In a loud and hostile venue, Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan did just enough to get a W.
Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
Maybe you’ve stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier during a jet landing. Perhaps you’ve felt the lower lining of your stomach scrunch up like a doily during extreme turbulence. There’s an unbelievably minuscule chance you’ve experienced an earthquake while a fire engine siren punches you in the face.
If you’ve had the unfortunate pleasure of any of these sensations, then congratulations, you were also at Game 3 Thursday night when the Los Angeles Clippers edged out the Golden State Warriors by a mere two points to take a 2-1 series lead, a victory made possible by Chris Paul’s controversial defense of Steph Curry’s last-second heave that would’ve sparked bedlam in the streets of Oakland.
In truth, a capacity crowd of 19,596 — the 80th consecutive sellout for the Warriors — was present for a night of equal parts basketball prowess and eye-rolling suckitude. Neither team played particularly well — "We can be better, I know that for a fact," said Clippers coach Doc Rivers — but the Clippers played slightly less bad overall, and that was all the difference.
But back to the sound inside Oracle Arena … actually, sound doesn’t even do the feeling justice. For the majority of the game, the sheer ambient noise of nearly 20,000 thunderstick-waving, throat-clearing, blue- and gold-adorned members of Dubs Nation created something of a loud and constant hum, like a turbo-charged vacuum cleaner that never shut off. At certain points of the game — say, Klay Thompson’s step-back three-pointer to close the deficit to three points before halftime, or his five-footer with 4:24 to play that trimmed the Clips’ lead to 1 — the wave of sound would flow over your body so that it became an actual physical manifestation of what you were hearing and seeing. The energy touched your skin and washed over you like a shower.
It was like pressing your ear to hell’s stereo speaker with the volume cranked to 11.
And yet, the Clippers were able to ride out the emotion, staying calm enough against such opposition so as to close out the game.
"We know they’re one of the loudest crowds in the league," said Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, "but we withstood a couple of punches. We didn’t let the crowd get to us or get in the game."
Golden State head coach Mark Jackson could only lament his team’s inability to convert against a stifling interior L.A. defense, which was paced by Jordan’s 22 rebounds and five blocks. No, the Warriors, though a lethal three point-shooing in their own regard, were forced to the periphery and launched 31 three-pointers, swishing only six.
There’s going to be a game soon where both teams play great, and that’s the game we got to get.
-- Clippers head coach Doc Rivers
"Every time I see one go up in the air, that’s a dagger for me," Rivers said, "If I had those cannons, I’d fire them down the floor every time, too."
"We turned the basketball over too much," Jackson said. "We just got out of character. We tried to do too much offensively. We were just on edge a little bit."
The Clippers weren’t much better from downtown, going 8-for-28, and the team’s free throw-shooting was simply Shaqtastic (10 of 23), but it was enough. Blake Griffin, the most dominating entity, by far, on either team, finished with 32 points on 25 shots and seemed to score at will at certain times. And it was his off-balance 15-footer that answered Thompson’s aforementioned late score in the fourth quarter and pushed the Clippers’ lead back to three and never let the hometown team move its way in front at any point. Jackson could only concede that, series-long, "we’re doing a bad job of forcing [Griffin] to make plays."
And Chris Paul, the smallest but most crucial component of the Clippers’ three-headed cog, was quietly excellent in that Chris Paul kind of way all game long, finishing with 15 points and 10 assists in only 34 minutes of action, but it was his last minute of play that was the most arrhythmia-inducing. Battling a 100-degree fever from earlier in the day along with a perpetually sore hamstring, Paul, among the most accurate free throw shooters in the history of organized basketball, missed one with nine seconds to go and gave the Warriors fresh hope.
Then Paul snuffed it out himself when he contested Steph Curry’s final 25-foot prayer into an air ball that landed safely into Jordan’s hands. Everyone not associated with the Clippers thought there was a legitimate foul to be called, to no avail.
"I just tried to make him as uncomfortable as possible," Paul said, "and we won the game."
Mark Jackson The Head Coach (a title and phrasing that may perhaps not be long for the Bay Area) seemed only somewhat disgusted with the referees’ inaction ("[Curry’s] supposed to be able to land. Clearly, he wasn’t able to. I’m not looking for an apology.") while Mark Jackson the former NBA point guard who had over 1,600 career steals couldn’t help but appreciate such aggressive tenacity, saying that between both teams, "I thought the best close-out of the night was the last shot."
Now the Warriors have at least one more chance to turn their fans’ suffocating enthusiasm into a much-needed victory.
"Our job is to take care of Sunday," Jackson said of Game 4, "because we’ve proven that we can go there and win."
Rivers, ever the mind-games black belt, gave off an air that the Warriors are long past due for a win and that at some point, those threes will start to fall, and thus his team cannot get caught flat-footed.
"There’s going to be a game soon where both teams play great," he said, "and that’s the game we got to get."
The Clippers, having re-seized home-court advantage, can afford to wait for such a scenario to play out. Golden State, though, is running out of time.