LOS ANGELES – The Warriors on Tuesday night walked into Staples Center, spent the better part of the first half shrugging at the rival Clippers and then went out and snatched a game they didn't need.
They said they were not out to prove a point. They did so anyway with a 110-106 victory that cooled off the second-hottest team in the NBA – and a team with plenty of incentive to win its final regular season games.
The Warriors (61-13) last week won the Pacific Division and then took possession of the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs. They are using the final nine games to fine-tune themselves, trying to balance the health and welfare of the roster while also staying as sharp as they've been while winning 15 of 16 games in March.
The Clippers, by contrast, will land somewhere between second and seventh in the Western Conference seeding. They had a chance to move into fourth place, ahead of Portland, but were kept in fifth by the Warriors.
"They came out hard because, obviously, this was a big game for them," said Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who finished with a team-high 27 points. "They had won seven in a row and just got back off a road trip. With the history between us, they wanted to get a big win at home."
Playing with a clear sense of urgency, the Clippers led by as much as 14 in the first quarter. They were focused and sharp. The Warriors were sluggish and cold, shooting 30.8 percent.
Sometime in the second quarter, though, the Warriors realized they were playing a team they don't like, no matter the stakes. The awakening was on. The Warriors owned the second half, and dominated the fourth quarter.
"We acted like (we had nothing to play for) in the first quarter," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "We were not engaged until maybe the nine-minute mark of the second quarter.
"It's understandable. It's human nature. But once we got going, our competitive spirit kicked in and our guys really fought hard, in the second half in particular."
Though Kerr had indicated he would restrict the minutes played by his starters, his competitive spirit would not cooperate. Curry played 36 minutes, Klay Thompson 34 and Andrew Bogut 30. David Lee, starting at power forward for the ailing Draymond Green (inflammation on both shins) also played 30.
If that's what it took, Kerr was willing to go after it.
"This was a playoff game," Kerr said, alluding to the atmosphere and intensity.
If so, the Warriors made a statement. They won their first regular season game here since January 2013. They won a game the Clippers really needed, as they play Wednesday at Portland.
"I heard a couple stories that because we were resting guys, and we didn't care about the game," Bogut said. "That was the chatter before the game. Every game means a lot to us, so we wanted this win as much as anything else."
The fourth-quarter defense was stifling. The Warriors opened with a 9-0 burst, taking a three-point lead, and locked down on defense. LA shot 23.1 percent for the quarter, committing seven turnovers.
Curry's dribble-and-fire exhibition in the second quarter, which left a devastated Chris Paul on the floor, was the highlight of the night – even for Clippers fans.
Thompson's torrid shooting in the third quarter, when he scored 13 of his 25 points, really launched the Warriors toward their fourth-quarter takeover.
Harrison Barnes, though he managed seven rebounds, has gone back into his offensive shell: 0-for-7 shooting, one point, in 25 minutes.
Shaun Livingston was not on his game at all, finishing with two points (both on free throws), three assists and two turnovers in 16 minutes.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said during preseason that the Warriors were vastly superior to the Clippers. Said they'd beat his team in a playoff series. Nothing that happened Tuesday night rebutted that claim, made back in October.
The Warriors went into a place where they haven't won a regular season game in more than two years and shoved aside their rivals. Not much in sports is sweeter than beating a team you dislike in a game they need more than you.