The talk before Wednesday night’s star-studded affair between the Warriors and Clippers at Staples Center was whether this was still a legitimate rivalry.
The answer? A pretty resounding “no.”
From the start, the Warriors showed who was the best team in the division with a basketball clinic, taking advantage of the Clippers’ nine first quarter turnovers and picking apart the league’s top defense.
In doing so, they beat the Clippers for the seventh straight time with an emphatic 115-98 blowout that showed how far ahead the Warriors are to their best competition in California.
The Warriors clamped down on defense, holding the Clippers to under 40 percent shooting. They also limited their turnovers to just 11 giveaways on the night.
Head coach Steve Kerr said that was the key to the win:
“If we defend like that and take care of the ball, even on a night where shots aren’t going in, we have a chance to win anywhere, even on the road against a great team.”
They used a 26-5 run in the first quarter to jump ahead by as many as 20 points. From Stephen Curry putting the moves on former teammate Marreese Speights for the and-one to Kevin Durant dropping a dime to Ian Clark for an open layup, the Warriors’ ball movement had them rolling early.
Of the Warriors’ 24 first half baskets, 21 of them were assisted. They led 62-49 at halftime despite Curry and Durant combining to shoot 0-for-8 from three-point range and Klay Thompson failing to replicate his scoring outburst from Monday.
Klay Thompson led the way with 24 points and Draymond Green added 22, picking up the slack for Curry and Durant. Durant in particular had just 16 points on 5-of-17 shooting, while Curry finished with 19 points but failed to register a three-point field goal on eight attempts.
It is the second time this season Curry hasn’t made a three-pointer in the game; the other time was against the Lakers last month in this same building. He said it was a coincidence:
“You try to just affect the game other ways when your shot’s not falling. It’s the test to stay locked in and not get frustrated.”
And he did, forcing a career-high seven steals on the night. Coupling that with the surgical precision the Warriors operated with on offense and it didn’t matter who was hot or cold.
The Warriors quieted any hopes of a Clippers comeback in the second half, building a 27-point lead midway through the third.
Consecutive steals by Curry resulted in pretty possessions and easy baskets on the other end. Durant’s wide-open three-pointer after several passes around the horn put the Warriors up 78-54 at the 6:26 mark of the third.
It allowed the Warriors to rest their big guns — save Thompson — for a majority of the fourth. Quite an accomplishment, considering players agreed that the offense did not click to its potential.
“We missed a lot of shots we normally make. The flow wasn’t really there. But the most important thing was we defended and we didn’t turn the ball over.”
The Clippers did claw their way back to within seven points in the second quarter on the strength of a 23-12 run. Jamal Crawford kept Los Angeles close with 13 first half points, and back-to-back Chris Paul jumpers cut the deficit to 53-46.
But Green, who had a highly efficient first half on both ends, shooting 6-of-7 and limiting Blake Griffin’s production, helped raise the advantage back to double-digits.
His dunk and three-pointer in the final minute of the half helped the Warriors fend off the Clippers’ spurt. Durant said Green’s confidence in his shot rose after his first few attempts went in:
“It was big to see him come up there and make shots. If they’re going to leave him open up top, you’ve got to knock it down. He already has a lot of confidence, and if he sees one go in, he takes it to another level.”
Aside from Crawford’s 21 points, the Clippers were silent offensively. There were no alley-oops and few crowd-pleasing moments. Paul had just 15, sharpshooter J.J. Reddick was held to just two points, and Griffin was limited to 12 points.
Durant talked about the game plan to limit the Clippers’ star forward:
“Every time Blake had the ball in his sweet spot, there were five or six seconds left in the shot clock. We tried to force him out a bit, try to be a little physical with him.”
Late in the fourth, Griffin took the ball to the rim hard, but was sent back by Zaza Pachulia. Perhaps flustered that Pachulia could get the better of him, Griffin shoved the Warriors’ center later in the possession in a battle for the rebound.
He picked up a technical foul, joining Paul and Doc Rivers, his head coach, as the three Clippers to be whistled for technicals on the night.
That was the kind of game it was the Clippers, who, for all the time they’ve spent amongst the Western elite, discovered just how far they remain from the world of Golden State.
Green understood Griffin and the Clippers might be frustrated, but added a caveat:
“If someone just continues to beat you, you’ve got to be pissed off about it. But it means nothing. It’s still a regular season basketball game.”
There will be three more regular season matchups between these teams on the schedule. For now, the Warriors head to Utah on Thursday as their five-game road trip beats on.