It just so happened that Golden State also needed to claim Game 4 against the New Orleans Pelicans to avoid losing control of the series, which they did with a 118-92 victory to be a game away from the Western Conference Finals.
Winning was important for the Warriors, but more vital to their long-term outlook in these playoffs is how they won Game 4.
Not only did Kevin Durant look unstoppable as he was leaned on to score, but the team’s ‘Death Lineup’ – or ‘Hamptons Five’, referring to Durant hosting free agent pitches in the Hamptons in the summer of 2016 – fired on all cylinders.
Durant scored Golden State’s first two baskets on pull-up jumpers to set the tone for the night as the Warriors put the ball in his hands often. He finished with 38 points on 15-of-27 shooting, which saw him kill the Pelicans in the mid-range, where he shot 9-of-15.
Jrue Holiday had done relatively well to contain Durant earlier in the series, but in Game 4 there was little any New Orleans defender could do as the Golden State forward was dominant in isolations and post-ups, looking like he did during his Oklahoma City days.
“I just try to tell myself that I’m at my best when I don’t care what happens after the game, the outcome or anything,” Durant said. “That’s when I’m free and having fun out there, and forceful. That was the thing – just try to play with force no matter if I missed shots or not, just keep shooting, keep being aggressive.”
The Warriors would prefer to play a more free-flowing style and whip the ball around instead of putting Durant on an island and relying on him to score in one-on-one situations. By unleashing Durant in Game 4, however, Golden State sharpened a weapon they may have to break out later on when their preferred offensive approach isn’t working.
Warriors’ 3 most-used lineups today:— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) May 6, 2018
• Death Lineup: +26 in 18 minutes, 11/21 from inside the arc, 7/15 from deep, 9/9 from FT
-2 in 9 minutes
• Cook-Livingston-KD-Green-Looney: +4 in 4 minutes
That has long been their go-to lineup in critical situations and in Game 4, it looked up for the task as it registered an offensive rating of 130.1 and a defensive rating of 66.5 for a net rating of 63.6 – a great sign for Golden State’s bid to repeat as champions.
“The versatility of that lineup, everybody is a playmaker,” Curry said. “Defensively we’re flying around. It just got the energy right to start the game.”
The Houston Rockets’ dynamic offence and All-Star backcourt get most of the attention, but it’s their defence that has been their bedrock in the playoffs.
In a series that features Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert, it’s been Capela who has arguably had the greatest impact defending his team’s basket.
The 23-year-old centre had six blocks to go with two steals, 15 rebounds and 12 points in Game 4, and even when he wasn’t swatting Utah shots he was often altering them.
Clint Capela became the fourth player in the last 20 years to block as many as five shots in the fourth quarter of a playoff game. Capela joined Greg Ostertag (1998), Dwight Howard (2010), and JaVale McGee (2012) who all had exactly five blocks in the 4th. @EliasSports pic.twitter.com/Dzjlr3DgwB— NBA.com/Stats (@nbastats) May 7, 2018
“It’s so many things that happen throughout the game that don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Chris Paul said of Capela. “It shows how selfless he is.”
Capela’s impact in the series, however, has been obvious through the numbers.
Aside from his 13 total blocks, the big man is tied for the most loose balls recovered in the conference semi-finals with 11, while contesting the second-most 2-pointers with 54 and the second-most 3-pointers with 19.
After shooting 37.6 per cent in the paint (non-restricted area) during the regular season, the Jazz are converting just 23.6 per cent (13-of-55) from that region in this series.
While Paul and James Harden have deservedly been credited for Houston’s strong season in which they won an NBA-best 65 games, Capela has emerged as a third, less-heralded star and the centrepiece of a defence that finished fifth in defensive rating with 103.8 points allowed per 100 possessions.
“He’s put himself in this position to go out there and play at a high level and do the things that we ask him to do every single night,” Harden said of Capela.
“I mean, he has our back, and it feels good to have somebody have our back like he does. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for it.”
With the way Capela is shining on the playoff stage, the credit is starting to come.
Having been humbled by the Pelicans in game three, the Warriors were in no mood to humour the home fans at the Smoothie King Centre, racing into a 14-4 lead early on.
Kevin Durant took his team and possibly the series by the scruff of the next with 38 points off 27 attempts, rebounding nine times. Steph Curry – back from injury – posted 23 and guard Quinn Cook chipped in with 12 from the bench.
Anthony Davis offered 26 for the Pelicans, who now have it all to do if they are to extend their season.
Chris Paul celebrated his 33rd birthday by out-scoring MVP favourite James Harden as the Rockets won.
Paul put up 27 on a rare night when Harden was eclipsed, adding 12 rebounds and six assists for good measure. Clint Capela was outstanding too, offering six blocks, 12 points and 15 redounds.
Twenty-five points from Donovan Mitchell were not enough to fire up the Jazz sufficiently.