Seconds after the Clippers won the opening tip, the Warriors already had a steal and were racing down the court for an easy Kevin Durant dunk.
On the next possession, the Clippers turned it over again. This time JaVale McGee had an open putback jam. In all, the Clippers would turn the ball over on each of their first three possessions.
That encapsulated Thursday night’s game at Staples Center — and really, the last three seasons — between the Warriors and Clippers. This iteration was no different from the last eight: a Warriors’ 133-120 win in a game they controlled from start to finish.
Durant said the quick start set a tone in a hostile environment:
“When [the game] starts off, they have so much momentum, especially against us. The crowd is into it, it’s a huge game. They were ready to play. Getting three turnovers to start the game settled us in a bit, got us going, gave us confidence and start the game off well.”
The Warriors have now won nine straight over the Clippers, not losing to Los Angeles since Christmas of 2014. Entering the game, their average margin of victory against the Clippers in eight games was 13 points. They have now won five in a row and are an NBA-best 43-7.
In this one, they hit the century mark in the third quarter. For a fleeting moment, the Clippers had hope after a DeAndre Jordan block led to an Austin Rivers layup that cut the Warriors’ lead to single-figures. But the Warriors responded with a 10-2 run with 3-pointers by Andre Iguodala, Durant and Ian Clark to push the lead back up to 16 points and give them a 104-87 lead heading into the fourth.
A late push by the Clippers was thwarted by 3-pointers from Durant and Klay Thompson.
Golden State beat the Clippers convincingly last Saturday — 144-98 — at Oracle Arena, but Blake Griffin and Co. put up a better fight Thursday. The Clippers turned the ball over on each of their first three possessions, but were able to avoid a major surge by the Warriors in the first half.
Still, the Warriors forced seven turnovers in the first quarter alone. Despite shooting just 2-of-10 from distance, the extra possessions allowed the Warriors to put up seven more shots to grab a 33-22 lead after one.
Stephen Curry said:
“You don’t want to be fighting an uphill battle, relying on pure energy to get you back into a game. We came out with intent. Got two quick steals, pushed in transition, set the tone that we were going to be physical on the defensive end.”
They held that comfortable advantage for the remainder of the game. Curry knocked down a three to put the Warriors ahead by 13 early in the second half; he became the first player to make 200 threes in a season, became the first player in NBA history to reach that mark in five consecutive seasons.
When asked about Curry’s feat, Durant was impressed that the defending two-time MVP was already at 200.
“That’s very difficult, especially when everybody knows you’re going to shoot a three. A lot of people talk about him changing the game, but his skill allows him to play that way.”
Curry finished with 29 points to lead the way, while Durant chipped in 26 and Thompson added 21.
The Clippers cut the lead to as low as four in the second quarter on a 3-pointer by J.J. Redick, and the crowd got into the game after Griffin posterized Kevon Looney on a highlight-reel dunk. But the Warriors managed to head into the locker room up 65-55.
Durant had 17 points at the break, but more notably had seven assists, taking over the distributor role for the injured Draymond Green. Durant’s extra passes found teammates such as James Michael McAdoo and Patrick McCaw for wide open looks.
While Chris Paul was out for the Clippers, the Warriors had several key players injured themselves. Green sat with a shoulder bruise, Shaun Livingston was out with a back strain, and Zaza Pachulia and David West were still nursing long-term injuries.
Head coach Steve Kerr said his main concern coming into the game was fatigue on the back-end of a back-to-back. The Warriors beat the Hornets on Wednesday at home, but there was no lack of energy against the Clippers:
“When you’re missing guys and you’ve been playing a lot of games, you worry a little bit about the energy. But that wasn’t a problem.”
Despite being without three front court players, the Warriors still managed to outbound the Clippers 46-37 and limit second chance opportunities, giving them 19 more shots than the Clippers. Durant said:
“We got more shots at the basket than they they did. That’s what we want. We want to get up and down, catch teams off balance, create turnovers and also create points off those turnovers.”
McGee and rookie second-round draft pick McCaw started in place of Pachulia and Green, respectively. They both looked spry early in the first quarter, with McCaw knocking down a couple of threes and McGee finishing in the paint.
McGee outplayed Jordan with 11 points and eight rebounds, while McCaw finished with eight points and praise from Curry:
“He had a purpose to everything he did. And that’s what we need him to do. No matter what lineup he’s playing in, he needs to get the ball, look to score, play-make, because he can do all that. Tonight, he was very aggressive, putting pressure on the defense. On the defensive end, he showed his versatility. Defensively, he was in the right spot, put pressure on the ball and it was amazing to see.”
Even in a fully-healthy lineup, the Warriors will still need his contributions come playoff time, when you can never have enough reliable contributors. If Thursday was any indication, they seem to have the depth that can slide in when needed, with the bench scoring 37 points. Kerr said:
“I thought our bench was great. On a night when we were missing four rotation guys, everybody stepped in and played really well. It was a really nice effort from the whole team.”