Sliding on a San Francisco baseline past Phoenix’s Chris Paul on Monday night, Stephen Curry claimed a field goal and the last laugh.
“It’s not 2014 anymore,” the Golden State star told his longtime fighter as the cameras rolled.
Paul later claimed he didn’t know the reference, but on his podcast Curry’s Warriors teammate Draymond Green explained its latent meaning – that it had been so long since Paul couldn’t be considered the best player.
The remark was made inside the Chase Center. It was felt in the hearts of the Clippers.
Nine years ago, headlining Paul at point guard, the Clippers were on the upswing. Even the fallout from the suspension of former owner Donald Sterling on the eve of the playoffs was not enough to prevent them from winning a first-round series against Curry and Golden State.
But while the Clippers never recover from the playoff hump, Golden State has reached the top of the NBA mountain four times since. The 2014 series against Paul and the Clippers remains the Warriors’ last seven-game series lost to a Western Conference opponent. Even amid a 2022-23 Jekyll and Hyde season in which the Warriors are 29-7 at home and entered Wednesday 7-26 on the road, the Warriors remain the standard against which all Western challengers are measured, the final boss of a video game lurks behind Curry’s ever-present potential for an offensive blowout.
While Wednesday’s team meeting at the Crypto.com Arena was a psychic test, it was also, more importantly, pragmatic.
With the teams entering with identical records and the Clippers needing a win to keep hope alive of claiming a tiebreaker, Curry, Klay Thompson and Jordan Poole arrived as the perfect stress test to gauge whether the Clippers , and the improved defense that underpinned their three-game winning streak, were for real.
They responded with a 134-126 win, a fourth straight win in which Kawhi Leonard and coach Tyronn Lue praised the team’s composure amid Curry’s one-man show as he finished with 50 points while making 20 of 28 shots, including eight three-pointers.
“It’s not the first time I’ve seen [Steph] explode like that in a quarter,” Leonard said. “Being there before kind of helps you stay focused on the moment.”
In their five-game losing streak that began after last month’s All-Star break, the surefire wins were gone in moments. They reversed that to start a new streak. The Clippers only committed one turnover in the second half. They grabbed 16 offensive rebounds. Russell Westbrook played perhaps his most disciplined game of his Clippers tenure, with no turnovers.
The victory separated the Clippers (37-33) and Warriors (36-34) in the standings and once again showed the positive returns of a closing line-up featuring Eric Gordon (16 points) and Terance Mann (17 points). ) alongside starters Ivica Zubac (19 points, 16 rebounds), Leonard (30 points) and Paul George (24 points, seven assists).
“I guess we’re starting to know our tendencies of when someone’s going to pass the ball to you or when they’re going to cut – there’s all kinds of things that are chemistry-related and build by playing each other with others,” says Leonardo.
During the three quarters, a pattern developed: Golden State winning the opening minutes behind back-cuts and shotmaking, forcing a quick timeout from Lue. Then the Clippers level off and retreat, usually a product of their defense, before being pushed back by Curry and the Warriors for a frantic finish.
After Lue’s timeout two minutes into the third quarter after a 7-0 run from the Warriors, the Clippers went on a 16-2 run helped again by their defense. When George bounced off Green’s missed layup, he found Gordon for a quick three-pointer from 27 feet. When Zubac slid to crush Kevon Looney’s layup attempt, Westbrook grabbed the loose ball and found Gordon, this time for a 24-foot three and a 10-point lead. Gordon started the second half after starting forward Marcus Morris Sr. was ejected late in the second quarter for hitting Green above the shoulders.
They recalled that the most striking element of their recovery was not only the return of a defense that had sagged since the end of December, but also its reappearance at critical moments.
Since allowing a season-high 51 points in a quarter at Memphis, the Clippers had held opponents to 40 percent shooting or worse in seven of their last nine quarters starting Wednesday. And Memphis, Toronto and New York had shot a combined 31% in the fourth quarter from those three straight Clippers wins.
But as has been the case for much of the last decade, Curry got between the Clippers and what they wanted.
Starting with his score with 4:51 left in the third quarter, the NBA’s all-time three-point king scored Golden State’s next 12 points, increasing in volume when he touched the ball and exploding when a pair of circus shots fell as he passed 41 points. The Warriors shot 65% in the second quarter and 60% in the third as Curry made nine of 11 shots. They finished with 55% shooting, and yet the Clippers’ lead grew to 12 early in the fourth quarter, fueled by Mann doing everything, everywhere, all at once – picking up two offensive rebounds on a possession he had. ended in a field goal and a foul, scoring again, then drawing an offensive foul on Golden State before relenting.
Then Curry came back. In 72 seconds, the Warriors snatched six points and the Clippers’ ability to finish the job was again in question, as was George’s ability, with five fouls, to avoid being sent off.
But the Clippers didn’t allow a run from 3:41 remaining until 1:13 remained — a position that allowed their lead to expand from six to 13, and with it their winning streak.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
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