After a walkover win against the Faker Lakers and a nice road victory against a Denver team missing Kenneth Faried, now we finally get a game worth rewinding. The Christmas Day special against the Los Angeles Clippers lived up to the hype in every way, with the Warriors ekeing out a 105-103 victory that could go a long way toward reestablishing them as a player in the Western Conference.
It was tight, it was contentious, it was full of fabulous plays at both ends of the floor by both teams. In the end, the Warriors survived by getting Blake Griffin kicked out of the game for the final 10:41 and then playing stellar defense over the final 1:09 with a two-point lead. Chris Paul missed two layups and had another blocked from behind by Klay Thompson. Then Thompson’s outstretched hand made Jamal Crawford’s 3-point shot for the win a desperation try, and it barely hit front iron as the buzzer sounded.
The Warriors needed a win over a top team in the West after losses to Portland, Houston and San Antonio on their home court, and defeats to lesser lights like Charlotte and Phoenix on the road. So have they finally hit a groove? Probably not just yet. But three wins in a row is something Golden State hasn’t accomplished in more than a month and this win could be a launch pad to better play and firmer footing in this killer conference.
The Clippers saw the Warriors differently. Griffin, whose end of third quarter confrontation with Draymond Green earned him one technical (while Green was ejected for a flagrant-2 elbowing foul), thought Warriors center Andrew Bogut purposely tied him up and forced a second skirmish that earned him his second T and an ejection.
“He (Bogut) was grabbing onto me and I think they called a foul, and then he grabbed the neck of my jersey so I tried to back up, knowing that I already had one technical,” Griffin said. “But good job, they sold it. They (the officials) fell for it. If you look at it, I didn’t do anything and I got thrown out of the game. It all boils down to they fell for it. To me, it’s cowardly basketball. I don’t know their intentions, but it worked.”
Clippers coach Doc Rivers was only slightly less direct, adding that he thought Chris Paul was fouled all three times he went to the basket in the final 1:09.
“Golden State was trying to get Blake thrown out of the game and it worked,” Rivers said. “We were kicking their butt and they went to something else. But that’s fine. We have to have better composure and just keep quiet, there’s no doubt about that. I thought the basketball part, we showed up pretty well. Then with the other stuff, it worked in their favor, so it was a smart thing to do.”
Of course, after the final horn, the Clippers got in a shoving match in front of the Warriors bench. Paul was in the middle of it, but so was former Warrior Stephen Jackson, who didn’t even play in the game, and another ex-Golden State, Matt Barnes. What the heck happened?
“Just a little Christmas cheer between the two teams,” mused David Lee.
Said Bogut, the object of the Clippers’ furor, “We’re both physical teams in the middle. We’re both not afraid to get after it. That’s not a goal of mine, to go in there, do anything nd wrestle, but that’s the way it gets. Guys get frustrated on both sides and things happen. At the end of the day, you’re trying to win a basketball game.”
And what happened at the finish, with the Clippers storming the Golden State bench?
“I’m not sure, we’ll have to look at the tape. I had the ball in my hands and they tried to get it from me, I wouldn’t let them get it and all of a sudden, there was a stampede,” he said. “I’m not sure what happened after that because security ran in.”
So what happened on the Griffin play?
“I was just trying to box him out,” Bogut said. “He’s a tough offensive rebounder and there was just a little physicality, we’re both grabbing each other, we both went down on the floor and that was about it.”
Taking Griffin out of the game was huge, no question, because the Warriors were better able to focus on Paul and Crawford defensively, and to their credit, did the job defensively when it mattered. Did Paul get fouled? Look, in the last minute, good referees let these guys play and only call the obvious hard fouls. Paul did have a layup try roll around and out. On the last play, it was clean. Kent Bazemore stepped over and blocked Paul’s path to the basket and then when CP3 tried to float one, Thompson blocked it. Excellent defense, there.
Good night for Thompson even if his shot still isn’t quite where he wants it to be. He still made big buckets and finished with 23, his first plus-20 effort in nine games. It’s pretty clear Thompson’s success is linked to the Warriors’ success, because when he’s going bad, opponents go after Curry with double teams and overplays. Curry had an off shooting night, but still made two huge buckets down the stretch, a 3-pointer with 2:20 left followed by a nifty layup on the next possession.
Now let’s see where the Warriors take this. Beat Phoenix Friday night — something they should and need to do — and they’ll take a four-game winning streak into their longest trip of the year, a seven-gamer. Momentum is everything in the NBA and the Warriors could head into that streak with a terrific head of steam.
Bottom line, fabulous game on a Christmas night and the entire country got to check it out with Oracle rocking. Heck of a good way to end the holiday.