Here is a link to my Sunday column about the Warriors’ win in Game 1 of the playoff series against the LA Clippers. The full text runs below:
LOS ANGELES — Draymond Green told himself he could get this guy. This guy was Chris Paul, the Clippers’ All-Star point guard.
Only 18.9 seconds remained in the first playoff game between the Warriors and Clippers and Paul had the ball in the Clippers’ front court with the Warriors up by two. Paul was doing his thing, juking and duking, looking cool, setting up the game-tying basket, a mid-range jumper you knew he’d make. Swish.
But Green thought he could get him. He told himself this was the crisis moment of the game and Paul was “the guy” and Paul would want to make the play. It was Green’s job, he told himself, to worry Paul, to bother him, to annoy him, although the words Green later used were “throw him out of his rhythm.”
That’s exactly what Green did. He made Paul, so sure-handed, get into a contorted posture, an unnatural posture, and throw the ball out of bounds. Paul pretended Green fouled him. Did the grimace face as if Green had punctured his gut with a six-inch shiv. Paul does a lot of that. The refs checked the play on the courtside monitor and said Green played clean. He did. He ruined Paul’s rhythm, ruined his play, ruined the Clippers’ comeback. The Clippers never scored another point. And the Warriors won 109-105.
Not that the Warriors had started the game well or showed they could beat the Clippers or even compete. Right away, they fell behind 12-1, missed their first eight shots and you thought this was a looming disaster. A world-class dud. The Warriors would get run out of Staples Center, as loud as a madhouse, the crowd so Southern California, so many people glamorous, even the ugly people look glamorous.
But Mark Jackson called two timeouts, called them early, told his players to relax, asked them to consider what was going wrong, asked them to be themselves. Nothing more. Themselves would work.
The quarter ended with the Warriors down five, no big deal, and after that it was a game. Be clear, the Warriors and Clippers are evenly matched. It’s not like one team can bury or will bury the other. Sure, Blake Griffin, the Clippers’ most imposing player, played fewer than four minutes in the first half because the refs kept calling fouls on him. And he fouled out in the fourth quarter, and you don’t expect that to happen all the time.
But David Lee played with foul trouble and had four shots blocked — “Thanks for counting,” he told me, sort of smiling. And Andre Iguodala fouled out. So the Clippers can’t use Griffin’s misfortunes as an excuse. In basketball, there are fouls.
There had been talk about bad blood leading into the game. That’s all people talked about, how “these two teams really don’t like each other.”
And you expected a gang war instead of basketball, although the game was remarkably civilized, even polite. It was basketball, even though right away Lee clocked Griffin with an elbow to the jaw. Offensive foul. It didn’t lead anywhere.
A sore jaw is merely the expense of doing business. Everyone understood that.
In pregame news conferences, both coaches addressed the bad-blood debate.
Doc Rivers: “This should be emotional. The fact that we’re both young, there’s a little bit more of that. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with any of it as long as it’s put in its proper place. But listen, they are a young team that went deep last year, that almost upset San Antonio, and they have their designs on being the young team in the West to get to the Finals. We have the same dreams. Now we’re in each other’s way. Neither team is just going to say, ‘You can have it,’ and neither team should.”
Jackson: “This is playoff basketball. I heard Doc make the point that we’re not supposed to like each other and he’s 100 percent right. We’re in battle. We’re competing. We’re trying to advance and they’re trying to do the same thing. It’s supposed to be edgy. This is playoff basketball.”
Jermaine O’Neal talked about bad blood after the game. O’Neal, who had confronted Griffin in a hallway after a recent game, said, “This is about two really good teams trying to advance. It’s a funny thing, you don’t really have time for (fighting). That part takes away from the game and it can really put your team in a bad situation, guys can get kicked out, guys can get technicals. It’s hard enough to win playoff games by themselves, let alone get into all this other stuff that has nothing to do with basketball. I think both teams did a good job of being physical with each other and respecting it as a basketball game.”
You should know something else and this is revealing about Jackson, a multilayered man. Before the game, he said the Clippers should be the favorites. “If I’m sitting in the other room with (TV announcers) Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen, I’m thinking the Clippers. They’re the three seed. They won a bunch of games. They’ve got two of the top 10 players in the world. They’ve got a future Hall of Fame coach. That doesn’t mean anything. If I was sitting there last year, I would have picked the Nuggets, too.”
We’ll get back to Jackson in a moment. Here’s O’Neal on his coach calling the Warriors underdogs. “I don’t consider ourselves underdogs. You have to throw away seedings in the West.”
Someone told O’Neal his coach had called the Warriors underdogs. He laughed. “That’s what makes America,” he said. “What it is you have freedom of speech.”
Back to Jackson. He is defiant. Us against them.
After the game, he seemed even bitter. Listen to him: “We won on the road last year in both rounds against two very good teams. Survey says we’re not supposed to be here. I’m not supposed to be coaching. Got no experience. Steph Curry is supposed to be retired because of his ankle. David Lee was a loser. Jermaine O’Neal is supposed to be finished. Harrison Barnes dropped in the draft.”
Jackson went on with the bitterness litany but you get the idea. He doesn’t like how the world views him and his team. But he loves that dislike, craves it, uses it to motivate himself and his players. To spit in the world’s eye. He spits a long way.
When the game ended — loud buzzer — Klay Thompson (22 points) slammed the ball onto the floor and it bounced about 10 feet. Basketball as exclamation point. “I felt emotional,” he said.
He had every right. The Warriors have seized home-court advantage.
They inflicted the first wound. This doesn’t mean the Warriors will win the series. But it doesn’t mean they won’t.
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