Steve Kerr drove home from a stunning 35-point defeat at Oracle Arena one night last month and thought of something on the bright side: He can’t recall very many ugly losses during Golden State’s sensational five-year run.
This season has brought a handful of embarrassing performances in the final hurrah at Oracle, and the Los Angeles Clippers added to the list by rallying from a 31-point deficit in the second half to win Game 2 of their first-round playoff series.
Now, the two-time defending NBA champions will try to eliminate the Clippers by winning Game 5 on Wednesday night in Oakland. James Harden and Houston lead Utah 3-1 and also will try to wrap up their first-round series at home — potentially setting up one of the most anticipated second-round postseason matchups between the Warriors and Rockets.
“Close-out games are always difficult,” Kerr said Tuesday. “Both teams at this point have a really good feel for one another, strategically what each one is trying to do. I think the Clippers are going to come out flying around. They have nothing to lose.”
This year, a three-peat is at stake. Golden State already has established itself as a dynasty by winning three of the last four titles.
The Clippers might have momentum from that previous performance at Oracle.
“From the beginning of the season, playoffs, training camp, we’re self-motivated,” Clippers guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said. “It’s 3-1, that’s the obvious. Everyone knows that. But to us, we just have to win a game and go from there.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers is offering a straightforward message going into this elimination game, just as he did before Game 4.
“Now we are down, and the only way we can come back is we have to win there,” he said.
Here is a look at the two games Wednesday:
CLIPPERS AT WARRIORS
Warriors lead 3-1, Game 5, 10:30 p.m. EDT, TNT
NEED TO KNOW: Warriors big man DeMarcus Cousins, who tore his left quadriceps muscle in Game 2, is back with the team as he rehabs. He took part in the film session and will be around, but Kerr reiterated “at this point, conservatively, I would say it’s highly unlikely he would play” the remainder of the postseason.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Stephen Curry’s shot, and foul trouble contributing to taking him out of rhythm. Curry is eager to bounce back from an off night in Sunday’s Game 4. He went 3 for 14 and 1 of 9 on 3-pointers. “I just missed shots,” Curry said. “I still get frustrated but at the end of the day the pride you take in your game is really not about that per se as the little stuff you help your team win.”
INJURY WATCH: Warriors F Draymond Green had an MRI on his right wrist and all was clear. He practiced Tuesday. Green left after Game 4 with the wrist wrapped.
PRESSURE IS ON: Clippers defense to make things happen that lead to positive chances on the other end. Los Angeles defended well at home and must bring that same intensity to the Bay Area. “One thing I will say about our team is we will be ready. We’ll show up. I can guarantee you that,” Rivers said. “This team has never not done that.”
JAZZ AT ROCKETS
Rockets lead 3-1. Game 5, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT
NEED TO KNOW: The Rockets look to bounce back from an ugly game that extended the series and get a win to close it out on Wednesday. They’ll need James Harden to return to form to do that. Last season’s MVP has shot just 11 for 39 in the last two games, including starting Game 3 by missing his first 15 shots to set an NBA record for most misses to start a playoff game. Despite the shooting struggles, Harden has still averaged 28.8 points in the postseason but has failed to dominate games the way he often did in the regular season, when he averaged an NBA-best 36.1 points a game. For Utah, Jae Crowder could be the wild card that could keep the Jazz from being eliminated. He scored 23 points in Sunday’s win after managing just 19 points combined in the first three games. Crowder made three 3-pointers and helped keep the Jazz afloat early until Donovan Mitchell got hot late.
INJURY WATCH: Houston center Clint Capela has been battling an illness for the last couple of weeks that coach Mike D’Antoni said was still bothering him Sunday night. Capela, whom the team said had an upper respiratory infection before the series began, had a subpar performance in Game 4, managing just four points and seven rebounds with no blocks.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. The second-year star scored 19 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter Monday night to send the series back to Houston. If the Jazz hope to keep the series going, they’ll need another strong outing from Mitchell, who was critical of his play after committing nine turnovers with just six assists combined in losses in the first two games.
PRESSURE IS ON: Rockets 3-point shooting. Chris Paul was 2 for 8 and Danuel House Jr. missed all six of his tries from deep. The Rockets missed all 13 of their 3-point attempts in the fourth quarter to allow the Jazz to pull away in Game 4. Overall, Paul and Harden each shot 8 for 19 from the floor as the Rockets wound up at just 35.4%.