If there was any doubt that the first-round NBA playoff series between the Clippers and Golden State Warriors would be worthy of a daytime national television spot it was erased Saturday at Staples Center.
The game didn't go down to the last shot but the last minute, with the Warriors taking a 109-105 victory over the Clippers and a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
The Clippers have dug themselves a big hole by losing the opener in front of 19,339 fans at Staples Center, where Game 2 will be played Monday night at 7:30.
It wasn't as if the Clippers didn't have chances at the end but some uncharacteristic play by Chris Paul -- a lost ball and two missed free throws inside 20 seconds -- kept the Warriors in front.
Paul was the game's leading scorer with 28 points on 10-of-23 shooting.
The Warriors had five players in double figures: Klay Thompson (22 points), David Lee (20), Stephen Curry (14), Harrison Barnes (14) and Jermaine O'Neal (13).
The Clippers did get some strong play from J.J. Redick with 22 points. DeAndre Jordan had 14 rebounds and 11 points. And Glen (Big Baby) Davis had an inspired 21 minutes of play. He only scored six points but showed an energy that lifted both the crowd and his team.
One player that has to turn it around for the Clippers is Jamal Crawford. Despite making a half-court basket at the buzzer to end the first quarter, the normally reliable Crawford made only 2 of 11 shots.
The Warriors seemingly had the game in hand -- if such a thing is possible in the NBA -- with an 11-point lead early in the fourth quarter. Blake Griffin missed most of the first half in foul trouble and then was relegated to the bench for half of the fourth quarter after picking up his fifth foul. Griffin finished the game with 16 points, playing only 19:14.
After Griffin's return the Clippers made a run, erasing a six-point deficit and tying the score at 102-102 with 2:26 to play after a basket by Paul. The Clippers then took a brief lead when Darren Collison made one of two free throws with 2:10 to play.
But Harrison Barnes made a three-pointer with 1:40 to play and a two-point Warriors lead. Griffin then tied the score with a couple free throws with 1:31 to play. Neither team could score on their next possession and Griffin picked up his sixth foul with 48.3 seconds to play and the score tied, 105-105.
The Clippers missed an opportunity after a steal when Collison couldn't handle the breakaway and the Warriors took the lead with 24 seconds to play after Collison fouled Draymond Green and he converted both foul shots.
On the Clippers' next possession, Paul lost the ball in traffic near the sideline. The call originally favored the Clippers but was overturned after replay. Harrison Barnes was then intentionally fouled by Matt Barnes and converted the second of two free throws to give the Warriors a three-point lead with 13.9 seconds left.
Thompson intentionally fouled Paul, who missed both free throws. Paul followed that with his fifth foul and the Clippers were done.
Warriors 87, Clippers 79 (end of third quarter)
Well, you couldn't say Blake Griffin wasn't well rested for the second half. He played only 3:53 of the first half because of foul trouble and came out strong in the third quarter, scoring the first six points for the Clippers. But Griffin had to return to the bench with 58 seconds left in the quarter when he picked up his fifth foul.
The Warriors put on quite the offensive display, finishing the quarter with an 8-0 run that leaves the Clippers in quite a hole.
It was up to J.J. Redick to carry the team in the third, scoring 12 of his 22 points in the quarter.
Fouls could be an issue in the fourth quarter. Warriors forward Andre Iguodala picked up his fifth foul early in the third quarter and Chris Paul was whistled for his fourth with 5:10 left. At that point Paul had 18 points and eight assists. Both Iguodala's and Paul's fouls were offensive, giving coaches Mark Jackson and Doc Rivers equal opportunities to complain to referees.
The Warriors opened up a four-point lead, 77-73, with 4:38 to play on back-to-back baskets by Jermaine O'Neal and David Lee. But the Clippers weren't about to let the game get away from them as Darren Collison sank two free throws to close the gap.
But the Warriors came back with a Klay Thompson layup and the lead was back to four with three minutes to play in the quarter. Griffin answered with a basket and Redick scored uncontested to tie the score again, 79-79, with 2:16 left in the quarter.
And then the wheels started to come off the Clippers. The Warriors went on an 8-0 run to end the quarter. Lee sank four free throws while Thompson and O'Neal scored baskets to give the Warriors the big edge.
Clippers 52, Warriors 52 (halftime)
As great as the first quarter ended for the Clippers with a half-court shot by Jamal Crawford, the second quarter started equally as bad. The quarter was only 39 seconds old when Blake Griffin picked up his third foul and was immediately sent to the bench.
Griffin only played a little more than three minutes in the first quarter because he picked up two fouls. It was clear the Staples Center crowd would learn how the Clippers would do without their leading scorer.
The answer was mixed. Not so bad, not so good. Clearly the team missed him as more of the scoring load had to go to Chris Paul, who had 13 points. The backcourt pairing of Paul and J.J. Redick against the Warriors' Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson was all it was expected to be. Redick had 10 points for the Clippers while Curry had 10 and Thompson added eight to lead the Warriors.
After Griffin's exit, it didn't take long for the Warriors to go up by three points, 34-31, after a couple of three-pointers by Harrison Barnes and Thompson and a basket by Andre Iguodala.
The lead went back and forth for the next few minutes, but with 5:46 left in the half Iguodala picked up his fourth foul, sending him to the bench. At that point Igoudala had six points and two assists.
What transpired for the next few minutes was classic playoff basketball, with each team converting most of its opportunities. A couple of Thompson free throws tied the score at 47-47 and DeAndre Jordan picked up his ninth point with a put-back basket for a two-point Clippers lead. He could have been halfway to a double-double if he had made a free throw but, as he often does, he missed. He had eight rebounds at that point of the game.
The Clipers took the lead with 1:02 left on a pair of three throws by Redick and Paul followed that up by making one of two free throws to give the Clippers a 52-50 lead with 44 seconds left.
The Clippers got the ball back on a five-second violation by the Warriors after a timeout with 36 seconds to play. But Paul was called for traveling. After several misses under the basket, Glen Davis was called for a foul with 0.2 seconds to play.
It was an unfortuante foul by Davis, who had been playing with a lot of hustle and energy. Davis was recently in Coach Doc Rivers' doghouse for a lack of focus.
Harrison Barnes made the two free throws and it was tied 52-52 at the half.
Clippers 29, Warriors 24 (end of first quarter)
If you believe there are signs of things to come, then you had to like the end of the first quarter, when Jamal Crawford launched a shot from half court that banked in to give the Clippers a 29-24 lead in Game 1 of this best-of-seven playoff series.
It was clear early how hotly contested this series would be as each team committed an offensive foul in the first 20 seconds (David Lee and DeAndre Jordan). Yes, that intense.
The Clippers came out strong, posting a 7-0 lead on two field goals by Blake Griffin and a three-pointer by Chris Paul. The Warriors didn't score their first point until the game was 2:40 old. And that was when Jermaine O'Neal made one of two free throws after Griffin fouled him.
Actually, the only bad thing that happened to the Clippers early was when Griffin picked up his second foul with 8:46 left in the quarter. But it wasn't Griffin that was the problem for the Warriors, it was their shooting. They missed their first eight shots before Stephen Curry hit a two-pointer with 7:38 left in the quarter.
That basket seemed to put the Warriors into a less desperate mode as they started to whittle into the Clippers' lead, closing it to 15-10 with 5:05 to play in the quarter.
A Clippers timeout couldn't immediately stop the Warriors, who had David Lee and Andre Iguodala each score to close the deficit to 15-14.
On the next possession Iguodala fouled Jamal Crawford for his third foul. Crawford made two of three free throws and Curry came back with a three pointer and the game was tied 17-17.
The rest of the quarter was pretty even, with the score getting tied at 20-20 after a Steve Blake three-pointer.
Paul led the Clippers in scoring with seven while Crawford and Jordan each had five. Curry led the Warriors with five.
It's being billed as a grudge match but beneath all the animosty the Clippers and Golden State Warriors have for each other there are some pretty good matchups. At least that's what a national television audience is hoping for as they were getting ready for Game 1 in a best-of-seven series in the first round of the NBA playoffs.
The L.A. Live area was packed before the rare 12:30 p.m. Saturday tipoff. The venue was sharing space with an event tied to the World Cup, which will be played in June in Brazil. And, most of the outside activity was aimed at the soccer crowd.
Still, there was an air of anticipation among the crowd inside Staples Center. One of the most frequently wondered questions was how the Clippers' backcourt of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick would fare against the Golden State duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, arguably the best shooting guard combination in the league.
Or maybe the game will be decided down low where the Clippers should have a decided advantage in DeAndre Jordan, who is playing the best basketball of his career. The Warriors had to go to backup center Jermaine O'Neal, who is filling in for the injured Andrew Bogut.
Whatever the outcome, the questions will start to be answered as Game 1 gets ready to start.
For two seasons, the Clippers and Golden State Warriors exchanged barbs during the regular season, neither team backing down.
Now it'll be interesting to see if the Clippers and Warriors ratchet up that animosity when they meet in Game 1 of their Western Conference first-round playoff series this afternoon at Staples Center.
The Warriors won the 2012-13 season series, 3-1, leaving the Clippers saying Golden State celebrated too much.
The Clippers and Warriors split the 2013-14 season series, 2-2, leaving both teams calling out the other.
Most NBA pundits say rivalries are made in the playoffs.
Well, the Clippers and Warriors are rivals in the Pacific Division, which the Clippers won for the second consecutive season.
Now the pundits will get to see if the Clippers vs. Warriors truly becomes a rivalry.
"We've had good games with them, just like we've had good games with some other teams," Clippers All-Star power forward Blake Griffin said. "But it's going to be intense, for sure. So as far as animosity and all that, we both have to play each other to get to where we want to and that's the way it is."