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After falling behind by as many as 18 points in the third quarter of Game 3 at Oracle Arena on Thursday, the Golden State Warriors roared back into the fray in the final stanza after the long-range pox placed on Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry finally lifted and the "Splash Brothers" finally started scorching the nets. A 16-6 run drew the Dubs within a point at 87-86, prompting Doc Rivers' club to respond in kind in the form of a nonsense Blake Griffin step-back jumper (that very well could've been waved off as a walk) and Chris Paul getting daggerous with five points on consecutive huge jumpers in a 37-second span to give L.A. some breathing room.
The Warriors kept coming, though, with Curry drilling two monster triples and the Clips leaving the door open as Griffin and Paul each split pairs of free throws in the final minute. With 7.8 seconds remaining and the Warriors trailing 98-96, the stage was set for a thrilling conclusion. What we got was plenty dramatic, all right, but not quite in the way the Oracle faithful had hoped:
Curry received the inbounds pass from Andre Iguodala and dribbled left with Paul all over him. As the clock ticked down under five seconds, Curry stepped back, elevated and fired a foot-on-the-line 2-pointer. Paul stepped forward to contest, getting right into Steph's hip while he was in the air. Curry flailed after this release and hit the deck after coming down; the shot came up short and was rebounded by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan; L.A. hung on for a 98-96 win that regained home-court advantage and gave them a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven first-round series.
Curry stayed planted on the floor after the final buzzer, sitting on the "S" in the NBA playoffs decal on the Oracle court and looking around in disbelief. His disagreement with the lack of a foul call on the play continued during his post-game chat with reporters, according to Sam Amick of USA TODAY Sports:
Curry stayed on the court afterward to plead his case with official Ken Mauer, then shared his frustration afterward when asked if it was definitely a foul.
"Hundred percent," said Curry, who had 16 points (5-for-12 shooting) and 15 assists in 43 minutes. "I feel like that. Obviously (the officials) didn't feel like that, so I'm not going to complain about it. I thought if a guy is going up to shoot the ball, and you have a forearm body contact on the jump, that's usually a foul.
"I'm sure they were looking at my release, to see if he hit my arm. But there was a lot more going on than that. They probably didn't want to have a conversation. All they said was 'I didn't think you got hit there.' It felt like (he was also hit on the arm), but I knew I got hit on the body. That's why I was off-balance.
"That's my go-to move is the stepback. I don't shoot airballs very often."
Warriors coach Mark Jackson (as you might expect) shared Curry's perspective, while Paul (as you might expect) didn't, according to Yahoo Sports NBA columnist Marc J. Spears:
"Well, he's supposed to be able to land," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "Clearly he wasn't able to. I'm not looking for an apology [from the NBA on Friday], though." [...]
"I knew who was getting it and I figured he was going to shoot it," Paul said. "So I just tried to make him as uncomfortable as possible. And we won the game."
On one hand, Curry certainly seems to have a case — a closer look at the play shows that Paul contacted Curry mid-shot with both his left forearm on Curry's right hip and with his right arm on Curry's right elbow as he releases. On the other, Curry only had the room to elevate because he'd previously pushed used his right arm on Paul's left thigh to push him away and create space, and Curry might have lessened his chances of getting a favorable whistle by veering left and going to the step-back rather than pressing an off-the-dribble advantage on the hamstrung (but #hamstrong) Paul and driving toward the basket after turning the corner with six seconds still remaining on the game clock.
Warriors fans upset at the referees for costing Golden State the game by swallowing their whistles would do well to redirect their ire toward a defense once again unable to stop Griffin (32 points on 15 for 25 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals), an offense unable to connect from deep (6 for 31 from 3-point land) until the final six minutes, and a level of carelessness off which L.A. feasted (17 turnovers for 25 Clipper points). One bang-bang decision does not a loss make, and as Curry later told reporters, it was the kind of "50-50 call" that most referees just aren't going to make on a potential game-winning or game-tying shot, especially when both combatants had been doing their fair share of hand-fighting on the play. In this case, the coin-flip went in CP3's favor, and the Clippers came away with the victory.
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