Blake Griffin backed down his man, extending his left arm – the one with a black wristband – to create space, and drew a foul.
For moments Sunday, maybe only brief ones, Game 4 between the Clippers and Warriors was about basketball rather than Donald Sterling.
The Warriors still couldn’t stop Griffin once he got the ball, but it didn’t matter, because Curry launched Golden State’s offense into the stratosphere.
Curry made all five of his 3-point attempts in first nine minutes and finished with 33 points, leading the Warriors to a 118-97 Game 4 win Sunday and tying the series 2-2.
Golden State blitzed the Clippers early, jumping to a 39-19 lead, and hardly looked back. The Warriors never trailed again, only briefly allowing Los Angeles glimmers of hope.
Of course, there’s the giant elephant in the room: Were the Clippers distracted by the Sterling situation?
It’s a question that’s impossible to answer definitively. Even the Clippers themselves can’t know how they would have performed otherwise.
Doc Rivers – who openly questioned his players’ readiness before the game – drew a technical foul and nearly a second, but he frequently argues calls. Chris Paul – who is also addressing the situation as players’ union president – battled foul trouble, but all Clippers-Warriors games lately, including this one, have been physical. DeAndre Jordan – who made the team’s first public response with an all-black Instagram image – didn’t score, but he’s disappeared in big games before.
Nothing was completely out of character for the Clippers.
Still, questions about their focus will persist, and those questions are fair. It’s been a long time since an entire team played a postseason game under such turbulent circumstances
But don’t let those questions diminish what Golden State accomplished.
The Warriors went 51-31. They’re hardly a pushover capable of winning only when the opponent is distracted.
They beat the Clippers twice in the regular-season, including one 19-point victory. Even without Andrew Bogut, the Warriors won Game 1 in Los Angeles and took the Clippers to wire in Game 3.
And with Draymond Green replacing Jermaine O’Neal in the starting lineup, the Warriors became even more dangerous.
Really, Mark Jackson should have started Green with Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and David Lee from the moment Bogut went down. In the regular season, that lineup produced like the NBA’s best offensive team (123.4 points per 100 possessions) and best defensive team (89.2 points allowed per 100 possessions).
Even with undivided focus, the Clippers might not have handled that lineup well.
At whatever focus level they reached today, they handled the on-court challenge with only minimal success. Jamal Crawford scored 26 points, doubling his previous series high. Griffin, who entered the game with 83 points in 93 minutes this series, remained a load the Bogut-less Warriors can’t handle once he gets the ball. He scored 21 points on 14 shots.
But Lee and Green did a much better job denying him the ball. Griffin also turned the ball over four times amidst the increased defensive pressure.
For the Clippers to rally and win this series, they have plenty of on-court issues to address – slowing Curry while keeping Paul out foul trouble, sparking Jordan and finding Griffin more often.
Those might be the least of their problems, though.