley added 11 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists.
Warriors vs. Rockets Is the Real NBA Finals
The Warriors will now face the Houston Rockets in the second round. Although the NBA Finals are still two rounds away, that series winner figures to be named the league champion.
Golden State and Houston are arguably the NBA’s two best teams. Much doesn’t need to said about why the Warriors are there.
The Dubs are favorites over the entire NBA playoff field to win the title, per Vegas Insider. They are back-to-back NBA champions and seemingly invincible even when one of their core four stars since 2016 has an off night or is injured, a point Medina first mentioned during Game 6:
Mark Medina @MarkG_Medina
The Warriors have obvious talent. But they have a pretty good track record with their stars elevating their game anytime one of the other stars has an off night or an injury. Durant, Klay and Draymond all doing that to help offset Steph’s absence with his ankle
The case in point was Friday, when Klay Thompson scored just nine points on 3-of-10 shooting and Stephen Curry gutted through a rolled right ankle.
That didn’t matter because Durant and Green stole the show.
Durant’s aggressiveness has led to excellent offensive performances, as he’s averaged 41.5 points in his last four games. He’s made 55 of 95 field goals after hitting just 13 of 24 in his first two playoff contests.
Meanwhile, all Green did was post 10 points and 10 rebounds within the first 17 minutes, per Warriors PR.
As for the Rockets, they are 24-5 in their last 29 games, and three of those five defeats came by one or two points. Houston is also No. 2 in offensive and defensive rating since the All-Star break, per NBA.com. Their net rating is No. 1 during that span, and they just beat the team at No. 2 (the Utah Jazz) 4-1 in the first round.
The entire rotation’s performance has been the catalyst toward the team’s resurgence.
NBA MVP candidate James Harden has carried the team at times this season, but he shot just 37.4 percent from the field against the Jazz in the first round. That didn’t matter, however, as the other four starters all shot at least 43.9 percent from the field. Meanwhile, the team defense was once again sensational, holding the Jazz to 40 percent shooting from the field.
Utah was a No. 5 seed in name only: By the end of the year, the Jazz were arguably a top-seven or top-eight NBA team. They notably went 30-11 in the second half of the season and went 12-1 over a 13-game stretch in March and April.
The bottom line is these two teams are likely the league’s best. The East has four solid contenders, but (a) none of them can come close to matching the Warriors’ postseason experience and success, (b) none of them have been as scorching hot as the Rockets and (c) all of them figure to be at a disadvantage against either team’s Hall of Fame backcourt.
Ultimately, this series should decide the NBA champion.
Pushing Warriors Is Only Pitch Clippers Need for Star Free Agents
The Clippers weren’t predicted to do much of anything this season. ESPN.com offered a 35-47 prognostication and 11th-place Western Conference finish. The sportsbooks gave a 35.5-win over/under total, per Isaac Lee of The Ringer. And Sports Illustrated placed the Clips No. 21 in its original power ranking.
The predictions weren’t particularly surprising: The Lob City Era officially ended, and the team had a collection of good players who weren’t considered stars.
However, the Clips proved everyone wrong by finishing 48-34 despite a midseason roster upheaval that saw leading scorer and rebounder Tobias Harris, center Boban Marjanovic and power forward Mike Scott head to Philadelphia before the Feb. 7 trade deadline.
Not only that, but Los Angeles took two playoff games—both on the road—against the heavily favored Warriors.
The Clippers look like they’re about to make a seismic leap up the Western Conference rankings, and that should be enticing for any free agent, on top of all the positives of playing basketball in Los Angeles.
The team has much of the talent from this year still under contract, including Danilo Gallinari, Lou Williams, Montrezl Harrell, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet.
There does seem to be a missing piece there: A scorer who can post 25 or more points per game and lead the first unit in scoring, in part to alleviate some pressure off Williams in closing time.
A few class-of-2019 free agents fit that bill, including Toronto Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, Durant and Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving.
Leonard may not need much convincing to join Los Angeles. Tim Bontemps of ESPN.com reported that NBA executives believe the two-time Defensive Player of the Year will choose between the Clips and Raptors.
Los Angeles has room for two max free agents, however, and Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer noted that the team could pick up Leonard and Durant. O’Connor noted that it wasn’t likely.
“It’s not likely that Leonard and Durant will join the Clippers. Two superstars joining forces rarely happens in sports. But it’s surprisingly simple to make it happen, though. The Clippers would need to create $70.85 million in cap space to outright sign both players. If the salary cap is $109 million, as it’s projected, they could create $78.2 million in space by (1) renouncing the rights to all their free agents other than center Ivica Zubac and (2) trading Danilo Gallinari. If Leonard and Durant were signed, then the left-over cash could be used to re-sign Beverley, and they’d have the rights to Zubac.”
That would likely put the Clippers at or near the top of the NBA title favorite ledger for next season, but even if that doesn’t work out, Los Angeles has put itself in a position as one of the NBA’s prime free-agent spots, if not the best.
Golden State will play the No. 4 seed Rockets in the second round. The series is a rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals, which Golden State won 4-3.