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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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