What should have been a Durant celebration turned into The Lou Williams Show in the third quarter
OAKLAND, Calif. — Kevin Durant should have been jubilant, ecstatic, elated — whatever other adjective you can find on thesaurus.com. Instead he looked like a prize fighter who had come out on the short end of a 12-round TKO.
He addressed the media following a brilliant 40-point performance, one in which he became the second-youngest NBA player to surpass the 20,000-point plateau, but was forced to answer question after question about one man — the Clubber Lang to his Rocky Balboa.
It’s not a name the Warriors want to hear again any time soon. They’ll be haunted by his lithe, 175-pound frame until they take the court for their next game on Friday. Williams dropped a career-high 50 points to lead the shorthanded Clippers to an improbable, almost impossible 125-106 win on Wednesday night at Oracle Arena, snapping a 12-game losing streak to Golden State.
“He ordered a 50-piece nuggets on us tonight,” a despondent Durant said after the game, providing an early entry for 2018 metaphor of the year. “Somebody scores 50 on you the way he did — you’ve just got to pay homage and move on.”
Rewind about three hours, and Durant’s night started off exactly the way it was supposed to. Klay Thompson had a scheduled rest day and Stephen Curry was held out after tweaking his previously injured right ankle during shootaround, so it was no surprise when Durant got all 25 points he needed to reach his milestone in the first half. The crowd showered him with adulation and a standing ovation before a DeAndre Jordan free throw — a symphonic recognition of Durant’s uncanny scoring ability that is too often taken for granted.
Before DeAndre Jordan’s free throw, Warriors give Kevin Durant a standing ovation for the joining the 20K club pic.twitter.com/PltUDahGcQ
— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) January 11, 2018
The Warriors went into halftime up by four, surely confident that they could go on one of their patented third-quarter runs that tend to bury their wide-eyed, upset-minded foes and turn close games into bench-emptying laughers. After all, they were playing a team featuring such household names as Jawun Evans, C.J. Williams and Tyrone Wallace.
But then Lou Williams started throwing haymakers, and they all landed.
He poured in 27 points in the third quarter — yes, 27 … in a single quarter. The Oracle crowd got to the point where they moaned every time Williams caught the ball because they knew something bad was about to happen — a 3-pointer, a floater, a tricky move to the basket to earn free throws. He. Could. Not. Be. Stopped.
— NBA (@NBA) January 11, 2018
By the end of it the Clippers were up by seven heading into the final frame. On a normal night Golden State could erase a lead like that in the blink of an eye. But without Curry and Thompson, huge runs were much harder to come by. Warriors coach Steve Kerr wasted no time pointing to Williams’ assault as the turning point in the game.
“He’s really crafty and once he gets going, that’s the problem. He’s hard to keep under wraps,” Kerr said. “Once you let a guy like that get going, he can win a game by himself.”
Everyone knows Williams is a flat-out scorer — he was on a particularly hot stretch coming in, averaging nearly 30 points over his last eight games heading into Thursday. So how did one of the league’s top defensive teams allow the only scoring threat on the Clippers to set a new career-high?
Kerr saw something in his team that he didn’t like — something that he hasn’t seen much of in his tenure with the Warriors: negativity.
“Our spirit wasn’t right. Our energy wasn’t right. We weren’t connected, and they were,” Kerr said. “The Clippers, they came in here, probably insulted that we were resting Klay, and obviously Steph goes down. … They came in and just kicked our ass.
“I just didn’t like the way the game unfolded with our lack of energy — actually it was like a negative energy. I haven’t seen that often with this team over the last few years. So tonight was a bad night.”
Kerr’s assertion is backed up by the performance of the team’s unquestioned leader in the energy department, Draymond Green, who had an absolutely dismal game — seven points on 1 of 9 shooting, no steals, no blocks and a minus-16 for the game. Green has only had five no-steal, no-block games all season.
Green was candid when asked if the team possibly overlooked a Clippers team that looked more like a G League squad than a franchise that’s had five straight 50-win seasons.
“It’s human nature,” Green said. “You’re just not gonna get up the same way for 82 games — for every opponent. I don’t think that’s why we lost the game, but it’s just not realistic.”
In addition to the focus and energy issues, Green pointed to the defensive coverage on Williams as a main culprit.
“Well, we gave up 50 points to Lou Will. It’s tough to overcome that,” Green said. “You see how he gets going. We probably should have switched the coverage, but we didn’t. He’s been on a tear, so it’s not like we weren’t expecting him to get going. We gotta take more pride in one-on-one defense.”
Green would never throw fill-ins Nick Young and Patrick McCaw under the bus, but the one-on-one defense to which he refers is generally the department of Thompson, who consistently guards the best perimeter scorer on the opposing team. Thompson held Williams to 23 points — a relative success — when the teams met on Saturday, and it’s hard to believe that he wouldn’t have been able to at least temper Williams’ third-quarter barrage on Wednesday.
“Klay’s a great defender and we missed him out there,” Durant said. “I’m sure in the beginning it would have been a little tougher for Lou, but, hey, he wasn’t out there and we gotta step up. It is what it is.”
Durant’s brilliance was unquestionable on Wednesday. According to Basketball Reference, he became just the eighth NBA player since the 1983-84 season to score 40 points on 18 or fewer field goal attempts and less than nine free throw attempts. The last one to do it, of course, was Curry in 2015.
But nobody is talking about Durant’s game. They’re talking about Williams — the man who, on this night at least, outscored one of the greatest scorers the game has ever seen.