Leaving the locker room and walking underneath Oracle Arena’s lower bowl Sunday night, Tobias Harris had a 129-127 loss to Golden State fresh on his mind.
But his team’s horrible start to December, and the Clippers’ four-game losing streak that ended only Thursday, felt forever ago.
Sunday’s defeat can be viewed number of ways. For the Clippers, it was both a lost opportunity — they led by as many as 11 points — and a sign they remain a tough out in a conference full of them.
After scoring a team-high 32 points with nine rebounds, Harris saw it like this.
“I felt like we got our swagger back,” he said.
Less than a week after the Clippers were mired in their worst stretch of basketball this season, they left a matchup against the NBA’s two-time defending champions believing the gap between the West’s top and its middle isn’t so much a gulf but the difference of play here, a play there and maybe a poked eye.
They’ve beaten Golden State once this season and like their chances the next time, too.
“They’re just another team, to be honest,” guard Avery Bradley said. “We feel like we can compete against any team in the West and we were able to prove that tonight.”
The Clippers, guard Patrick Beverley said, “took a step forward.” Danilo Gallinari added 25 points.
Unlike these teams’ meeting in November, the Warriors had a healthy Stephen Curry this time and he scored 42 points, including the game-winning, right-handed scoop off the glass and out of reach from a trailing Montrezl Harrell with 0.5 of a second remaining.
Highly combustible forward Draymond Green aimed his animus on opponents and officials instead of his teammates. Kevin Durant, who drew Green’s ire during a fourth-quarter huddle that spawned weeks of headlines last time, was high-fiving Green on Sunday while going off for 35 points, including seven in the fourth.
Curry and Durant helped swing a one-point Clippers lead with 4:26 remaining into an eight-point Warriors advantage less than 90 seconds later. Against the Warriors, it can happen that quickly.
But even with the Warriors rolling and Oracle Arena reverberating with sound, the Clippers recovered and tied the score 127-127 with 19.6 seconds left when Bradley followed Harris’ missed transition layup with an emphatic dunk.
The Clippers had a foul to give on the final drive by Curry, and coach Doc Rivers owned what he called a coaching mistake not to foul.
“Those are on me,” he said.
Beverley wasn’t surprised the Warriors stormed back. He also wasn’t surprised the Clippers did, too. The grit that sustained them during the season’s start appeared exhausted during their December slide as they lost games by 24 and 38 points. It returned in a road loss at Oklahoma City, was realized during wins against Dallas and Denver this week and was back in Oakland.
The Clippers made 78.3% of their three-pointers and have now shot 50% or better overall in five consecutive games.
“Overall, I like how we just kept coming at them,” Rivers said.
Lou Williams scored 25 points in 25 minutes in his third game back from a hamstring injury. He nearly spilled out of bounds in the fourth quarter when Green tugged on his hips from behind to stop a drive, and Clippers coaches pleaded for a flagrant foul in vain. Williams didn’t think it was a “dirty play” but Beverley, chiming in from two lockers away, called out “trying to take my man Lou out!”
The Warriors did later in the quarter when Curry accidentally poked him in the eye on a drive. Williams shot the ensuing free throws before exiting the game for good.
Williams could barely see out of his right eye afterward. Taking the long view of their season, and their potential, his teammates saw the game as something to build on.