By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com
OAKLAND, Calif. – They were suddenly in a race of attrition, already without center and defensive presence Andrew Bogut the entire series, then Jermaine O’Neal, Bogut’s initial replacement as the starter, went out with a sprained knee, then Draymond Green got his fifth personal with 10:15 remaining, then David Lee, Bogut’s second replacement, fouled out with 9:44 left Thursday night. At least the Warriors had the benefit of knowing the longer Game 6 dragged out, the more time for their nails to grow to make the difference on the finger-tip hold on the season.
The series deficit and the fouls and the injuries and the 39.3 percent from the field and 62.2 percent from the line… and Golden State very comfortably works in the grinder. After an inconsistent season of too often failing to scrape together energy to play to the end, even at Oracle Arena as the passionate home fans push them, this would be the counter. Warriors 100, Clippers 99, Mark Jackson a couple million.
Jackson may still get fired no matter what happens Saturday night in Game 7 in Los Angeles amid a disconnect with upper-management, as plugged-in Tim Kawakami of the Bay Area News Group outlined, but it just got a lot harder for owner Joe Lacob to make the case to change coaches. If the Warriors win those kind of games, with players standing up to the challenge, against a better opponent if both teams were full strength and certainly in this case, Thursday goes at the top of the list of arguments for the pro-Jackson faction.
“(The Clippers) made tough shots and you’re thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, can we get out of here and make sure there is a Game 7?’ ” Jackson said. “But that is the way we want to leave ball games, where we’re on fumes. It’s a shame that we leave ball games with something left in the tank. I thought (Thursday) everybody that stepped on the floor was engaged. They were involved. We made mistakes, but they battled. They battled.
“I can think of folks saying, ‘Why are we playing small? Why is Draymond Green in the game?’ It’s because of moments like this. We didn’t play for last year or the year before. We played for the future and he’s ready because of those moments. Those guys just competed. I’m excited to see this young basketball team experience a Game 7 on the road. They haven’t experienced it as players. It’s new to Klay Thompson. It’s new to Stephen Curry. It’s new to Draymond Green. It’s new to all my guys other than the veterans that have been around and have been on other teams. It’s new to me. It’s going to be a lot of fun because a lot of folks didn’t think we’d be here.”
He got that right. The teams split four regular-season meetings that were often contentious, but the Clippers finished six games ahead in the standings as the top teams in the Pacific Division. Even the Warriors’ best player, Curry, wouldn’t win a head-to-head matchup at his position, not with Chris Paul his opposite at point guard. And then with Bogut sidelined by a fractured rib, forget it.
It turned into the strangest series from there. Blake Griffin was immediately a force, but fouled out after 19 minutes in Game 1 and Golden State won. The Clippers responded with center DeAndre Jordan appearing unstoppable in the absence of Bogut. Donald Sterling made an appearance. The teams talked about boycotting at least a game as protest if commissioner Adam Silver did not make a strong ruling against Sterling. The Warriors are winning without Curry dominating, the Clippers without Paul consistently starring.
Jackson said before Game 6 the pressure was on L.A. because shorthanded Golden State wasn’t supposed to make it this interesting, so imagine now that it’s at a Game 7 and the Clippers are at home and in an elimination situation. Imagine now that the Warriors are on the brink of the second round and what that would mean for Jackson’s future.