Programming note: Coverage of Game 5 between the Warriors and Clippers begins Tuesday at 7 p.m. on CSN Bay Area (Channel locations)
OAKLAND – With emotions running high in every corner of maxed out and muggy Oracle Arena, the Warriors seemed to understand the gravity of the moment.
Losing to the Clippers would put them in a terrible bind, one defeat away from being ousted from the NBA playoffs. Victory, by contrast, would keep all hopes bright and, as a bonus, be perceived as a triumph for good over evil.
Pouring themselves into the game from the start, the Warriors won decisively, 118-97, evening the best-of-seven series at two games apiece and setting the stage for at least two more games sure to be rich with drama and implications beyond basketball.
It's not often that the NBA playoffs are politically significant, but this series added that dimension in the wake of a hateful and bigoted rant allegedly from the mouth of Clippers owner Donald Sterling.
The Clippers made a silent show of protest before the game, wearing warmups inside out. They clearly played through a bit of a fog, understandably generated by psychological duress.
The Warriors also were affected but managed to harness their vitality and unleash it on the court, taking a 39-24 lead in a first quarter during which they shot 66.7 percent from the field.
No one exhibited more drive from the get-go than point guard Stephen Curry, who scored 17 points in the first 8[1/2] minutes and finished with a game-high 33.
"Our energy was spectacular, 39 points in that first quarter was huge,'' Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "But we played with a sense of urgency, and our superstar basketball player was special.''
The Clippers had taken Curry out of his game, double-teaming him and trapping him in the open court. Through the first three games, during which Curry averaged 18 points, their schematic message was ABC – Anybody But Curry.
Jackson made lineup change that appeared to disrupt the L.A. plan, inserting forward Draymond Green for center Jermaine O'Neal. O'Neal is a pure post player whose 18 seasons have rang up considerable mileage limiting his energy. Green is a second-year bundle of eager enthusiasm.
Green forced the Clippers' defense into more movement, while pestering Clippers star Blake Griffin on the other end.
In short, Green's presence created room for Curry and limited space for Griffin.
"I was looking for any space I could get,'' Curry said. "Tonight I was able to step into a couple of quick threes. And once you hit a couple early, it seems like there's more space that opens up.''
Once Curry gets going, the Warriors become a very difficult team to defend. The L.A. defense became scattered and the Warriors took advantage of that with fabulous passing and cutting off screens.
The Warriors put up 32 assists, with Andre Iguodala's nine leading the way. Curry had seven, with Klay Thompson and Green each adding five.
"We moved the ball well, had to set screens, but we executed as a higher pace,'' Curry said. "And when we do that, it's tough to guard.''
It's even more of a defensive challenge for a group representing a franchise wearing a fresh coat of shame. The comments allegedly made by Sterling have put his players in quite the predicament.
And on Sunday, less than two days after those comments were exposed to the public, the Warriors played without mercy. They buried the Clippers, making this series a lot more interesting in a pure basketball sense.
THE GOOD: Curry was phenomenal from the start; everybody else followed. His 17 first-quarter points lit a fire under the crowd and his teammates. His seven treys overall are a career-postseason high.
Iguodala was a fantastic sidekick, with 22 points, nine assists and four rebounds. How efficient was he? He took eights shots from the field.
David Lee rediscovered his comfort zone, finishing with 15 points and six rebounds, while forcing Clippers center DeAndre Jordan to move more than he'd like.
Green's brought what he always brings: a lunch bucket and incredible work ethic. That and occasional help were enough to neutralize Griffin.
Harrison Barnes was solid, contributing 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting. When Barnes is hitting shots, it has a visible impact on defenses.
Turnovers were reduced to 15, off which L.A. scored 14 points. The Warriors scored 26 off 19 Clippers giveaways.
THE BAD: Not much to see here, at least from a basketball perspective.
THE TAKE: The Warriors were on the edge of desperation, and Curry brought them back to safety. This was his most complete performance, and that has to enliven his teammates, his coaches and the fan base. It can't be overstated that when Curry is on his game, the Warriors are capable of beating anybody.
This was for the Warriors a wonderful way to conclude a weekend during which, for once, the chaos and tumult was mostly in the opposing camp. They were affected, but did not allow it to render them ineffective.