OAKLAND – The air seems to heat up and thicken whenever the Warriors and Clippers meet, as they did on Sunday at Oracle Arena.
They've risen from the depths of the NBA to establish themselves as contenders and the best in the Pacific Division. They waged a terrific battle in the playoffs last season. Given the youth of their core rosters, this rivalry should last for many years.
The latest installment, however, wasn’t much of a contest. The Warriors took control in the second quarter and spent the rest of the afternoon running the Clippers off the floor at Oracle Arena.
The score, 106-98, is absurdly deceptive. The Clippers were impaired – without Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford – and the Warriors punished them, leading by as much as 22, before Los Angeles went on a garbage-time scoring spree.
The Warriors (49-12), totally healthy, now appear to be clearly superior. There are several reasons, none more visible than Draymond Green, who single-handedly harasses entire lineups.
Green served notice last postseason, when after replacing David Lee in the starting lineup he vaporized Griffin, a perennial All-Star. The undersize (6-foot-7) power forward on Sunday set his sights on 7-foot forward Spencer Hawes and 6-11 center DeAndre Jordan – neither of whom made an appreciable impact at either end.
If Griffin and Crawford aren't available, and Hawes and Jordan are rendered irrelevant, the Clippers (40-23) have no chance to compete with the Warriors.
"They've been playing well, and offensively have been doing a lot of great things, even with Blake out of the lineup," Curry said of the Clippers. "For us, having the defensive effort we had tonight was good."
Having Green working both ends was better. He blocked a shot, nabbed a steal and harassed opponents from tip to buzzer. He also finished with team-highs in points (23) and assists (six) and inciting the crowd (at least four).
It was Green's shooting and passing that allowed the Warriors to punish the Clips for their insistence on trapping and double-teaming Stephen Curry.
"He was great," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said of Green. "We tried to do a little bit of that tonight when we played smaller. We knew the Clippers were going to blitz Steph and grab him and hold him and be as physical as possible with him. When we can get the ball out of his hands, spread the floor with shooters and get the ball to Draymond, usually something good happens."
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was burned on that strategy, but he expressed no regret.
"We're going to keep doubling (Curry)," Rivers said. "You can tell him that."
Bring it on, says Kerr and probably anyone else associated with the Dubs.
"As I told our team, if teams want to blitz Steph at halfcourt, we should welcome that," the coach said. "I hope they do."
The Clippers did and it failed, though Curry scored only 12 points. It failed mostly because of Green, who led the Warriors to their second win in three games against LA.
The next installment comes March 31 at Staples Center. Inasmuch as the Warriors own the Clips at Oracle, a statement has yet to be made in Los Angeles. That's the next step, for doing so would be considerably more resounding than that which was made on their home court.
Klay Thompson, struggling with his shot in recent games, looked more like the All-Star he is. He scored 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 3-of-5 from beyond the arc.
Shaun Livingston continues to be a force, finishing with a season-high 21 points (9-of-14 shooting), adding eight rebounds, three assists and three steals.
The Warriors pushed their home record to an NBA-best 27-2 and advanced to 31-0 when holding opponents to fewer than 100 points.
Not much to see here, besides Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench to commit four turnovers in 16 minutes.
The Warriors were well aware that this was a nationally televised matinee, their first of the season. They wanted to show well and they did, as did the Oracle Arena crowd, which now has quite the reputation. They were vastly better than the Clippers, though the gap surely will close when Griffin and Crawford return. It's still a rivalry, but this one had practically zero drama after halftime.