LOS ANGELES — The Clippers ran them down, ran down the Warriors, beat them 126-121. The Clippers came at the Warriors like fate. The Clippers wouldn't stop and the Warriors couldn't stop them.
The Clippers began the third quarter down eight points, had trailed by as many as 12. The Clippers had been slow and careless, their ball-handling and shooting brutal. They were ready to be taken. The Warriors were going to advance, about to fly to Oklahoma City for the second round of these playoffs.
And then the Warriors just stopped. Or maybe the Clippers came on. The Clippers' stars, Blake Griffin and Chris Paul had seemed so earthbound and vulnerable in the first half. The Warriors — see Draymond Green — had taken away Griffin's inside game, Griffin reverting to the crude, desperate player he used to be, Griffin bulling his way inside, using his head like a battering ram, the Warriors blocking off his moves and stealing the ball. Griffin would look at the refs, his eyes sad, a look of moral indignation on his face. This was not supposed to be happening.
Chris Paul, L.A.'s other superstar, was wounded. Before the game, Doc Rivers had said, "He can't get away from anyone." He meant Paul couldn't get off his shot, although Paul finished with 22 points and 14 assists. Paul couldn't defend either, Curry running him ragged, Rivers putting Darren Collison on Curry partway into the first quarter just to rest Paul's aching hamstring.
Then Paul and Griffin got well. Don't ask me how. Those two and the rest of the Clippers ran down the Warriors, ran them down, ran them out of the game, out of the series and out of the playoffs. The Clippers took their first lead at 6:01 of the third quarter on a two-point jumper by J.J. Reddick with an assist from Paul. And they kept running. Ran away.
Griffin took over in the fourth quarter, just took over. Made a driving layup with less than a minute to go. Put L.A. up by 5. All of a sudden, he had become a different player. Superman. And the Warriors couldn't stop him.
It was a colossal failure by the Warriors, a monumental failure even though the Warriors had excuses — three hurt centers. But they had played without those centers. And they had played well. They are as good as the Clippers. But the Clippers ran them down. Came like fate. Would not stop.
If the Warriors were high schoolers, say Cardinal Newman players, you'd say, "Great job, kids. Get 'em next time." You'd praise their brave season and talk about the future, talk about hope.
But the Warriors are professional athletes. Many are millionaires. They don't get credit for a good effort. They're expected to give effort. And they don't get a thumbs up for defeat. They don't rate an atta boy.
When you strip away all the drama from the Warriors-Clippers playoff series, when you strip away Donald Sterling and the gut-wrenching moral dilemma he posed for everyone including you and me, when you strip away the Warriors' plucky effort, when you strip away how they troubled Paul and Griffin, when you strip away all that, the Warriors lost in the first round. Got sent home. Banished. Losers.
They may be plucky, for sure, and that makes them plucky losers. Nothing more. There is no kind way to put it. A good losing effort isn't good enough. Means nothing. And this we know, the Warriors advanced to the second round last season, gave the San Antonio Spurs a tough battle in Round 2. And this season, the Warriors lost in the first round. Which means they went backward. Regressed.