LOS ANGELES — Finally, the Clippers’ burden was lifted.
The emotional weight of the past few days was over. The controversy surrounding their owner was put behind them. The uncertainty of their future, to some extent, was resolved.
They could finally just play. And although the game Tuesday night was a collective sigh of relief, the Clippers finally looked like themselves again.
They were understandably weary, but in the end they beat the Golden State Warriors 113-103 at Staples Center to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. Certainly, they earned the right to pat themselves on the back for finding their focus after the strain of owner Donald Sterling’s alleged racist remarks and their anger that followed.
There was all the "emotional baggage" that coach Doc Rivers said his players carried, at least until they learned earlier Tuesday that NBA commissioner Adam Silver had given Sterling a lifetime ban. Until then, they didn’t know how they would react.
But the ruling allowed them to get back to basketball.
"Honestly, I think it was relief because we didn’t have to wonder anymore," guard Jamal Crawford said. "Your mind doesn’t wander as much, and you don’t have to hear anybody’s opinion. You just move forward."
And they did. They got 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocked shots from center DeAndre Jordan, whose Game 4 performance in Oakland was pitiful — no points and just six rebounds.
Jordan conceded that the Sterling controversy was a distraction, that the Clippers were "going through the motions a little bit." But all that changed in Game 5.
"D.J. and a bunch of them just got caught up in it in Golden State, and they had raw emotions going into that game," Rivers said. "We just didn’t handle it very well, and I don’t blame them.
"He texted me right after we got back to L.A. and said, ‘That wasn’t me, and I will be back.’ I didn’t know he meant that."
The Clippers weren’t sure what kind of support they would receive from their fans, but they were greeted by sustained ovations before, during and after the game. Outside Staples, there were no demonstrations.
More than anything, the players needed to feel loved.
"Me and Jamal talked about it in the locker room just now, how when we ran out for warm-ups it was one of the most emotional things I think I’ve been through," Chris Paul said. "We have a tough locker room, but it almost brought tears to your eyes just to feel the support from our fans."
They felt it throughout the game, especially when Golden State made runs and the Clippers responded. Crawford’s jumper with 32.9 seconds left essentially ended it after the Warriors had earlier closed to within three.
Paul had 20 points, Crawford 19 and Blake Griffin 18 despite foul trouble. Klay Thompson scored 21 for the Warriors and Steph Curry had just 17.
"It’s crazy to me to think that a team as good as Golden State didn’t get our full attention for three days, and that’s human nature, but we were distracted," guard J.J. Redick said. "You could tell tonight. We had a great crowd, we were locked in, we were focused, and it was still a battle."
But as Rivers said afterward, "It was like everybody wanted to exhale. It was good."
He also said, "I can’t wait to talk just about basketball."
Maybe, with one and possibly two games left in the playoff series, they can finally do that.