LOS ANGELES — Draymond Green told himself he could get this guy. This guy was Chris Paul, the Clippers' All-Star point guard.
Only 18.9 seconds remained in the first playoff game between the Warriors and Clippers and Paul had the ball in the Clippers' front court with the Warriors up by two. Paul was doing his thing, juking and duking, looking cool, setting up the game-tying basket, a mid-range jumper you knew he'd make. Swish.
But Green thought he could get him. He told himself this was the crisis moment of the game and Paul was "the guy" and Paul would want to make the play. It was Green's job, he told himself, to worry Paul, to bother him, to annoy him, although the words Green later used were "throw him out of his rhythm."
That's exactly what Green did. He made Paul, so sure-handed, get into a contorted posture, an unnatural posture, and throw the ball out of bounds. Paul pretended Green fouled him. Did the grimace face as if Green had punctured his gut with a six-inch shiv. Paul does a lot of that. The refs checked the play on the courtside monitor and said Green played clean. He did. He ruined Paul's rhythm, ruined his play, ruined the Clippers' comeback. The Clippers never scored another point. And the Warriors won 109-105.
Not that the Warriors had started the game well or showed they could beat the Clippers or even compete. Right away, they fell behind 12-1, missed their first eight shots and you thought this was a looming disaster. A world-class dud. The Warriors would get run out of Staples Center, as loud as a madhouse, the crowd so Southern California, so many people glamorous, even the ugly people look glamorous.
But Mark Jackson called two timeouts, called them early, told his players to relax, asked them to consider what was going wrong, asked them to be themselves. Nothing more. Themselves would work.
The quarter ended with the Warriors down five, no big deal, and after that it was a game. Be clear, the Warriors and Clippers are evenly matched. It's not like one team can bury or will bury the other. Sure, Blake Griffin, the Clippers' most imposing player, played fewer than four minutes in the first half because the refs kept calling fouls on him. And he fouled out in the fourth quarter, and you don't expect that to happen all the time.
But David Lee played with foul trouble and had four shots blocked — "Thanks for counting," he told me, sort of smiling. And Andre Iguodala fouled out. So the Clippers can't use Griffin's misfortunes as an excuse. In basketball, there are fouls.
There had been talk about bad blood leading into the game. That's all people talked about, how "these two teams really don't like each other."
And you expected a gang war instead of basketball, although the game was remarkably civilized, even polite. It was basketball, even though right away Lee clocked Griffin with an elbow to the jaw. Offensive foul. It didn't lead anywhere.
A sore jaw is merely the expense of doing business. Everyone understood that.
In pregame news conferences, both coaches addressed the bad-blood debate.
Doc Rivers: "This should be emotional. The fact that we're both young, there's a little bit more of that. I don't think there's anything wrong with any of it as long as it's put in its proper place. But listen, they are a young team that went deep last year, that almost upset San Antonio, and they have their designs on being the young team in the West to get to the Finals. We have the same dreams. Now we're in each other's way. Neither team is just going to say, 'You can have it,' and neither team should."