Column: Clippers have plenty to celebrate after beating Warriors
The crowd in Staples Center was ready to fall off its hinges as streamers fell from the ceiling.
It was a last-second win, complete with the lows of LeBron James missing two free throws and the highs of his two-handed slam to give his team the lead. There was Tyson Chandler blocking a shot at the buzzer at the last possible blink before it would be goaltending.
The Lakers celebrated in a corner of the court, owners of a winning record for the first time. It was mayhem.
And, it all came at the expense of the Atlanta Hawks, a team in the first season of a total rebuild and perfectly content to finish the season with the best chance to pick first in next summer’s draft.
One night later, the best basketball team in Los Angeles right now, the Clippers, exorcised some of the ghosts of the Lob City era, beating an old nemesis, the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
The Warriors have dominated the Clippers in recent memory, at one point winning 12 consecutive games against them — a streak that was built on the backs of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green devouring the Clippers physically and psychologically.
And those wins came against the best teams in Clippers history.
Like in the Clippers’ win at Golden State last season that broke the Warriors’ hold over them, Curry was sidelined Monday night. But unlike in the Clippers’ win last season, Thompson was very much on the court — as were Kevin Durant, Green, Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston.
It didn’t matter, the Clippers cementing themselves as the best “team you don’t want to play” in the city, and maybe the Western Conference.
Only two days earlier, Lou Williams’ last-second double-clutch runner sent the Milwaukee Bucks out of town with a loss — one that came only two days after Milwaukee dominated the Warriors at Oakland.
The consecutive wins are better than any victory the Lakers have notched, a reminder that while eyes are rightfully fixated on James’ first season as a Laker, the better basketball is happening when the Clippers are on their Staples Center court.
Both of the wins were early season classics, both teams ramping up the intensity as they reached key moments, making big plays when they were called for.
Clippers rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander stared Green down and blocked the All-Star’s shot. On the other end, the 19-year-old attacked Green, forgetting that he’s probably the best defender in the league, and Green poked the ball loose.
The Warriors charged in the final five minutes of regulation, shutting out the Clippers with their always overlooked defense setting the stage for Thompson to start hitting shots from all over the court. The Clippers would somehow lose Thompson again in overtime, and he’d make them pay.
But Williams, as good as anyone in the NBA at finding ways to get to the free-throw line, scored 10 points in overtime, pump-faking and jab-stepping the Clippers to a 121-116 win.
At the buzzer, the crowd in Staples Center was again on its feet. Players again celebrated. This time, it was a win that really mattered. Even with Curry sidelined — the Clippers were without a starter in Avery Bradley and a key reserve in Luc Mbah a Moute — this felt like a proclamation.
The rebuilt Clippers, devoid of stars, devoid of egos and agendas, beat the Warriors for only the third time since they eliminated the Warriors in the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs.
Since then, Golden State has put together the best stretch of basketball in the modern NBA. And since then, the Clippers saw their core crumble, piece by piece walking away in free agency or shipped out in trades.
Clippers fans know that team — they saw them flame out spectacularly in playoff losses to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers and Utah Jazz.
This team has Montrezl Harrell fighting for every loose ball, Patrick Beverley digging in on defense, Danilo Gallinari and Tobias Harris scoring, Gilgeous-Alexander making plays that teenagers don’t make.
For years, the Clippers had stars — and they couldn’t beat the Warriors. And this team, one constructed with an eye for toughness because they couldn’t land any stars, well, it just knocked off the champions.
“We’re just fun to watch,” Rivers said. “Hell, we really are.”
If they keep winning, more and more people will figure that out.
Go beyond the scoreboard
Get the latest on L.A.'s teams in the daily Sports Report newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.