A smile crossed Blake Griffin’s face as he weaved his way through a media throng Friday to answer questions about the first-round playoff series between his Clippers and the Golden State Warriors.
Griffin’s eyes grew wider, too, when the All-Star power forward was asked if there were any lingering issues between him and Warriors center Jermaine O’Neal.
The last time the teams played each other, March 12 at Staples Center, Griffin and O’Neal had a postgame confrontation in the hallway outside of the Clippers’ locker room. O’Neal approached Griffin and the two exchanged words before O’Neal walked away.
“I don’t have Jermaine’s number,” Griffin said. “So I don’t really talk to him. So I don’t know if there’s a lingering issue or not.”
O’Neal will be the Warriors’ starting center in this series because Andrew Bogut is out with a fractured rib.
With Game 1 of the best-of-seven series set for Saturday at Staples Center, many around the NBA are eager to see how much animosity exists between the Clippers and Warriors.
Hall of Famer Reggie Miller, an NBA analyst for TNT, thinks he knows the answer. “They hate each other,” Miller said during a conference call with reporters.
“I don’t know about hate,” Griffin said. “This is basketball. I don’t know if hate is a great word. We have to go against each other. The dislike may be there for some guys, for some people on both teams. I don’t know if I would use hate. I don’t know if I’ll ever say I hate a basketball player just because I play against him. That’s not really a word I throw around a lot.”
The Clippers and Warriors split the season series, 2-2, and each game was intense.
In those four games there were nine technical fouls issued to players, two ejections (Griffin and Golden State’s Draymond Green), one flagrant foul (Green), plus that postgame confrontation between Griffin and O’Neal.
“Any time you hate a team, you can throw out who’s hurt and who’s not playing because it becomes personal,” Miller said. “We’re going to see a lot of hard fouls in this series. David Lee and Blake Griffin can’t stand each other and I love it.”
The dislike between the Clippers and Warriors actually began last season, but things became more acrimonious on Halloween Night at Staples Center.
There are chapels in NBA arenas for players who want to gather before games. But that night the Clippers and Warriors couldn’t even hold chapel service together.
The Warriors were angry, saying the Clippers violated the custom by not wanting to hold the service at the same time.
Then during the Oct. 31 game, Griffin bumped into Warriors Coach Mark Jackson while taking the ball out of bounds in front of the Warriors’ bench.
In their second meeting of the season, on Christmas night in Oakland, Green was assessed a flagrant foul and was ejected for elbowing Griffin. Later, Griffin picked up his second technical foul and also was ejected, following a tussle with Bogut.
“To me, it’s cowardly,” Griffin said after that game, referring to the Warriors’ tactics. “That’s cowardly basketball.”
But on Friday, Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said he didn’t “buy into all that dislike stuff” because of the win-or-go-home nature of the playoffs. “So it should be some tension and anxiety and some dislike, some healthy dislike.”
In the end, Rivers used a boxing metaphor for what the Clippers and Warriors should do before Game 1.
“We should shake their hands,” Rivers said. “You touch gloves and then you go out and you fight.”
Clippers forward Danny Granger, who missed the last nine regular-season games because of a strained left hamstring, practiced Friday. Rivers said he would make a “judgment call” on whether Granger plays Saturday.