LOS ANGELES — Andre Iguodala waddle-danced up the court like a jail-breaking penguin, a man celebrating a comeback that felt preordained, without regard for something as silly as pressure. Seconds later, Golden State’s sixth man shrugged his shoulders like Michael Jordan, again appearing to be having the time of his life, unafraid of jinxing what ended up being a 23–point comeback, unafraid of enraging an ultra-competitive opponent. This let-the-chips-fall showmanship is central to these “Greatest Show on ‘Wood” Warriors: their fearlessness and joy has a crippling effect on their opponents.
The Warriors pulled another one out of their hats Thursday, using a 23–5 closing run to score a 124–117 road win over the Clippers. They didn’t flinch when Chris Paul scored or assisted on 27 of the Clippers’ first 30 points. They kept plugging through a 27–point, six–rebound, five–assist night from Blake Griffin.
Golden State waited until the fourth quarter, where it’s posting a league-best +17.8 net rating, to really come alive. The big reveal was too much for L.A.—Stephen Curry hit 13 of his game-high 40 points, Iguodala hit two key three-pointers, and the Warriors together shot 11-for-15 from the field and 8-for-9 from deep to improve to 13–0 on the season.
“I need to control the game down the stretch,” Paul lamented afterward.
Sorry, it doesn’t really work like that. Paul should realize by now that these Warriors are a phenomenon too ruthless, too efficient and too sweeping to be controlled by any one set of hands.
Golden State’s 13–0 record is the best opening mark the NBA has seen since the ’02–03 Mavericks. Even though they struggled with careless turnovers all night, survived early foul trouble to Curry and Draymond Green, trailed 55–32 midway through the second quarter, and absorbed a 7–0 Clippers run midway through the fourth, the Warriors kept a surgeon’s calm.
“I never thought we were really out of it,” interim coach Luke Walton said.
All told, the Warriors trailed for more than 44 straight minutes. Their closing push made the deficit seem like a mirage. Clippers coach Doc Rivers said afterward his strategy was to make Iguodala beat them late, and that he did. First with a three-pointer, and then with an inbounds pass to a cutting Green for an easy layup, and then with another three-pointer. The second three prompted Iguodala’s shrug, which was executed directly in front of Jay–Z, Mr. “Brush Your Shoulders Off” himself.
Curry’s 40 points took him to 444 on the season, the highest mark through 13 games since Michael Jordan in 1989. His shots deflated the Clippers’ bench, helped clear out a good chunk of the lower bowl early and drew a media crowd so eager that it had to be restrained from swallowing him whole as he changed at his locker.
“It was our toughest game on the road so far,” the reigning MVP told the throng. “We found a way to close it out in the fourth quarter. … We just had confidence down the stretch and maturity that we relied on.”
For the Clippers, who squandered a fourth quarter lead to lose at Oracle Arena 15 days ago, this was déjà vu mixed with total deflation.
The late–game collapses—to the Rockets in the playoffs, to the Warriors twice this season, to the Rockets earlier this month—have left Rivers searching. Lance Stephenson has been dumped from the rotation. Paul Pierce has been promoted to the starting lineup. The moves haven’t worked yet, and the Clippers sit at 6–5 with no real answer to the Warriors’ small–ball lineup.
“We keep saying, ‘We almost had them,’” Austin Rivers said. “This was one of the most frustrating losses I’ve had besides the Houston series last year. We wanted this game badly and we outplayed them the whole game. There’s a reason why they’re champions.”
L.A. had four off days to prepare for Thursday night’s showdown, it got Paul back from a groin strain, and it received “A” efforts from its two superstars while outscoring the Warriors’ bench 25–17. That still wasn’t enough.
“I wouldn’t call this a rivalry,” Griffin admitted. “They’re the better team.”
Both teams played the closing stretch as if they fully agreed with Griffin’s premise, as if they knew Iguodala would be dancing off into the night.