Of anyone who would figure to know Chase Center best by now, it would be the tenant of the NBA’s newest arena.
Even the Golden State Warriors, however, are still learning as they go. To coach Steve Kerr’s chagrin, he has already been locked out of his office.
“I pondered wearing my keycard over my suit coat,” Kerr said Thursday, before the franchise’s first game held in San Francisco since Jan. 29, 1971.
The adjustments are hardly limited to their billion-dollar Mission Bay digs. Thursday’s 141-122 Clippers victory was a reminder of everything else that has changed for Golden State — and thus, for the Clippers and the rest of the NBA, too.
Six months after a Warriors roster featuring five potential NBA Hall of Fame players held off the eighth-seeded Clippers in the playoffs’ first round, the new star-led Clippers dismissed a Golden State squad whose former vice-like grip on the Western Conference is now looser than their defense.
The Clippers scored the game’s first 14 points, overcame their own mistakes in the second quarter and received career-best performances to easily put away a franchise that has long been their tormentor. Kawhi Leonard scored 21 points and his nine assists tied a career high to blow up the festivities during the Warriors’ opener in their new stadium. It came four months after Leonard, then with the Toronto Raptors, wrecked the final game in their old Oakland home, Oracle Arena, by leaving with a championship trophy.
Patrick Patterson made a career-high six three-pointers to score 20 points for the Clippers.
Center Ivica Zubac, whose impact was limited to eight points and nine minutes in Tuesday’s season-opening victory over the Lakers, scored eight points in the first quarter, feasting on pick-and-roll passes from Leonard, and wound up with 16 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Golden State’s championship banners from 2015, 2017 and 2018 made the trip from Oakland, as injured star Klay Thompson noted during a pregame address to a sold-out crowd of 18,064. But their aura as the West’s perennial favorite amid five consecutive NBA Finals appearances has not carried over.
“This is not a one-off,” Kerr said after the loss to the Clippers. “There are going to be nights like this, this year.
“The last five years we’ve been living in a world that doesn’t exist. This is reality.”
The absences of Kevin Durant (free agency), Thompson (knee injury), Andre Iguodala (trade) and Shaun Livingston (retirement) opened championship windows for rivals across the NBA and through two games, despite playing without All-Star Paul George, the Clippers appear as equipped as anyone to chase a title.
“One of our best players is sitting in street clothes still,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said, “so clearly we’re going to get better when Paul comes back. But we can’t wait either. To win the West, you have to win games.”
The Clippers shot 57% in the first half and only its 10 turnovers, which led to 16 Golden State fast-break points, kept an 11-point halftime lead close. The game broke open for good during a one-sided second half.
It reached a point, with four minutes remaining, where the Warriors were assessed a technical foul when they called a timeout they didn’t have. In the stands, meanwhile, one fan turned from the court to read from her Kindle.
“Once we took care of the ball we were in great shape,” Rivers said.
Montrezl Harrell added 18 points and Lou Williams 22 off the bench for the Clippers, who shot 62% for the game.
The Warriors are coming off their most offseason roster turnover in seven seasons and it showed. Guard Stephen Curry (23 points) faced a defense that could more easily focus on him with Durant and Thompson gone. D’Angelo Russell added an early punch, scoring the Warriors’ first 10 points, but finished with 20 points on six of 16 shooting.
Draymond Green, the team’s heart, remains. But without Kevon Looney, who left with knee tightness in the third quarter, Green’s bulldog defense wasn’t enough to stop the Clippers from scoring 46 points in the third quarter.
Before tipoff, the arena’s volume reached Oracle levels following a national anthem performance by Carlos Santana and a hype video that replayed the highlights of the Warriors’ five-year NBA dominance.
Within three quarters, though, some had seen enough. Fans trickled out of the building, headed home, adjusting to a new NBA order.