LOS ANGELES – The Warriors-Clippers rivalry, once so vivid and explosive, is but a shadow of what it was only a year ago. Upon facing the Clippers these days, the Warriors count on getting a victory.
They won’t say this, not in public. But the unspoken confidence leaps from their body language. The Warriors know they’ll have to bring their game, yes, but they also know the Clippers are helpless if they do.
That latest demonstration took place Saturday night at Staples Center, home of the Clippers but now a fairly welcoming road venue for the Warriors. The win, 115-112 on the scoreboard, doesn’t describe the decisiveness with which the Warriors owned the night.
They took a 7-4 lead less than two minutes after tipoff and never lost it. They led by as much as 18 in the fourth quarter before Steve Kerr called on his subs, who were outscored 10-0 over the final 99 seconds.
No matter, under the circumstances. The Warriors (49-5) are 3-0 against LA this season and have won five in a row over the Clippers dating back to last season. It’s now less a blood feud than a routine spanking in public.
“There was definitely some extra adrenaline going when we played this game,” said forward Harrison Barnes, who scored 8 of his 18 points as the Warriors were putting the game away in the fourth quarter.
“These guys are very competitive,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of his players. “We haven’t lost two in a row all season, which we’re very proud of. Tonight was a good response to a great challenge because the Clippers have been playing really well. They are a great team.
“And on the road, after a long flight, this is a great win.”
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The Warriors came in fire in their hearts driving the fatigue from their legs after taking a 137-105 thrashing Friday night against the Trail Blazers. There were 20 hours – and about 1,000 miles – between the end of the game in Portland and the beginning of the one in LA.
The sight of the Clippers, as well as their forgettable work Friday, worked like smelling salts.
“We got cracked,” Draymond Green said of the loss to the Blazers.
“We wanted to redeem ourselves from that poor performance (Friday),” Klay Thompson said, “and it was a great time to do it because they’re one of the best in the NBA. I’m proud of the way we fought.”
The fight was visible from the start. Playing without regular centers Andrew Bogut (right Achilles soreness) and Festus Ezeli (left knee surgery), Kerr moved Green to starting center and moved Brandon Rush into the starting lineup at forward.
Green used his quickness to neutralize the size disadvantage posed by 6-foot-11 Clippers center DeAndre Jordan. Jordan finished with 16 points and 21 rebounds, yet was minus-12 for the game. Green finished with a triple-double (18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists) and was plus-14.
So the move worked brilliantly, ratcheting up defensive intensity and setting the kind of fast tempo that almost always benefits the Warriors.
The Warriors led by 13 after one quarter, by as much as 15 in the second. They used their defense to spin a web of despair around the Clippers (36-19) in the second and third quarters – forcing 10 turnovers – that essentially robbed them of their will.
And the Warriors grinned at the thought of it afterward.
“We haven’t lost two in a row all year and there’s a reason for that,” Curry said. “It’s because of our mentality. We can have a letdown night like we did (Friday) but come back and refocus and turn it on and find a way to get a win against a great team that’s been playing well the last 20 or so games.
“With the short turnaround and all of that, we didn’t want to have any excuses coming into tonight. We got it done.”
There was nothing the Clippers, their intrastate enemies could do.
“They’re the better team right now,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “We have no choice but to improve.”