LOS ANGELES – A night of tumbling bodies and flailing arms and dramatic overacting ended with the Warriors coping with defeat but gritting their teeth in anticipation of their next meeting with the team they love to hate.
That, of course, would be the Clippers, who rallied over the final quarter and a half to hang a 111-98 loss on the Warriors before a sellout crowd Wednesday night at Staples Center.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Warriors fade down stretch, fall to Clippers]
"Hopefully, we'll catch them in the playoffs," Warriors forward Draymond Green said, not bothering to conceal his disdain.
"We're going to see a lot of each other down the road," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said, eyes burning with intensity.
The sooner that day comes, the better – for the Warriors, for the Clippers, for their fans and for anyone who warms to the possibility of NBA drama and mayhem. The Warriors (41-25) likely will finish second to the Clippers (46-20) in the Pacific Division, but they clearly relish the idea of more unfriendly gatherings.
There were no fewer than four occasions of player-on-player beefing but only one technical foul assessed to each team. The free throws were fairly even – 25 for the Warriors and 24 for the Clippers – but the officials were busy all evening.
When I asked Green how he felt about all the grabbing and shoving and banging between the members of these teams – usually involving Clippers star Blake Griffin – he said he was OK with it. Well, with most of it.
[INSIDE THE PAINT: Bench play, fourth quarter doom Warriors in LA]
"It doesn't bother me at all," Green said. "I don't know if some of that stuff is part of the game, but it is what it is. I'm not the type to complain or cry about it.
"But it used to be a man's game. I still play it that way."
Well, uh, OK. That could be construed as a verbal left hook to counter the right cross thrown by Griffin after the teams waged war last Christmas night. He accused the Warriors of playing "cowardly basketball."
These wrestling matches between the Warriors and Clippers have evolved into something more than basketball games. They have become 48-minute challenges to manhood. Which makes officiating a very significant component.
It's reminiscent of playoff-atmosphere basketball.
"The theatrics of it does, yes," Warriors center Andrew Bogut said. "The theatrics of the game when we play the Clippers is pretty much so. Guys get frustrated at times. There's a lot of physicality and so on. It all depends on how it's (officiated) on the day.
"It's a lot of different theatrics that go on within a basketball game, in general, but this series, on both sides, tops the cake."
The Clippers salvaged a split of the four-game season series largely because their bench delivered what the Warriors' reserves could not. One night after scoring 59 points in a win over the Mavericks in Oakland, the second unit came up with 20, making only 3 of 25 field-goal attempts, against Los Angeles.
That, along with a decisive rebounding advantage (49-36) for the Clippers, was the difference.
"We should be proud of the way we played, even though we lost," Bogut said. "But we look forward to seeing them in the future."
Like, right now, if that could be arranged.
THE GOOD: The starting unit played fairly well, Klay Thompson and Lee in particular. The starters shot 57.6 percent (33 of 57) and were primarily responsible for the combined 22-of-54 shooting by Chris Paul, Darren Collison and Griffin.
THE BAD: The much-improved bench was due for the miserable night. This was it. Steve Blake missed all six of his shots, Jordan Crawford all five of his.
The Clippers owned the glass, especially in the second half (26-16), and the Warriors rarely fare well when they lose that battle.
The Warriors committed 12 turnovers, not horrible by their standard. That those giveaways led to 23 points was the real punishment.
THE TAKE: This outcome was fairly predictable and therefore hardly a message to either team. The Warriors were underdogs and deservedly so. Just as they took advantage of the Clippers coming off a back-to-back in a 111-92 win on Jan. 30 at Oracle Arena, the Clippers seized the opportunity in LA, outscoring the Warriors 42-22 over the final 17:07. These teams deserve each other in the postseason, and they'll get it if the hoop gods are just.