The Lob City Era gave way to who knows what, a group that played surprisingly well but was shaken up at the trade deadline when Clippers executives, apparently giving up on the season, traded away two starters and started looking toward the future.
Except these players weren’t ready to give up on themselves, and together Monday night they created the finest moment for a franchise that has had precious few great achievements.
Down 31 points to the two-time defending champion Golden State Warriors, the Clippers didn’t panic, didn’t surrender, didn’t waver.
Their 135-131 victory before a stunned crowd at Oracle Arena reflected every good thing they’ve shown this season about their character and ability and showed the power of a team against the NBA’s best collection of superstars. They go back to Staples Center with the series even at 1-1 and with the knowledge they can beat the high-powered Warriors.
“That’s what we’ve been all season,” Lou Williams said after scoring a game-high 36 points, including 29 of the 85 points the Clippers scored in a frenetic second half.
They were scrappy and feisty and good, staring down the Warriors and the crowd with maturity and determination.
They were smart enough to recognize the Warriors’ focus wavering and fed off that, getting contributions from young and old while illustrating why coach Doc Rivers has so staunchly stood behind this team throughout a sometimes difficult season.
“I love this group. They just don’t give in,” Rivers said. “They allow you to coach them.”
The Warriors, he said, “were beating us at every facet and we kept searching and searching. I thought it was our spirit,” that was responsible for the win.
Maybe his faith helped, too. He made a point of offering support instead of criticism at halftime.
“I told them we are going to win,” Rivers said. “I was honest with them. I said, ‘I don’t know how but we’re going to figure it out. Just hang in there.’”
They did, led by Williams and 25 points off the bench by Montrezl Harrell.
The duo had excelled in Game 1 by combining for 51 points but they really saved the day Monday.
Earlier in the day, Warriors coach Steve Kerr had called them the Clippers’ best players and said their energy and scoring off the bench made the Clippers unique.
“How many teams bring their two best players off the bench? We don’t get too caught up in bench total points because the only thing that matters is total points, obviously,” Kerr said.
Afterward, after Kerr had lost the battle of the benches and for total points, he was terse.
“We stopped playing,” he said. “We got disconnected mid third quarter and lost our competitive edge. When I say we stopped playing I mean we stopped playing defense, offense, execution-wise. We got exactly what we deserved.”
Until then, it appeared the Warriors would romp. Stephen Curry, who changed his famous pregame routine — instead of finishing his warmups by heaving a ridiculous shot from the entrance to the tunnel that leads to the Warriors’ locker room at Oracle Arena, Curry put the ball down on the floor and took a pretend golf swing in tribute to Tiger Woods’ stunning Masters victory Sunday — had taken control in the second quarter.
He sandwiched a pair of three-point shots — the first a 27-foot pull-up jumper and the second a step-back from 23 feet — around a three-pointer from Patrick Beverley to put Golden State up by 16 and brought the crowd to its feet with a nifty finger roll for a 66-48 lead.
He then applied what appeared to be the finishing touch with another three-point shot, this dead-on from 26 feet, to give the Warriors a 73-50 lead at halftime.
He jumped up and down in pure glee after that shot, sensing the Warriors were halfway through this round and well on their way to greater challenges.
But oh, was he wrong.
The Clippers weren’t done yet, and their epic comeback proved this series isn’t done yet, either.
Asked what he’d like to see in Game 3, Williams was brief.
“Not to get down 30,” he said.
A reasonable plan.
But they now know even if they do fall behind by a ridiculous margin, they can come back.
This was a shining moment for the Clippers, and who knows, they might have a few more left in them.
Will winning one game be it? Or will this turn into a series? With the Clippers now, anything is possible.