OAKLAND -– Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players crave intensity, which is why they’ve always been so willing to engage in the rivalry with the Los Angeles Clippers in recent years.
So the absence of fury was striking Wednesday night as the Warriors mostly cruised to a 114-98 victory over the Clippers before another sellout crowd (19,596) at Oracle Arena.
It’s as if Golden State, at 64-7, had moved on from Los Angeles, taking aim on a standard far higher and more elusive. Like, say, the historically magnificent 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, whose 72-10 record stands as the best ever in the NBA.
For this game was bereft of the typical, crackling Warriors-Clippers emotion. The building was without its usual vitality and the Warriors took a full half to find theirs.
“We came in (at halftime) and Steve, at the end of his speech, was like, ‘Hey, anybody got something? Draymond, you got something?’ I’m always the one talking,” Green said. “And I’m like, ‘Aaah, I ain’t got nothing.’"
Yet the Warriors dug in and found something, reeling off a 10-1 run in the first two minutes of the second half, taking an 11-point lead (61-50) that was never seriously threatened for the remainder of the game.
“The first half was kind of weird,” Kerr said. “There was kind of a dead atmosphere in there. There didn’t seem to be the usual energy in there from the rivalry. These teams have gone at it the last few years and I didn’t see that same fire.
“Maybe it’s because it was late in the season and everybody is a little tired and a little beat up. But we had a good surge of energy in the third and made some shots and opened up the lead.”
The Warriors indeed used their most reliable element to take control after halftime. They turned to defense, forcing Los Angeles to miss its first seven shots of the second half while they settled into their devastating transition game.
That was the needed jolt, as Golden State maintained a double-digit lead for the better part of the second half. The Clippers were fading, with each of their rallies short-circuiting or being quickly snuffed out. They were limited to 33.3-percent shooting in the third quarter, 38.6 in the second half.
So much for the rivalry, as the Warriors put away Los Angeles for the fourth time in four games this season and the seventh in eight times over the past two seasons.
“We’re not looking too much into the rivalry,” said center Andrew Bogut, who returned to the lineup after missing two games with a strained toe. “We feel like we have bigger fish to fry.
“No disrespect to them, but we know that they’re a very tough team. We’ve faced them in the playoffs. All the history between us has kind of dwindled away now. They have a chance to meet us possibly in the playoffs, assuming we get through past the first round. It’s kind of good to make sure that in the back of their minds -- they know that they haven’t beaten us this season.”
There was no hint of animosity between the teams; what little that existed was directed at the officials.
Perhaps the Warriors have already started thinking about what it will take to win enough games to establish an all-time record for victories in a season.
“It didn’t have the same juice as those games normally do,” Green said. “Part of that is we’ve won the first three. That makes a difference. They’re not having the year that everybody expected them to have. They’re still having a pretty good year. And with Blake (Griffin) being out, that makes a difference as well.”
The Warriors took them just seriously enough. There is a reason for that.
“They’re a playoff team,” Curry said, “that we could face down the road.”
It looked, particularly in the first half, as though the Warriors want to start the playoffs immediately. It’s also clear that the opponent doesn’t much matter, because they’re trying to hang a defeat on some very impressive history.