Here is a link to my column about the Warriors-Clippers game. The full text runs below:
OAKLAND — The Warriors won it in the fourth quarter. Important detail that one. They are not used to playing from behind. Why should they be? They murder everyone.
But they entered the fourth quarter trailing by a point and then they fell further behind. A good thing, to tell the truth. Wins don’t always come easily in the NBA. A good team — a championship team like the Warriors — needs to come from behind sometimes, needs to come from behind against a quality outfit like the Los Angeles Clippers. The Warriors need game-testing when things are hard, or even grim.
And the Warriors were game-tested and they won. Yes, they did, 112-108. Mostly because Harrison Barnes went nuts in the fourth quarter and Stephen Curry became Stephen Curry. Curry hitting 3s, Curry getting free with the merest head fake, the subtlest dribble. No one on the Clippers could guard Curry. Not Chris Paul. And not big DeAndre Jordan, who gave Curry way too much room for easy 3s. Curry was the best player on the court. He was better than Paul. He always is the best player on the court.
“He’s amazing, you don’t get better than that,” interim coach Luke Walton said afterward. “Shooting deep 3s with people draped all over him. He’s a winner.”
And the Warriors won because, when it mattered late in the game, when palms and throats dried up, Walton went small. Draymond Green at center and Harrison Barnes at the 4 — power forward. The Clippers could not match that small, fast, quick lineup. Could not comprehend it. May never comprehend it.
The Warriors had a 17-point lead early in the game. Blew that lead. Credit the Clippers for not folding — they will not fold all season against the Warriors. Turns out it was good the Warriors blew the lead. Honestly. They needed this test, this taste of failure. They didn’t go all mental from losing a big lead. They regrouped. Were mature. Played their game. They always play their game.
That’s why they are champions.
Go back to the beginning. To before the game. Looking forward to Wednesday’s showdown with the Clippers, the Warriors told the Clippers, “Come to our house. We have something to settle.”
They sure did. A grievance. An argument. Dominance in the NBA West. Preeminence. Standing in the entire league. Who’s up and who’s down?
The Warriors and Clippers were tied for first place in the West, both undefeated, both 4-0. Someone had to lose. Something had to give. And there had been that unpleasantness in a preseason game when the Clippers, desperate to assert themselves, turned basketball into tag-team wrestling. Both teams remembered. Except for the Clippers’ Jordan being a gentleman before Wednesday’s tipoff and shaking hands with the Warriors, the Warriors and Clippers did not acknowledge each other at center court. Bitter rivals. Almost enemies.
So, yes, one team had to make a statement. That team was the Warriors at the bitter end. Loud statement. Definitive. Something like, “We were better than you last season — no fluke when we won the championship. And we’re better at being better than you this season. Do something about it or live with it.”
The scene before the game was casual to the max. Visualize this. Rivers entertained the media outside the visitor’s locker room in that cold, gray, high-ceilinged hallway. As he walked over, he said. “Let me in. I’ve got something controversial to say.”
He was joking. Showing he understood it was a big game. Then he said nothing controversial. He praised Curry. Sane thing to do.
“It’s amazing,” Rivers said of Curry’s play. “I don’t know if we’ve seen anything like it, really. We’ve seen great shooters in the league. We’ve seen great ball-handlers in the league. We haven’t seen great shooters that are ball-handlers. He’s both. I don’t think we’ve seen a combination of what he can do. At least I haven’t.”
Rivers hasn’t because no one was like that. Not Jerry West. Not Walt Frazier. Not no one.
Someone asked if Curry is better than last season. Big yuck from Rivers. It was hard to answer after only four games. Small-sample-size question. But Curry was averaging 37 points a game before play started. Hard to argue with that.
“What I saw in the playoffs the last two rounds,” Rivers said, “people were starting to switch (on him) a lot, and that was something he needed to work on. And he has. I was hoping he’d be on a championship celebration all summer, and damn it, he’s been working on his game. That’s too bad for all of us.”
It sure was. Curry missed lots of the first quarter with two early fouls and still scored 31.
Here is Rivers on the rivalry between his team and the Warriors: “Rivalries are good. We all know that. Right now, this is a live one, for sure. My first year here, someone asked me about the rivalry between these two teams. At that time, I was like somebody has to do something special. Win it. And now one team has. Now the other team’s trying to take that away.”
The Clippers tried to take it away Wednesday night. Tried with all their might. Gave an honorable effort. But the Warriors weren’t giving. Didn’t give an inch.
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