LOS ANGELES — The Clippers and the Warriors have been one of the league’s best rivalries over the last year, and if the way the past battles have gone was any indication, with players needing to be separated following hard fouls and on-court scuffles that resulted in ejections, it was worth wondering whether or not this season’s Christmas Day matchup would produce similar fireworks.
But while the level of competitiveness and relative animosity was palpable, there was zero in terms of the types of physical confrontations we’ve seen in the past. What we were treated to, however, was plenty of missed shots.
Both teams went cold for an extremely lengthy stretch, and since L.A.’s came at the beginning of the game and Golden State’s came near the end, the final result was a 100-86 Clippers win that the team cautiously praised as being among its best of the season.
“It’s a good win for us,” Chris Paul said afterward. “I mean, it’s not like everything is right, or all that different type of stuff. But in the West, you’re just trying to get as many wins as possible and it’s a good win for us.”
It started out as anything but a winnable effort from the Clippers. After opening the game with a DeAndre Jordan dunk, L.A. missed its next 16 shots. But the Warriors couldn’t capitalize — their biggest lead in the period was 10 points, and a 2-of-9 shooting performance from three-point distance allowed the Clippers to stay in the game after the first 12 minutes.
Jamal Crawford was the one who was finally able to ignite L.A.’s offense. When nothing else was working, he came off the bench to score 10 points late in the first to drag his team back into it and give them a chance.
“I could see we were struggling a little bit,” Crawford said, after finishing with a team high 24 points. “They weren’t scoring a lot, but tonight I knew I was going to be more aggressive because I knew I needed to get the score up a little bit.
“We all started making shots. That kind of changed the game, and we were able to with stand it from there.”
The Warriors found their groove a bit in the second, and had the lead back to eight with just 1:23 remaining in the half. Steve Kerr elected to sit Stephen Curry with two fouls, not wanting him to pick up a third in the small window of time that was left. But it proved to be a costly decision, as L.A. closed the half on a 7-0 run to trail by a single point at the intermission.
Then came the third, and then came Chris Paul.
With the game tied at 59 apiece, Paul got going. He found Jordan for an alley-oop slam, shook Curry with a one-handed crossover before getting to the rim for an and-1 finish, and then drained a contested three before ending the period with a layup at the buzzer.
His play seemed to give the team the confidence boost it needed to finish the job. It was Golden State’s turn to go through an offensive drought, and a 19-3 Clippers run sealed it — one that fittingly ended with a dagger three from Crawford that pushed the lead to 20 with just under three minutes left.
“A signature win, right” Crawford said. “There are games during the course of a season where no matter what you say it means a little bit more. Obviously the whole country, the whole world was watching this game. They’re playing as good as anybody in the NBA. We’re trying to continue to be consistent and get back on track, so I thought it was good.”
The Warriors weren’t about to overreact after suffering a second straight loss, because they still sit with a record of 23-5 atop the league-wide standings.
“Overreacting would mean questioning our system or questioning individual abilities or the reasons that got us here,” Curry said. “The system works, we just have to execute. Our defense works; obviously we showed in the first half we could do it. But it’s important to not doubt what we’re about and what it means to play Warriors basketball regardless of these last two games.”
There were no fights, no confrontations, and no real battles — even though the feelings appeared to be seething just beneath the surface. Draymond Green seemed to want to up the ante, and spent time trying to engage Paul in trash talk for much of the night.
“He was telling me Merry Christmas and he was telling me to tell Little Chris (Paul’s son) Merry Christmas,” Paul joked afterward.
Green, though, took things more seriously.
“I didn’t think we were intense, as far as our fire, but I didn’t think they were either,” Green said. “I don’t know what the cause of it was. Maybe everybody was a little too jolly, but it was too nice. It was boring, I mean, I’m sure that was not the prime time game everybody expected. I’m not saying you have to have the elbows and all the crazy stuff, but the battle? It just wasn’t there.”
What was there was an impressive win for the Clippers. But don’t ask Blake Griffin if it had any additional meaning or significance just because it happened to be played on Christmas.
“We’re just so proud to represent the NBA on this blessed day,” he said.