LOS ANGELES – It was a packed house at Staples Center on Thursday night as Chris Paul returned to the Los Angeles Clippers lineup after missing three games with a groin injury, but it was Steph Curry who stood out down the stretch as the defending champion Golden State Warriors won
Fans and media arrived as early as possible in an effort to watch Steph Curry go through his pre-game routine. He didn’t disappoint as he and Klay Thompson took shots from seemingly every spot on the floor – simulating a variety of scenarios from catch-and-shoot to dribble pull-up to curls off screens.
“It’s kind of crazy because I’ve been watching players warm up for some time now and this is something else,” said one of the Clippers’ trainers about 90 minutes prior to tipoff.
The Clippers got an early lead and never took their foot off the gas pedal. Paul was focused from the get-go and for all but maybe three to four minutes of the game, it didn’t look like like there was any way the Clippers were going to lose this game at home.
They shot 85.7% from the field in the opening eight minutes. After the first quarter, the Clippers had outshot the Warriors, 70.8% to 44.4%.
“You feel like nobody can beat you,” veteran forward Paul Pierce said before the game, ultimately prophesying how Thursday’s game would end. “You feel like any team that takes a lead on you, you can always come back.”
After winning the first quarter by 16 points, the Clippers lost the second by 2, the third by 8 and the fourth by 13.
A 22-5 run to finish the game by the Warriors, however, erased all the good. Led by the freak of a basketball player that Curry has become, the Warriors once again reminded the Clippers that it’s a 48-minute contest. The Clippers tendency of playing well only to choke away a game right at the end is now an issue – if it already wasn’t one before.
The Clippers were up 112-102 with 5:05 left. They were outscored 18-3 down the stretch – not too surprising when one realizes they were playing two 35-plus year-olds the entire fourth quarter.
“Well, we got to keep working on it,” head coach Doc Rivers said about not closing out the game. “Like I said before the game, we were close, but close isn’t good enough. You got to finish the games, but I don’t think it started in the fourth quarter, I really don’t. I think right there in the second quarter was when we stopped. We weren’t playing with the same force we played with in the first quarter.”
Curry led the Warriors with 40 points and 11 rebounds. It was his first career game with at least 40 points and 10 rebounds.
The Warriors shot better than 56 percent from beyond the arc, hitting 17-of-30 shots. The Clippers went 13-of-29.
“One of our things before the game was the team that played the hardest and longest was going to win the game,” Rivers said. It was going to be a close game, I felt that before the game, and it turned out to be that. But they made every big shot. And you know I think the difference for them is that they kept trusting, their ball found anyone. I mean they swung it to [Andre] Iguodala twice for threes. They just kept fighting the open guy and some of those were breakdowns and some of those were good offense on their part. I thought as much as we don’t do this very often, we scored 117 points? I actually thought it was our offense in the second half more than it was our defense because you know empty possession after empty possession after empty possession gave them better rhythm offensively.”
What differentiated the two sides on Thursday night was resiliency and trust. The Warriors – unlike their opponent – stuck to their gameplan and saw it through, despite multiple double-digit deficits.
“It was our toughest game on the road so far, we had a couple close ones at home where we didn’t play our best but we found a way to close it out in the fourth quarter,” Curry said after the game. “I guess that shows the resiliency of this team – on the road against a good Clippers team, down 23, we never felt like we were out of it. We fought our way back, got within one, but then they went up by 10. You feel like you’ll get deflated at that point but we didn’t. We just had confidence down the stretch and maturity that we relied on starting from last year and continuing into this year.”