LOS ANGELES-If there is anything that came out of the third meeting this season between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors is that these two teams know to make for good theater. It was also clear that the Clippers are not going to really contend for a title without Blake Griffin in the lineup.
The 19-6 winning run the Clippers have been on without Griffin has been a great way for coach Doc Rivers to play with his roster and see what works, in terms of team chemistry and playing efficiency. This will go a long way when the postseason comes around. But the notion that the Clippers are a better team without Griffin, as some in the media has suggested, is like buying fool’s gold.
Even with the nice addition of swingman Jeff Green, the Clippers would be hard-pressed to make it out the first round without Griffin. It’s that plain and simple. What’s also plain to see is the inevitable showdown makings of a potential classic postseason series that the Warriors and Clippers could bring to NBA fans.
The star power is there. The rivalry is in place. All we need is the time and place to see it.
Although the Warriors came away with their third win in three games against the Clippers, this was not about the scoreboard. In totality, this was more about the Clippers knowing how well they stack up against the Warriors when the playoffs come around. The Clippers have consistently been a thorn in the Warriors’ side for the last couple of years.
It was the Clippers who took out Golden State in the first round of the playoffs two years ago, in case anyone forgot. Even though Golden State got the best of the Clippers during the regular season last year, anticipation of another postseason matchup may favor Los Angeles should the teams cross paths.
That’s because the Clippers simply match up better against the Warriors than any team in the NBA. For all of their bravado, the Warriors know it as well. In any sport, there is always going to be that one individual or team that can cause a champion to have many sleepless nights.
Ali had Frazier. The Lakers had the Celtics. Jordan had to deal with the “Bad Boy” Pistons. Karl Malone and John Stockton had the unyielding luck of running into the Bulls. A potential Clippers-Warriors showdown in the Western Conference Finals would be must-see TV.
Now, getting back to the game. Just like the other two contests, where the Clippers and Warriors faced off against one another, the drama played itself out in the fourth quarter.
One team has a big lead, gets comfortable and allow the other squad to get back into the contest with an array of turnovers, defensive lapses and bad play in general. Instead of the Clippers blowing a big fourth quarter lead, it was the Warriors that stumbled and bumbled down the stretch.
The Warriors almost choked away a 13-point lead with the game in wound-down mode, and with just over a minute and a half to play. In the end, the Warriors still managed to prevail. Before Golden State’s near collapse, the Warriors looked like the scoring machine they’ve been all season, shooting at a 51 percent clip for the game.
The narrative of this contest was less complicated than Golden State’s 115-112 win at Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Warriors, perhaps still a little ticked off about getting the snot beat of them by the Portland Trailblazers the night before, came into the game with 73 on their minds.
That is the number of regular season wins the Warriors (49-5) need to smash Michael Jordan’s and the Chicago Bulls’ unthinkable and untouchable 72-10 NBA regular season record. It’s not unthinkable anymore with Warriors racking up one blowout win after the another in their quest to wipe away the Bulls’ NBA best regular season mark.
A 137-105 whipping will go a long way in the fuming department. It wasn’t just a humbling defeat for the Warriors; it was a beatdown that exposed some chinks in the armor of the reigning NBA champs as Damian Lillard went left field on Golden State with a 51-point scoring outburst.
The Clippers, on the hand, wanted to make a statement. In the previous two games against the Warriors, the Clippers played Golden State about as tough as any team has this season. Riding the wave of great play the last month and a half, including drubbing the San Antonio Spurs recently, the Clippers were on a high.
Of course, they knew that this game was going to be a challenge. And when you fail to play defense, which the Clippers did not do effectively against the Warriors, the challenge becomes an even greater task to overcome. As it was, the Clippers-Warriors’ mud wrestling match felt like the two teams were playing for a berth to go to the NBA Finals.
With Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and DJ Khaled sitting courtside, you’d be hard-press to think it wasn’t with all that star power sitting in attendance on a Saturday night. The stars for the night would be on the court. The scary part of facing off against the “Splash Brothers.” is that when one is off, the other can make it rain from all over the court and put a defense on its back heels.
Steph Curry was off. Klay Thompson was on. Curry had a quiet night, connecting on just 5-of-15 shots from field for 23 points. The Warriors jumped all over the Clippers early with a 13-point lead by the time the first quarter had finished, thanks to Thompson. Thompson, who finished the game with 32 points, came at the Clippers like a bum rushing bull, scoring 16 of the Warriors’ 33 first quarter points.