If the Warriors and Clippers do not face each other in the playoffs next spring it doesn’t mean that Golden State is lucky, it means all basketball fans are unlucky. These two teams need to play each other in a best of seven.
We got just a taste of what that could be like on Wednesday, and it was delicious. In an atmosphere that felt far more like May 4 than November 4 inside Oracle, the Warriors were the team more sure of itself under pressure. They played with the confidence not only of a proven champion, but also a team that knows it’s better than the one that won that ring.
The Warriors made the plays while the Clippers missed their chances, and Los Angeles still has rotation questions to answer (such as, you’re not going to close games with Paul Pierce but you are going to play Austin Rivers?).
The Warriors came from 10 back in the fourth quarter to close out the Clippers behind 31 from Stephen Curry, winning 112-108.
Golden State starts the season 5-0, the first defending champion to do that since the 2010-11 Lakers.
“We’re better than we were last year,” Curry said in his postgame interview.
That’s both spot on and frightening for the rest of the league.
This game was not all Curry, however. Especially early on because he picked up two quick fouls as the referees called it tight trying to set a tone and keep a game between heated rivals under control (without Matt Barnes to escalate it, things remained in check). Those fouls also were function of an attacking, aggressive Chris Paul who clearly wanted to establish himself early — both in this game and in the “best point guard in the game” conversation. CP3 is not giving up crown easily, and he put up 20 in the first half.
However, Paul sat out the final play of regulation with what Doc Rivers called a strained groin after the game. He will be re-evaluated on Thursday.
Back to the game itself, when Curry re-entered in the second quarter the Warriors went on a run to stretch the lead out to 15. But nobody thought the Clippers were going to roll over like other teams the Warriors have faced, and they came back and were down seven at the half.
Paul finished with 24 points and nine assists, Griffin had 23 points and 10 rebounds. Harrison Barnes had a strong game for the Warriors with 17 points on eight shots.
This game was close to the very end, when the Warriors confidence in who they are and execution in their system won them the game.
It was the little things. Like Stephen Curry coming off a high pick and DeAndre Jordan — who has been playing farther back this season on the P&R and not blitzing the ball handler by design — treated Curry like any other ball handler and paid the price with a three. It was Chris Paul not seeing a wide-open Blake Griffin under the basket on a bad defensive switch (credit to Draymond Green who was on CP3 and whose size limited his field of vision) and missing a chance for a game-tying layup.
The Clippers are the second best team in the West right now, but they are a team still trying to figure some things out, such as who should be the fifth guy, the “3&D” wing on the floor in crunch time? Doc Rivers has very good 4-1 team, and he is rightfully is committed to staying big to counter the Warriors small ball lineup, but the Clippers could not close it out Wednesday. They were not yet ready.
They have 77 more games to figure it out before the playoffs start.