Clippers show power and poise in charging back into the playoffs
The Clippers needed an answer, and quick.
They gave one, and wow.
Their response Monday night to a playoff-opening debacle against the Golden State Warriors was powerful enough to temporarily subdue thoughts of the historic Clippers jinx while empowering dreams of a landmark Clippers spring.
The answer was visible across the Staples Center sky in a flying Blake Griffin, and across the Staples Center floor in a skidding Chris Paul.
The answer was audible on the Staples Center sideline with a screaming and confrontational Doc Rivers, and in the stands with thousands of red shirts whose owners’ roars lasted deep into the sweaty night.
More than anything, the answer could be felt in the slumped shoulders and blank stares of a Warriors team that was warned these might not be same old postseason Clippers, and this is not going to be your usual first-round dance.
“They are who I thought they are,” said Rivers afterward of his team, his voice filled with relief.
The final score was 138-98, the Clippers winning a game by what felt like a lot more than 40 points.
The final image was of Golden State’s Stephen Curry throwing his mouthpiece across the court at the feet of official Rodney Mott late in the third quarter while loudly cursing. And he had just made a layup. Yeah, the Warriors were that frustrated.
It was a game in which Golden State was assessed 11 more fouls, but it was about more than officials who seemed intent on making up for the many bad calls issued by a different crew in the opener.
It was a game in which the Warriors were beaten not by the officials, but by the vengeful power of Griffin’s 35 points, the open fearlessness of a bench that seemingly scored at will, and the calm determination that Rivers has seemingly instilled in all of them.
That is, when Rivers wasn’t shouting down the Warriors’ 35-year-old Jermaine O’Neal during a second-quarter confrontation that resulted in double technical fouls. Yeah, their new coach will fight for them, even if it is against the oldest guy on the court.
“We’re just a couple of stubborn old fools,” said Rivers.
The stubborn series is now tied at one game apiece, and the next steps aren’t any easier. The series moves to Oakland’s Oracle Arena on Thursday and Sunday, where the Clippers have lost five in a row, 15 of 17.
“It’s going to be hard, they’re going to be ready, they’re going to give it all to us,” said Rivers.
Another response like this will be needed. But if nothing else, it’s clear these Clippers have it in them.
“That momentum, that energy, that camaraderie we played with … we were together all night,” said Griffin. “It didn’t splinter once.”
It started Monday night with Griffin, who sat on the bench for much of the first game with foul trouble, and who was better known for throwing water on a Golden State fan after fouling out than for throwing the ball into the basket.
In Game 1, Griffin had just 16 points. Yet with five minutes left in the second quarter Monday, he already had 16 points, and continued roaring through the Warriors with a flying dunk that seemingly began in East L.A., spinning drives around every golden bridge in sight, and had just four missed shots in 17 attempts.
But his best number of the night? Zero fouls.
Though Chris Paul had 10 assists, he struggled offensively, and Griffin’s biggest assist came from a place that was one of the Clippers’ biggest Game 1 problems.
The Clippers bench made just eight of 30 shots in the opener? Midway through the second quarter, the bench had already made eight baskets, on 11 shots.
Led by Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu, they scored 58 points, making 21 of 38 shots, including eight three-pointers, which was double the number hit by Golden State’s entire team.
It was a night with contributions from everyone. Billy Crystal engaged in a courtside makeout session on the Kiss Cam. Ralph Lawler, the Clippers’ venerable broadcaster, smiled for the cheering crowd when he was recognized for his 76th birthday.
Even the fans had a direct impact when, after cheering for forlorn benchwarmer Jared Dudley, they were finally rewarded with his late appearance. And, yes, he even scored.
The party concluded during a timeout with about two minutes left in the game, when loudspeakers blared a song that had many dancing in joy and relief.
“Happy” may be a cliche tune at sports events this days, but on Monday it fit, the Clippers finally charging into these playoffs like everyone expected, playing like a room without a roof.
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