The Los Angeles Clippers played as perfectly as you can ask a team to play against the Golden State Warriors tonight.
- The Clippers shot 71 percent in the first quarter in taking a 16 point lead, and led by 23 points with six minutes left in the second quarter
- The Warriors’ two most important players, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green, picked up two fouls apiece within two and five minutes respectively
- With Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa both out the Warriors had no backup point guard when Curry went to the bench early
- The Clippers had a beautiful defensive game plan, overplaying every pass and forcing the Warriors into 19 turnovers, seven alone from Curry
- Chris Paul, who was questionable to play just two hours before the game, was magnificent, scoring 35 points on 13-22 shooting, 5-9 from three
- Interim Warriors coach Luke Walton was clearly discombobulated by his limited rotation and foul-prone stars, going seven deep on the bench and cycling through some deeply uncomfortable lineups
- The Clippers had a 10-point lead with just five minutes remaining
And yet, when all was said and done, the Clippers got killed. In normal circumstances a 124-117 loss isn’t an ass-kicking, but these aren’t normal circumstances. The Clippers—who fancy themselves an elite team, a peer and rival of the Warriors—went 1-3 against them last season, flamed out in the playoffs, talked all sorts of mess over the summer and fall, lost to the Warriors in their fifth game of the season, and then took a 23-point lead at home in this one and lost. That’s way more demoralizing than the 50-point shellacking the Warriors laid upon the Grizzlies two weeks ago.
We know—we know!—not to count the Warriors out when they’re in a hole, but a 23-point deficit to one of the best teams in the NBA shouldn’t be a hole, it should be a chasm. It is when you’re playing the Warriors: they’re 68-0 over the past two seasons when taking a 15+ lead.
Here are a couple of crazy statistics about the Warriors:
- In the past three seasons, the Warriors have won all four games in which they gave up 40 or more points in the first quarter
- In the last five games in which they’ve had a 15+ first quarter deficit, the Warriors are 4-1
- Or how about this:
The Warriors aren’t perfect. The mid-level entry pass from Curry to (usually) Green is the most important pass in the entire Warriors offense, and the Clippers provided a blueprint for other teams by showing how effective the overplay is. Green’s growth into a top-20 NBA player is undoubtedly a boon for the Warriors, but it’s also increased their reliance on him and demonstrated how vulnerable they can be when he’s out. Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, and Andrew Bogut can be susceptible to heavy pressure, and Klay Thompson still drifts in and out of some games. Their head coach still hasn’t sat on the bench for a single game this season.
But really, we’re picking nits here. The Warriors are on some next level shit, and their biggest opponents are their own concentration, their own hunger, their own energy, their own precision. They were a historically great team last season, going 67-15 and due for a step back: it’s nearly impossible to win 80% of your games in consecutive seasons. The Warriors also didn’t meaningfully upgrade their roster or their coaching staff.
But after 13 straight victories it is clear that the Warriors are a better team than they were last season, driven by internal growth and development and a greater comfort with their schemes and teammates. 73-9 seems untouchable, but then again, so do the Warriors.
Photo via AP