OAKLAND – The world just became a very hard place for the Golden State Warriors. Excruciating. Cruel. Nasty.
They lost to the L.A. Clippers in the third game of their playoff series 98-96, going down 2-1 in games, surrendering home court advantage. When the Warriors fell behind by 18 in the third quarter, they didn't know the answers, didn't even know the questions. They lost poise, heart, lost their second game in a row. Just lost it. More on that in a moment, but first about cooking.
Compare basketball to cooking. If you want to beat the Warriors, the recipe is simple. Beat the hell out of Stephen Curry.
Make him defend a bigger guy like the Clippers' Matt Barnes and hope the refs allow Barnes to elbow and bang Curry into a pudding. Which they did Thursday night.
When Curry has the ball, give him a dose of pure Chris Paul, the best point guard in the West. Watch Paul cut off Curry and smack at the ball and worry the poor guy to death. Do all this for 48 minutes and force the Warriors to win with other guys, if there are other guys willing to take the challenge. David Lee and Klay Thompson come to mind, and they tried. And Thompson was brilliant in the second half, simply brilliant. A hero.
Curry, ordinarily a big scorer, a guy who hits jumpers and 3s as easily as breathing, scored four points in the first half. He sank one of five shots. This was un-Curry behavior in the extreme and it meant the Clippers' recipe was working.
Not that the Clippers murdered the Warriors in the first half. They led by only three when the teams walked to their locker rooms and the halftime noise invaded the arena.
The game had not been well played, but it was interesting. Fascinating. The teams were tense, edgy. They never shook hands at center court before the opening tipoff, except for Clippers center DeAndre Jordan who observed proper basketball etiquette by slapping hands with every Warrior at the circle. Which meant something like, "We may despise each other right now in the hurly burly of this playoff series but this is, after all, just a game."
Baskets in the first half were hard-fought, hard to come by, painful even, and neither team shot well. It felt like a college game – that's a good thing – filled with emotion and trying hard. It was still a game even with Curry being a spectator, although he had eight assists – he's such a smart creative player, a pleasure to watch even when he loses his shot.
The problem of the second half, the question both teams needed to address, was this: Would the Clippers successfully persist with the recipe and if they did, could other Warriors pick up the Curry slack? Someone needed to score because, get this, the Warriors have no inside game. When Andrew Bogut plays, they have kind of an inside game. But he is injured and relegated to the gym, and without him, their inside game is zilch. They needed Curry to take over. This was Curry Time.
But that's not what happened. Blake Griffin took over in the third quarter, went out of his skull, scoring 10 points, taking it to Jermaine O'Neal, sinking turnaround jumpers, sinking jumpers from the key, scoring off the glass, just scoring, just taking over. Being the best player on the floor. Taking the role Curry is supposed to take with the Warriors, showing what a star does when a team is in dire need and when he hears the call.