By Jeffrey Dransfeldt
Special to S.F. Examiner
LOS ANGELES — Kevin Durant showed no mercy. Locked in, both offensively and defensively, the All-Star forward gave an historic performance Friday night.
Durant poured in 38 first-half points en route to a game-high 50 points in the Golden Warriors series-clinching 129-110 win over the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center.
“That was one of the great performances I’ve seen in my life,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “And I’ve seen some good ones … He’s the ultimate weapon because there’s no defense for Kevin. No matter what anybody does, he can get a good shot. And he knew we needed him badly.”
The Warriors 4-2 series win after an unexpectedly tight series with No. 8-seed Los Angeles sets up a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s seven-game Western Conference Finals with the Houston Rockets. While Golden State has admitted to looking ahead to that series, they first had to dispatch a scrappy, hungry Clippers squad. Los Angeles jumped out to an 18-8 lead in the first quarter before the Warriors rallied to take a 29-23 lead on a Durant pull up 3-pointer.
Golden State never relinquished the lead from there.
“We knew we had to play our A-game for us to have a chance because they’re well-coached,” Durant said. “They’re not going to stop playing.”
The Warriors, having lost its last two games at Oracle Arena, has now won three straight road playoff games.
“We have the talent and experience and composure to play on the road,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “That atmosphere (is what) we live for.”
Curry appeared to tweak his right ankle in the first quarter, but after exiting the game and making his way to the locker room, he returned to the Warriors bench in the second quarter. He made his way back into the game and remained effective with 24 points, 6 rebounds and 6 assists.
But the night belonged to Durant.
His 38 points before the break tied Charles Barkley for the most scored in the first half of a playoff game. Warriors legend Eric “Sleepy” Floyd holds the overall record with 39.
His first-half performance featured a 12-of-17 shooting line, as he went 4-of-8 from 3-point range, hit all 10 of his free throws, pulled down four rebounds and dished out three assists.
Durant didn’t pinpoint a specific reason but for the offensive onslaught but pointed to being in the rhythm of the offense.
“We sacrifice shots for each other,” he said. “We sacrifice opportunities for each other.”
Golden State made a change to its starting lineup with Shaun Livingston taking the place of center Andrew Bogut. The move, designed to match the Clippers’ small ball approach, followed Los Angeles head coach Doc Rivers’ early decision to go to JaMychal Green in place of more traditional center Ivica Zubac.
“This was our counter just to match them and to get our pace up,” Kerr said. “And I thought even though we were down 10 early, I loved the pace and I loved the way the game was going and I felt good about it.”
Draymond Green, the heartbeat of the Warriors defense, spearheaded a defensive resurgence after a lackluster Game 5 effort. His final stat line of 16 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists reflected his impact.
“I thought he was great in all areas — passing the ball, rebounding, defending, playing with pace,” Kerr said. “He was a huge part of the win.”
The Clippers were led by Danilo Gallinari’s 29 points. Promising rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander had 22 points and six assists.
Golden State will now quickly shift its focus to Houston with a short turnaround before Sunday’s Game 1 at 12:30 p.m. Houston, anticipating a Warriors win, flew to the Bay Area on Friday.
Golden State players and Kerr didn’t give much thought to the short turnaround.
“We know how good they are,” Kerr said of Houston. “We’ve got to be ready.”