CLIPPERS
Column

Clippers fans show energy, team rewards them with lopsided win

Clippers and crowd draw energy from each other in playoff victory over Spurs

The ignored and insulted fans roared.

Their ignored and insulted team roared back.

Thousands donned red "We Are LA" T-shirts and spent three hours living the line, epitomizing Los Angeles, a crowd deafening in its passion and swaggering with pride.

Their baskeball team wore the same type of shirts, only blue, and played the same bold and boisterous game.

A tough playoff opener against the defending champion San Antonio Spurs? Blake Griffin dribbled that thought between his legs, soared over Aron Baynes, and dunked it.

The first night of shouldering the burden of postseason expectations? DeAndre Jordan blocked that notion into the Staples Center stands, then screamed into the upper deck.

The thought that this team might not be tough enough to hang with the NBA's version of jangling metal hanging off a boot? Matt Barnes grabbed that idea while it was being held by Baynes and literally threw him into the stands with it.

It's only one game, but, man, it was one serious statement Sunday as the Clippers defeated the Spurs, 107-92, to take the lead after the opener of a first-round series that already feels like a prize fight.

Chris Paul showed up scowling and scuffling, missing only seven of 20 shots, nailed three three-pointers, scoring 32. Griffin showed up as if beamed down from that ancient planet known as Lob City, flying for 26 points, ooohs everywhere. Jordan showed up countering the hacking with thwacking, blocking four shots and grabbing 14 rebounds.

"They had it going, we saw it and kind of rode it,'' Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said of his Big Three.

Then there was the Clippers defense, hounding the Spurs into playing what is surely one of their worst playoff games in recent years. The NBA's smartest shooting team shot only 37%, committed 15 turnovers, missed a dozen free throws, and never led by more than two points. It was a defense fueled by the sort of effort the Clippers will need to maintain to survive this challenge.

'We won tonight because we had more energy,'' Rivers said.

And now they have much better odds. When home team wins Game 1 of a seven-game NBA series, that team wins the series 85% of the time, so the Clippers have a huge edge on dethroning the Spurs and taking the first step toward at least a conference finals appearance that has forever eluded them.

More than that, though, they pulled out the bad memories of last year's playoff meltdowns against Oklahoma City and began ripping them apart with every dramatic trip down the court.

"They played harder, longer,'' Tim Duncan said. "Obviously, their crowd was behind them.''

Nowhere was that intensity more evident than, with 4 minutes 41 seconds left in the third quarter, Barnes grabbed a ball currently being held by Baynes and dragged him into the seats with it. It was ruled a jump ball, but it was clearly advantage Clippers, as they outscored the Spurs, 17-10, to end the quarter with a 15-point lead and were never really challenged again.

"Maybe they thought it was a fumble and if you kept the ball you got possession," Rivers said. "They were having a man contest there and it was pretty interesting.''

And now it gets real interesting for a team involved in what might be the most important first-round series in its history.

The Clippers need this series. It's their most difficult possible first-round test, it might seem unfair to compare them to the five-time NBA-champion Spurs, but they need this series. It won't give them in a conference finals spot that seems a necessity at this point in their evolution, but it's a vital early report card and pulse check.

Steve Ballmer needs this series. The new owner needs to begin showing that the on-court product has changed since Donald Sterling was run out of the league during last year's postseason. Longtime fans have complained that this season hasn't felt much different from past seasons. A first-round win over the defending champions would be a bit of a difference, no?

Rivers needs this series. He needs it to begin showing that he is not being hampered by Doc Rivers, the general manager. In other words, he needs his shaky bench to become strong, suddenly, just like Jamal Crawford on Sunday.

Paul needs this series. He needs this to keep alive his hopes that he can get beyond the second round of the postseason. He turns 30 in two weeks, and time is running out.

And yes, of course, the Clippers fans need this series. The Staples Center crowd during a recent loss to Golden State — the Clippers only loss in their last 16 games — was openly criticized by Griffin for being too quiet and containing too many Warriors fans. Griffin actually wondered whether his team would have a homecourt advantage in the postseason. That question was answered within the first minute Sunday when the arena seemingly shook as the crowd screamed for a Jordan swat block of a Duncan shot. Many of these loyal fans have been priced out of their seats by foolishly soaring Clippers ticket prices, but this time, they didn't sell their seats to Spurs fans. This time, they all showed up.

The diehard Clippers fans have long been as loud and devoted as any fans in this city. On Sunday night, when they were arguably the loudest in franchise history, they proved it.

"It was awesome,'' Rivers said of the fans. "I thought it was better than Golden State last year [in postseason]. Your team needs energy sometime from your crowd. I thought they did that for us tonight.''

One little game. One huge night.

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