The spectators who filled nearly every courtside seat Tuesday night in Chase Center watched opposing players slice nearly unimpeded to the rim, and the young, brittle Warriors lose a league-high 26th home game.
In some ways this night, a 131-107 Clippers beatdown, felt like any other here this season.
But around and above the action at court level, it was obvious this was anything but, as the reach of the novel coronavirus continued to leave its mark on the Bay Area, a hot spot for COVID-19, and American sports at large.
Thousands of black T-shirts draped over the arena’s seats as part of a giveaway sat unclaimed amid a crowd that was announced as a sellout but, in reality, was far more sparse. For the first time, locker rooms were open only to team employees deemed essential, by NBA decree. Golden State officials have begun leaving doors open inside their offices to keep players and coaches from touching handles, and Clippers players have been instructed not to sign autographs.
“It’s brand new and it’s strange and I don’t know really what to think,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Even in just everyday life, visiting with friends gathering and it’s awkward. You don’t shake hands, you are doing the Bash Brothers things. How are we supposed to act? It’s all very strange and awkward.”
Soon, it could become even moreso. Ahead of a conference call Wednesday between the league and team owners, league officials have raised the possibility that games could be played without fans, a move that would mirror the measures adopted by some leagues across the globe.
“I think everyone is pretty much worried about the virus,” Clippers forward Paul George said. “If it is fans, if it isn’t fans, I mean, again, we have a job to do. We play ball, we hoop and we’ll go with it.”
Amid the speculation, this much was clear Tuesday: Those who opted to stay home, whether out of concern surrounding the virus or a lack of interest in seeing a mismatch between teams at opposite ends of the Western Conference standings, missed little.
Leading by 28 at halftime and 24 by the third quarter’s end, the Clippers (44-20) were never challenged despite missing third-leading scorer Lou Williams, who did not play because of a sore right calf. Kawhi Leonard scored a team-high 23 points in 25 minutes and six other Clippers scored in double figures, led by 16 off the bench by guard Reggie Jackson.
The Clippers made 20 of their 44 three-pointers, the third time in franchise history and second time this season they made at least that many. The victory was the 938th of coach Doc Rivers’ career, tying him with Red Auerbach for 11th on the all-time coaching wins list.
The rout was a much-needed rebound for the Clippers, whose six-game winning streak was snapped two days earlier when the West-leading Lakers separated themselves during the fourth quarter. George began that game aggressively before attempting only two fourth-quarter shots.
George started much the same against the Warriors (15-50), ripping past defenders into unoccupied space around the rim for 12 points in his first seven minutes. This time, however, his presence wasn’t needed in the fourth quarter. When he checked out for the final time with 4 minutes 18 seconds to play in the third quarter, he had 15 points and the Clippers led 96-65.
The rout was one-sided enough that TNT, broadcasting the game to a national audience, cut into a tighter Lakers-Nets matchup in Los Angeles midway through the fourth quarter.
The Warriors roster, already thin with guard Stephen Curry missing a second consecutive game because of the flu, lost starting forward Juan Toscano-Anderson to a sprained ankle only 50 seconds into the game and played a matador-style of defense that allowed 76 first-half points, the second-most scored by the Clippers at halftime this season.
Dragan Bender scored 23 points to lead the Warriors.
The last time these teams met, on Oct. 24, thunderous noise opened the first regular-season game ever held in the arena. Tuesday’s atmosphere, at times, sounded like a golf tournament. Leonard, who toppled the Warriors dynasty last June in the NBA Finals with Toronto, received a few, faint “MVP” chants.
Instead of being encircled by reporters, as was the custom following previous road games, the Clippers coach sat at a dais, separated by reporters by at least six feet. The move is one of the several precautions set in place by the NBA.
Once finished, Rivers thanked those sitting in folding chairs and returned to the locker room. Soon after, a Warriors official walked up to the microphone the coach had just spoken into, and cleaned it with a disinfecting wipe.