FOR­MULA WON

Clip­pers fans show en­ergy and it helps the team post an im­pres­sive victory

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - bill.plaschke@la­times.com Twit­ter: @billplaschke

The ig­nored and in­sulted fans roared.

Their ig­nored and in­sulted team roared back.

Thou­sands donned red “We Are LA” T-shirts and spent three hours living the line, epit­o­miz­ing Los An­ge­les, a crowd deaf­en­ing in its pas­sion and swag­ger­ing with pride. Their baske­ball team wore the same type of shirts, only blue, and played the same bold and bois­ter­ous game.

A tough play­off opener against the de­fend­ing cham­pion San An­to­nio Spurs? Blake Grif­fin drib­bled that thought be­tween his legs, soared over Aron Baynes, and dunked it.

The first night of shoul­der­ing the bur­den of post­sea­son ex­pec­ta­tions? De­An­dre Jor­dan blocked that no­tion into the Sta­ples Cen­ter stands, then screamed into the up­per deck.

The thought that this team might not be tough enough to hang

with the NBA’s ver­sion of jan­gling metal hang­ing off a boot? Matt Barnes grabbed that idea while it was be­ing held by Baynes and lit­er­ally threw him into the stands with it.

It’s only one game, but, man, it was one se­ri­ous state­ment Sun­day as the Clip­pers de­feated the Spurs, 107-92, to take the lead af­ter the opener of a first-round se­ries that al­ready feels like a prize fight.

Chris Paul showed up scowl­ing and scuf­fling, miss­ing only seven of 20 shots, nailed three three­p­oint­ers, scor­ing 32. Grif­fin showed up as if beamed down from that an­cient planet known as Lob City, fly­ing for 26 points, ooohs ev­ery­where. Jor­dan showed up coun­ter­ing the hack­ing with thwack­ing, block­ing four shots and grab­bing 14 re­bounds.

“They had it go­ing, we saw it and kind of rode it,” Clip­pers Coach Doc Rivers said of his Big Three.

Then there was the Clip­pers de­fense, hound­ing the Spurs into play­ing what is surely one of their worst play­off games in re­cent years. The NBA’s smartest shoot­ing team shot only 37%, com­mit­ted 15 turnovers, missed a dozen free throws, and never led by more than two points. It was a de­fense fu­eled by the sort of ef­fort the Clip­pers will need to main­tain to sur­vive this chal­lenge.

‘We won tonight be­cause we had more en­ergy,” Rivers said.

And now they have much bet­ter odds. When home team wins Game 1 of a seven-game NBA se­ries, that team wins the se­ries 85% of the time, so the Clip­pers have a huge edge on de­thron­ing the Spurs and tak­ing the first step to­ward at least a con­fer­ence fi­nals ap­pear­ance that has for­ever eluded them.

More than that, though, they pulled out the bad mem­o­ries of last year’s play­off melt­downs against Ok­la­homa City and be­gan rip­ping them apart with ev­ery dra­matic trip down the court.

“They played harder, longer,’’ Tim Dun­can said. “Ob­vi­ously, their crowd was be­hind them.”

Nowhere was that in­ten­sity more ev­i­dent than, with 4 min­utes 41 sec­onds left in the third quar­ter, Barnes grabbed a ball cur­rently be­ing held by Baynes and dragged him into the seats with it. It was ruled a jump ball, but it was clearly ad­van­tage Clip­pers, as they outscored the Spurs, 17-10, to end the quar­ter with a 15point lead and were never re­ally chal­lenged again.

“Maybe they thought it was a fum­ble and if you kept the ball you got pos­ses­sion,” Rivers said. “They were hav­ing a man con­test there and it was pretty in­ter­est­ing.”

And now it gets real in­ter­est­ing for a team in­volved in what might be the most im­por­tant first-round se­ries in its his­tory.

The Clip­pers need this se­ries. It’s their most dif­fi­cult pos­si­ble first-round test, it might seem un­fair to com­pare them to the five­time NBA cham­pion Spurs, but they need this se­ries. It won’t give them in a con­fer­ence fi­nals spot that seems a ne­ces­sity at this point in their evo­lu­tion, but it’s a vi­tal early re­port card and pulse check.

Steve Ballmer needs this se­ries. The new owner needs to begin show­ing that the on-court prod­uct has changed since Don­ald Ster­ling was run out of the league dur­ing last year’s post­sea­son. Long­time fans have com­plained that this sea­son hasn’t felt much dif­fer­ent from past sea­sons. A first-round win over the de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons would be a bit of a dif­fer­ence, no?

Rivers needs this se­ries. He needs it to begin show­ing that he is not be­ing ham­pered by Doc Rivers, the gen­eral manager. In other words, he needs his shaky bench to be­come strong, sud­denly, just like Ja­mal Craw­ford on Sun­day.

Paul needs this se­ries. He needs this to keep alive his hopes that he can get be­yond the sec­ond round of the post­sea­son. He turns 30 in two weeks, and time is run­ning out.

And yes, of course, the Clip­pers fans need this se­ries. The Sta­ples Cen­ter crowd dur­ing a re­cent loss to Golden State — the Clip­pers’ only loss in their last 16 games — was openly crit­i­cized by Grif­fin for be­ing too quiet and con­tain­ing too many War­riors fans. Grif­fin ac­tu­ally won­dered whether his team would have a home­court ad­van­tage in the post­sea­son. That ques­tion was an­swered within the first minute Sun­day when the arena seem­ingly shook as the crowd screamed for a Jor­dan swat block of a Dun­can shot. Many of th­ese loyal fans have been priced out of their seats by fool­ishly soar­ing Clip­pers ticket prices, but this time, they didn’t sell their seats to Spurs fans. This time, they all showed up.

The diehard Clip­pers fans have long been as loud and de­voted as any fans in this city. On Sun­day night, when they were ar­guably the loud­est in fran­chise his­tory, they proved it.

“It was awe­some,” Rivers said of the fans. “I thought it was bet­ter than Golden State last year [in the post­sea­son]. Your team needs en­ergy some­time from your crowd. I thought they did that for us tonight.”

One lit­tle game. One huge night.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

GET­TING A STEP on Spurs cen­ter Ti­ago Split­ter, Blake Grif­fin draws a foul while driv­ing to the bas­ket. The Clip­pers power for­ward had a strong all-around game, fin­ish­ing with 26 points, 12 re­bounds, six as­sists, three blocked shots and three steals.

Wally Skalij Los An­ge­les Times

DE­AN­DRE JOR­DAN of the Clip­pers def lects a pass by Tony Parker of the San An­to­nio Spurs in Game 1 of play­off se­ries. The Clip­pers won, 107-92.

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