Their shots weren’t falling. Three of their starters were scoreless for nearly 20 minutes to start the game. Their opponent built a double-digit lead.
It was the type of game the Clippers will need to occasionally win, when they’re far from their best, to have the kind of season they want.
They managed to do it Thursday at Staples Center, slogging their way to a 100-86 victory over the Golden State Warriors that was impressive on several levels.
The Clippers won despite shooting only 16.7% in the first quarter and 27.7% in the first half. Starters Blake Griffin, J.J. Redick and Matt Barnes were scoreless until Griffin drove for a dunk with 4:01 left in the second quarter to cut his team’s deficit to six points. Griffin had missed his first eight shots before that basket.
“To have those kind of numbers after a poor shooting half like that,” Griffin said after finishing with 18 points on five-for-16 shooting, “it’s like we have to keep the faith, keep rolling, this thing will turn our way.”
The Clippers’ defense gave them reason to believe. They were trailing by only two points after their horrid first quarter mostly because they had held Golden State to 20 points.
Their defense got even better later in the game, limiting the Warriors to 16 points in the fourth quarter and a season-low total for the game.
“We’re usually in offensive shootouts,” Clippers shooting guard Jamal Crawford said. "[Thursday] was all about defense. We said if they score 42 points [the Warriors’ first-half total] in the second half we’ll win the game because our offense is going to get going at some point.”
The Warriors scored 44. Close enough.
The Clippers constantly hounded Golden State point guard Stephen Curry with a blitzing defense that made getting touches hard and open shots nearly impossible.
“They were a little more aggressive just not trying to let me turn the corner and making sure if I did I wasn’t going to shoot it,” said Curry, who scored 14 points while making five of 12 shots.
Said Warriors Coach Steve Kerr: “They did a really good job on Steph … and we didn’t do a good job of making them pay for extending their defense out so far.”
Crawford had his best game since bursting the bursa sac in his shooting elbow on Dec. 10, making eight of 18 shots on the way to a game-high 24 points.
He acknowledged that he probably should have sat out a few games after the injury. Instead, he kept playing and struggled with his shooting, making two of 13 shots against Washington, zero of six against Detroit and five of 16 against Milwaukee.
“I love basketball too much,” Crawford said of his refusal to rest. “I’ll deal with the percentages not being there. It was frustrating because I could only get so far in my follow-through. Now, make or miss, I’m just more comfortable.”
There were no scrums or flagrant fouls Thursday, which qualified as a disappointment to Warriors forward Draymond Green.
“Maybe everyone was a little too jolly — Christmas spirit — but it was too nice. It was boring,” Green said of the latest installment in a series that has resulted in scads of technical fouls and ejections.
“I mean, I’m sure that wasn’t the prime-time game everybody expected. I ain’t saying you’ve got to have all the elbows and all that crazy stuff. You don’t have to have all that. But the battle? It just wasn’t there. That was a boring game to play in.”
CLIPPERS VS. RAPTORS
When: 12:30 p.m. PST Saturday
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: Prime Ticket; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Raptors 22-7; Clippers 20-10.
Record vs. Raptors (2013-14): 2-0.
Update: The Clippers have won eight consecutive games at home, including the opener of a nine-game homestand when they beat the Western Conference-leading Golden State Warriors on Thursday. Now they’ll face the team with the East’s best record in Toronto, which has gone 9-4 since former Compton High and USC standout DeMar DeRozan was sidelined indefinitely because of a groin injury. Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry is having an All-Star-caliber season, averaging career highs in points (20.0 per game) and assists (7.7) while making 44.6% of his shots.