The Clippers long ago proved they are a playoff team. The question now is are they a team that can contend for a title?
There may be few others that share that belief though after the Clippers let a 17-point first-half lead get away in a physical, often chippy 110-106 loss that had the intensity, if not the quality, of a playoff matchup.
The Clippers played brilliantly at times, horribly at others in losing for the first time in eight games. Lost, too, was an opportunity to move within a half-game of the third seed in the Western Conference and into position to play host to a first-round playoff series later this month.
The fact it came against the Warriors, a team that is rapidly becoming the Clippers’ most bitter rival, made it even more difficult to take.
Which is why Rivers could be heard screaming at his team behind closed doors when it ended.
"We had the right mindset, we had the right energy," Rivers said. "We just couldn’t sustain it."
With Blake Griffin scoring 18 of his game-high 40 points and DeAndre Jordan grabbing 10 rebounds in the first half, the Clippers led by 17 midway through the second quarter, threatening to embarrass a team that has lost just once in its last 16 games.
There’s a reason the Warriors have the league’s best record, though, and they showed that over the next 13 minutes, running the Clippers down and taking their first lead of the game, 72-71, on Stephen Curry’s three-point shot with 4:02 left in the third.
"Once we let the Warriors get loose, they started making shots," Rivers said. "It was hard to turn them off. When you play a team like that and you are holding them down, you have to think at some point they will start making shots.
"Everything in the game flipped. They were playing downhill and we were playing at a slow pace."
After a dismal first half in which Golden State made slightly more than a third of its field-goal attempts, the Warriors 52.4% from the floor and made four of seven attempts from behind the third-point line in the second half. And the Warrior bench outscored the Clipper reserves, 34-12.
"Our second unit didn’t play well tonight," Rivers conceded.
Still, the Clippers fought back to retake the lead four times — the final time at 92-91 on Chris Paul's two free throws with eight minutes left. The teams were tied four times down the stretch before a David Lee free throw with less than three minutes to play put the Warriors ahead for good.
Golden State then sealed the win when Andre Iguodala sank two foul shots following a controversial call against the Clippers’ Matt Barnes with 70 seconds left.
Curry finished with a team-high 27 points while Klay Thompson had 25. Paul followed Griffin for the Clippers with 27 points while Jordan had 15 rebounds, three more than Griffin.
"We played tough tonight,” said Jordan, who scored just five points on 1 of 5 shooting from the floor. "We gave up some leads and stopped playing defense. When you play a great team like that you can’t have any lapses.
"We are getting ready for the playoffs. They are a playoff team. We’re going to see them later on down the line so we have to just be able to take the punches."
The Clippers will have to heal quickly though because they play another game with huge playoff implications Wednesday night in Portland.
"There’s a point in time where you need to be peaking," guard Dahntay Jones said. "And that’s where we’re at right now."
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11
Staff writer Chris Erskine contributed to this report