OAKLAND – The seeds of doubt thrive in all conditions.
They were planted early in the third quarter. And when 3-pointers rained down, the seeds stirred; they then sprouted under the hot plasma of the Warriors’ cluster of stars. Steph Curry was leaping forward into two defenders, heaving a shot from 31 feet just before the buzzer signaled the end of the period.
Doubt? Try disbelief.
Golden State dumped 50 points on the Clippers in the third quarter, turning a close game between rivals into yet another laugher in a lopsided series. The Warriors won, 123-113, sweeping the four-game season series by an average of 21.5 points.
“They’re crushing us right now,” Clippers guard J.J. Redick said.
That third quarter was the most lopsided period in L.A. Clippers history. Only once – on Jan. 6, 1982, when the team played in San Diego – did they give up more, 51 against Denver.
The Clippers have not been able to hang with the mighty Warriors for more than two years, so why would it be any different when they managed to build a double-digit lead?
Jamal Crawford and Austin Rivers each scored 19 to lead the Clippers. DeAndre Jordan contributed 17 and 11 rebounds.
But it was the most potent team in the league, with a pair of MVPs and four All-Stars, that put on the true show. Curry scored a game-high 35 points. Kevin Durant added 25 and 15 rebounds.
The Clippers and Warriors are on their annual collision course to meet in the playoffs, if the Clippers can hold up their end of the deal, but after the last four performances it’s hard to imagine that would be much of a series.
“If you have championship aspirations,” Redick said, “you have to beat the best teams. We feel like we can do that, but we have to go out and prove it and obviously we have to do 94 things better, but you have to play (darn) near perfect basketball to beat them.”
In the second quarter, the Clippers built a 16-point lead, moving the ball side-to-side, creating open shots in space, pushing the ball. They outscored the Warriors 37-18 and led, 61-49, at the break.
“Then in the second half,” Coach Doc River said, “the ball stayed in one spot, we didn’t move it and then didn’t score and I thought we got disappointed in our offense and it led to our defense.”
The Warriors ran a layup line and created open 3-point attempts. They made 12 of their first 13 shots in the third period, and when Curry’s last 3 dropped through, they finished the period 17 for 23 from the field (74 percent). Curry scored 20 in the period, burying 5 of 8 3-pointers. He and Durant combined for 35 of the 50, going 12 for 16 from the field, including 9 for 12 from 3-point range over those 12 minutes.
“You know they’re capable of doing that,” Griffin said, “capable of having runs like that, especially at home. … So you try to keep that from happening, part of it is that. But if any team is shooting and scoring like that, and scoring 50 points in a quarter it’s going to break your spirit no matter how well you play.”
After entering the All-Star break on a four-game winning streak, the Clippers returned from it in a familiar pickle. Still without point guard Chris Paul, who is nursing a torn ligament in his right thumb, and without any real answers for the Warriors.
Doc Rivers brushed aside any concern that another loss to the Warriors would be a problem were they to meet again.
“Obviously we need to beat them at some point,” he said, “but if you told me we could lose today and then beat them in the playoffs, I’d take it right now and no one would remember the eight or nine or 10, no one would care anymore.”
The Clippers nipping the Warriors in the postseason, at this point, seems pure fantasy.
“Playoffs are playoffs,” Griffin said, “so I think we have enough veteran guys and guys who have been in the playoffs and experienced different situations to know that the regular season doesn’t really mean much in the playoffs. So I think our mindset will be right if we do come into these guys.”
For the record, the streak is now 10. The Clippers have not beaten the Warriors since Christmas Day of 2014.
And the story seems to always be the same.
This time, the Clippers entered the third period with a 12-point lead, and the Warriors, meanwhile, were hurting themselves. They committed 12 first-half turnovers – five in the first quarter by Draymond Green.
But the ground began to buckle in the third.
Curry buried a 3-pointer, then Durant streaked for a dunk. The Clippers lead was soon gone, the score tied at 72 after Klay Thompson buried a 3-pointer with 5:54 left in the period.
From that point on, the Warriors did what they do to these Clippers: They stepped on their throats.
And when Curry released the 3-ball that gave the Warriors 50, there really never was any doubt, after all.
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