The Golden State Warriors were on a mission against the Los Angeles Clippers: Prove their loss in Portland was just an aberration.
LOS ANGELES — The sting and disgust from the worst loss of the Warriors’ season lasted less than 24 hours, erased by a commanding, order-restoring performance that had the defending champs dancing, joking and laughing again.
Golden State followed up a Friday night dud against the Blazers with a scintillating 115–112 win over the Clippers at the Staples Center on Saturday. The narrow margin of victory belied the Warriors’ dominance, as Golden State led by as many as 18 points and never trailed in the final 46 minutes of the contest.
In Portland, the Warriors started slowly, played sloppily and defended inattentively, surrendering an opponent season-high 137 points and a career-high 51 points to Damian Lillard. One night later, the story was practically reversed: Golden State built a double-digit lead in the first quarter, registered 32 assists on 42 shots despite playing at a breakneck speed and used smaller lineups with Draymond Green at center to short-circuit L.A.’s attack.
“Any time you give up 137 points, it’s a bad feeling, especially when you let their best player go for 50,” Klay Thompson said. “We had to do something about it tonight. I was proud of how we responded from the jump. We were out to prove a point that last night was a fluke.”
Thompson was key to the instant turnaround, scoring 16 of his game-high 32 points in the first period and knocking down two early corner threes early to help open the floodgates. Stephen Curry kept the pressure on, as he often does, adding 23 points and nine assists in Golden State’s fifth straight win over L.A.
Whereas the first two games between these Pacific Division rivals were caked in intensity and drama, requiring dramatic fourth-quarter comebacks by the Warriors, Act III had a more run-of-the-mill feel. Quick whistles and technical fouls introduced an element of choppiness to the affair, and it didn’t help that the Clippers were shorthanded, without Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers, and scrambling to integrate trade acquisition Jeff Green into their rotations.
Before the Warriors’ reserves conceded a 13–0 run in garbage time to make the final score respectable, the Clippers looked thoroughly whipped, unable to keep up with Golden State’s ball movement and garner sufficient contributions from the likes of Green (five points on seven shots in his Clippers debut), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (scoreless in 12 minutes) and Paul Pierce (1-of-7 in 15 minutes). The home crowd was overwhelmed by thousands of Golden State fans, who treated Curry to “M-V-P” chants and unleashed “Warriors” chants during the second half.
To regain their balance, the Warriors kept passing and passing, mostly avoiding the turnovers that doomed them against the Blazers and cashed in with dunks, layups and jumpers thanks to a wide-open court. Everyone got in on the action: Harrison Barnes mugged after a putback dunk, Andre Iguodala danced down the court after one passing sequence and Curry leapt off the bench to celebrate a fourth-quarter three.
Their precision and jubilation, both so familiar, left no doubt the Warriors were trying to prove a point.
“Coming off a game like last night I don’t think it matters who we played,” Draymond Green said. “We got cracked last night and we don’t want to do that two times in a row.”
Predictably, Green, who started at center in place of Andrew Bogut, was crucial to Golden State’s improved flow and intensity. He finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, marking his league-leading 11th triple-double of the season, and wreaked havoc in his matchup with DeAndre Jordan. Afterward, Green jokingly referred to himself as the “Best center in the league”—a debatable claim that never has more credence than when the Warriors’ small lineups are running circles around their Clippers’ counterparts.
Thanks to Saturday’s bounce-back victory, Golden State improved to 49-5, the best record through 54 games in NBA history, and avoided what would have been their first two-game losing streak of the season. The Warriors remain ahead of the 1996 Bulls on both counts: Chicago was 48–6 through 54 games, and it suffered one two-game losing streak during its record-setting 72-win season.
“We haven’t lost two in a row all year and there’s a reason for that,” said Curry. “[It’s] our mentality. We can have a letdown night, come back, refocus, turn it on and find a way to get a win against a great team that’s been playing well the last 20 or so games.”
Curry’s assessment wasn’t overly complimentary: Entering Saturday, the Clippers were 20–5 since Christmas and rolling along quite nicely without the injured Griffin. Against Golden State, however, L.A. was reduced to the role of trampoline, propelling a superior team back to its hallowed course.