Programming note: Coverage of Game 5 between the Warriors and Clippers begins Tuesday at 7 p.m. on CSN Bay Area (Channel locations)
Sunday’s fourth game of this Western Conference quarterfinal was a cavalcade of Don Sterling’s chickens coming home to roost, from the 118-97 score that taunted the Los Angeles Clippers from above, all the way down to Baron Davis smiling from his near-courtside seat at Oracle Arena and enjoying the beatdown of the team Sterling once considered his.
It is his team no more, to be sure, though that truth is measured more spiritually than legally at this point. Indeed, he even had to be humiliated by proxy, as his estranged wife Shelly sat at courtside watching the Golden State Warriors deconstruct the Clips from beginning (15-6 Warrior run) to end (18-7 Warrior run). The Warriors led by double digits for all but 6:15 of the game, which is about as comprehensive as beatings go this time of year.
[RELATED: Instant Replay: Warriors jump on Clippers early, even series at 2-2]
And Los Angeles felt every sting. As Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said repeatedly while awash in postgame befuddlement, “I thought I had them ready to play, and I didn’t. That’s my fault.”
It isn’t his fault, of course. We know whose fault it is, and we know that the only way it can truly be acknowledged is for Sterling to become that most absentee of owners.
But that isn’t Golden State’s problem. It isn’t Stephen Curry’s problem, which he proved by shaking himself free of the noxious Clipper double-teams and scoring 17 points in the first quarter and finishing with 33.
It wasn’t Andre Iguodala’s problem, which he proved with 22 points and nine rebounds and, according to head coach Mark Jackson “playing maybe the best game he has in a Warrior uniform.”
Nor was it David Lee’s (15 and six, freed as he was from the onus of guarding Blake Griffin) or Draymond Green’s (who did take on Griffin) or even Harrison Barnes’ (15 and four assists in barely 24 minutes). The Warriors made Game 4 their own, and though there is no way to prove it, they likely would have done so even if Donald Sterling had been Donald Duck.
No, this strangest and in some ways most noxious of series is now tied 2-2 with Game 5 in Los Angeles, but the tide has clearly turned for both teams. The Warriors, who win by four, lost by 40 and two and now won by 21, walk and talk as though the Clippers were the Denver Nuggets of a year ago, while the Clippers . . . well, Rivers again.
“We’re going home to what would normally be a safe haven,” he said, “but now I don’t even know if that’s true.”
The Clippers did try to make their own feelings known before the game, by dropping their warmup jackets with “Clippers” written across the front at half court and going through the layup lines with their shirts inside-out. But once the game began, it became clear, at least to the untrained eyes from across the nation, that they were nowhere near where they needed to be mentally or emotionally. They’d been betrayed, and then they’d been schooled, and there was no escape for them.
Even those who could separate the Clippers players from their owner and the as-yet-still alleged comments that, if true, reveal him as a contemporary plantation owner in his own mind still rooted unambiguously for the Warriors. Davis, shown on the overhead scoreboard in the arena, smiled a smile of purest retribution both for his former team in Oakland but for his own experiences as a Clipper in Los Angeles, where Sterling used to heckle him from his courtside seat.
Now there may be no courtside seat for Sterling; the NBA Players Association has asked Commissioner Adam Silver to insure that Sterling attend no more games in person, a request that as yet has not been acted upon by the league. Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson held a strange mid-game press conference as a representative of the NBAPA stating the group’s intention to be considered a full partner with the league in the disposition of the Sterling case, but that seems unlikely given the union’s weakened position re: management since the last lockout. The players may have a place at the table, but short of choosing not to play at all, theirs will be at best an advisory role.
And the owners, in turn, are unlikely to actually force Sterling out of the league. They could choose to fine or suspend him, or even try to help facilitate a sale, but NBA bylaws largely allow for a team to be taken over by the league only in case of financial insolvency. On that front, this is the earliest stage of a strategy that could take months or even years, depending on Sterling’s famously litigious nature.
But in the short term, this series, which has been the NBA’s Ground Zero in the last 48-plus hours, has shifted dramatically. The Warriors are playing without a care in the world, and the Clippers are as close to being on the verge of elimination as a team with only two losses can be.
Can change be affected for them? Nobody knows – the Clipper players were mostly angry but also mostly mute. Their series had been stolen from them by their own boss, and for a team that has been crushed repeatedly by its boss over the decades, this was particularly horrendous work.
But as Rivers said, “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for us, and they shouldn’t. This is a competition.” In other words, the Clippers are OTO – On Their Own, and discarded game gear is only a hint to where their heads are at this point.
The Warriors, on the other hand, feel sorry for their opponents exactly zero percent. In that way at least, they are honoring Rivers’ words.
“I feel bad for every single player in the game,” Curry said afterward when asked if he felt for the Clippers. “This is an issue for all of us.”
It’s much easier, of course, to make the stand when one is fresh off a 33-point game in a 21-point win. The more arching truth is that this is now a series fueled by rage, confusion and vengeance, and nobody can speak with any certitude how athletic contests unfold in such a circumstance.
But if you’re looking for a hint, look in Baron Davis’ smile. He got payback Sunday. There will be more.
Ray Ratto is a columnist for CSNBayArea.com