This was supposed to be a battle between two of the best teams in the Western Conference.
This was supposed to be a rematch of last season’s epic playoff battle between two California rivals.
This was supposed to be a battle between two divisional foes who truly, honestly, don’t like each other.
The Los Angeles Clippers rolled into Oracle Arena sporting a 3-1 record with wins against the Kevin Durant-less Thunder, lowly Los Angeles Lakers and infant Utah Jazz. But, most figured they would “get up” for this game. Over the last few seasons, Clippers-Warriors has evolved into an actual rivalry, one with fantastic tension, hatred and most importantly: fun.
Their matchup on Wednesday night was supposed to continue this trend of disdain, especially considering it was their first meeting since the playoffs last season. The Warriors have a new coach, a newly paid franchise cornerstone, a new starting lineup and an Oracle crowd anxious to unleash their collective antipathy for Los Angeles’s new kings.
The Clippers are sporting the same starting lineup, the same veteran coach, some new pieces and the bragging rights. The Clippers have two superstars as opposed to the Warriors’ one — although Klay Thompson is continuing to make his case. They have the experienced coach with the hardware, a student of the game who has morphed into the saving grace of the franchise once Donald Sterling’s corpse left the franchise.
The best rivalry in the NBA was back, and given the early season date this was sure to bring some fireworks. Instead, what we got was a complete thrashing. An embarrassment of an effort from the Clippers, one that Rivers called “a beautiful game from one team.” This wasn’t how it was supposed to go, but it continues the NBA’s biggest trending topic not named LeBron James: the Warriors are really good.
For one night, this wasn’t a rivalry. The Warriors were up by 23 at halftime, Blake Griffin was suffocated by Draymond Green, Stephen Curry (gasp!) played phenomenally against Chris Paul and Steve Kerr’s offense continued to shine despite the high turnover rate. The Warriors played the Lakers last week, but you couldn’t tell the difference between the Los Angeles teams on Wednesday night.
Unlike last season, when the head coach would try and prove night and night out that he’s worthy of holding said position, this head coach could care less. He’s the head coach with the proven staff behind him, and this team isn’t operating at full potential yet. At the end of the day, that’s what you need in a coach. Lofty proclamations are empty, proven results are welcomed.
“I liked the ball movement,” said Kerr. “We had 29 assists, but also spent a lot of time throwing the ball to the Clippers in the fourth quarter. I feel like we can get a lot better.” Instead of riddling the masses with excuses, the intent to deliver is alive and well. We’ve seen the results early in the season, and as other contenders struggle out of the gate the Warriors look in mid-season form.
If the previous head coached changed the culture, Steve Kerr is perfecting it. “I think he’s changed them, but I think after losing last year, they’re coming with anger,” said Rivers. “So you’ve got to give Steve some credit, but I don’t want to take credit away from Mark [Jackson] or anyone else.”
The “new era” cliché is almost as overused as “true point guard” within NBA circles, but Steve Kerr is proving with each win — and now, each technical foul — that he was the right man to carry this torch. He was given a capable roster, far more capable than the one he passed up in New York. In four games, he has two signature wins and both in entirely different fashions.
Each win counts the same in the standings, but they don’t count the same in the hearts and minds of everyone else. Both teams tonight acknowledged the importance of this game, and one team triumphed in ways no one saw coming. Is this indicative of what we’ll see for the remainder of the season? Incredible ball movement, a plethora of teammates passing, different contributors nightly and Steve Kerr technicals?
It might not happen every night, but the fact it happened Wednesday night is what’s most important. This game meant more, and the Warriors dominated in every way possible. The Clippers have some remodeling to accomplish while their Northern California rivals have some fine tuning to attend to. A far cry from this time last season.
This matchup is indeed a rivalry and with multiple meetings upcoming, this won’t be dying down anytime soon. But for one night, when the national anthem ended, lineups were introduced and the ball was finally tipped, the rivalry became dead. The Warriors strangled Lob City, but if you’ve been paying attention to these two teams at all recently, you know there’s no end in sight.