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OAKLAND

Klay Thompson called it, a good eight hours before tipoff.

“I think it’s very important to start tonight off right,” Thompson, the Warriors’ shooting guard, said after the morning shootaround on Thursday morning. “We’ve been getting off to terrible first quarters. It might have been just the sluggishness, but tonight is gonna be a whole different story. We’re fresh, and we have no excuses.”

He was right about all of it. The Warriors are, indeed, well rested after the NBA All-Star break. Sure, four of them played in the All-Star Game in Los Angeles on Sunday, but even they got to mentally punch out from the daily grind for a few days. Therefore, as Thompson said, the Warriors are out of excuses. Another awful start, and they would have only their own brains to blame.

And he got this right, too: “Tonight is gonna be a whole different story.”

It was. The team that has been treating the first quarter like an extended layup drill all season turned it around in a 134-127 barnburner against the Los Angeles Clippers at Oracle Arena. And so what if they nearly got caught from behind by the determined visitors? All in all, this was a necessary correction.

“It’s not like we’re just gonna wave a magic wand and be on top of our game again,” coach Steve Kerr said after the game. “But I liked our start. For the most part, took care of the ball pretty well. I thought we had a stretch there in the second half where we lost focus and that allowed the Clippers to get back in the game. …We shot 63 percent at home, and the game came down to the wire. So it wasn’t perfect. But there were a lot of good things that we can build on, and I think we’re turning in the right direction.”

Even before the pregame introductions on Thursday, you could sense a ripple in the atmosphere. The Warriors are a confident team, but they are not delusional. They know they underperformed for much of the season’s first 58 games, and especially in February. They had been sloppy, even lazy at times. No one got too worked up. The NBA season is long, and these guys are proven winners.

At some point, though, they needed to tighten the gears. That point has arrived. Everyone knew it, and this week the Warriors have been acknowledging it publicly.

“This isn’t something that we can afford to wait another 10 games, another 15 games, another 20 games and try to turn it on,” Stephen Curry said at shootaround. “We know we’re talented, we know we have the winning mentality, we have the experience. But there’s certain details around how we’re playing that we need to correct, and tonight’s the first opportunity to get back to that. So we want to start off the game right, something the starting lineup hasn’t done in a while.”

Curry wasn’t lying. The Warriors have been mysteriously dreadful in the first quarter in 2017-18. Entering the Clippers game, they had outscored the opposition by an average of 8.4 points per game in quarters 2 through 4. In the first period, they had been outscored by .4 point per contest. So they had basically been the Warriors for 36 minutes a game, and the Detroit Pistons for the other 12.

And it had gotten more extreme as All-Star Weekend approached. In the final tune-up before that event, Golden State played in Portland and fell behind the Trail Blazers by 20 points before fans had even managed to tell Facebook they were at the game.

In that context, Thursday’s game was a breath of fresh air for Kerr’s team. The Warriors weren’t perfect in the first quarter, but they flashed the sense of urgency that had been lacking. And when the period was done, they led 34-23. It was their most advantageous first quarter since Nov. 19 at Brooklyn.

“We were better defensively,” Draymond Green said. “We held them to 23 points in the first quarter. We’ve got to do that the rest of the game, too. But it was a better start for us.”

The Warriors have 23 more regular-season games. If they continue to start like this, the February doldrums will seem like part of the long-term plan.

“We want to peak at the right time,” Kerr had said before the game. “We didn’t want to peak in February. We want to peak in April-May-June. So I like our positioning, I like, basically, our health — we’ll get Jordan (Bell) back here soon, and hopefully Patty (McCaw) won’t be out too long. And we’re in a really, really good position, and now it’s up to our guys to start to bring it at the defensive end. And it’s up to us as a coaching staff to get the right combinations out on the floor to allow for that defense to flourish.”

We saw both of Kerr’s recommendations in action against the Clippers. The Warriors did bring it at the defensive end in the first quarter. (The other three are another story.) And the coach tinkered with his combinations. Kerr started JaVale McGee in place of healthy Zaza Pachulia at center (just McGee’s fifth start of the season) and, as one other example, sent veteran big man David West into the game in the first quarter, a rarity.

None of it was seamless. The Warriors still had some early defensive lapses, and McGee was responsible for a couple of the most egregious, earning the wrath of Draymond Green.

Worst of all, the Warriors confused themselves so profoundly with their quick start that they forgot to finish strong. After leading by 16 as late as 2:37 of the third quarter, they dropped their guards enough for the Clippers to roar back and cut the score to 104-102 with 9 minutes left in the game, then, after a Golden State recovery, crept back to 120-118 before Curry, who finished with 44 points, drilled a couple of clutch 3-pointers from the top.

The Warriors held on.

“Our talent took over,” Kerr said. “But we’ve got some work to do.”

Despite the drama, the full 48-minute product has to be seen as an improvement. After all, not every victory over the glorious past three seasons was one-sided. Kerr’s Warriors have won a lot of close games, but they have mostly played hard, and with flair. They did that Thursday, beating a Clippers team that is better than anyone expected.

If we kept our cool when the Warriors were sleepwalking, then we can’t get too excited over one win against the Clippers in February. This doesn’t mean the Warriors are in 15-and-1-in-the-postseason mode yet. But it was exactly what they needed, when they needed it.

Maybe the Warriors were right along. Maybe they just needed a little break.

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