War­riors have ri­vals’ num­ber: 10

The Washington Post Sunday - - PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL - BY TIM BONTEMPS tim.bontemps@wash­post.com

oak­land, calif. — It looked as if this time, fi­nally, might be dif­fer­ent for the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers. Play­ing without their leader, Chris Paul, and play­ing against the team that had em­bar­rassed them time and time again over the past three years, the Golden State War­riors, the Clip­pers fi­nally looked as if they be­longed on the court with their North­ern Cal­i­for­nia ri­vals.

In­stead, this turned out to be the lat­est ex­am­ple of what this “ri­valry” has be­come: a never-end­ing re­run of Char­lie Brown at­tempt­ing to kick the foot­ball, only to have Lucy rip it away at the last mo­ment. Only this time, the last mo­ment was the third quar­ter, and the re­sult was yet an­other hu­mil­i­at­ing loss for Los An­ge­les.

With 50 third-quar­ter points — in­clud­ing a com­bined 35 on 12-for-16 shoot­ing be­tween Stephen Curry and Kevin Du­rant — the War­riors steam­rolled the Clip­pers in per­haps the most em­bar­rass­ing fash­ion yet, a 123-113 vic­tory that made it 10 straight wins for Golden State over Los An­ge­les, dat­ing from Christ­mas of 2014.

“They’re crush­ing us right now,” J.J. Redick said after­ward. “We need to be men­tally tougher against them.”

The Clip­pers have been say­ing some vari­a­tion of that phrase for over two years now. No mat­ter who is on the court or where these teams play, the re­sult is the same: the War­riors preen­ing and pranc­ing their way to vic­tory.

This one, though, was a spe­cial brand of beat­down — even as far as this se­ries of never-end­ing beat­downs goes. The War­riors, by their own ad­mis­sion, came out flat, plod­ding through the first half look­ing like a team fat and happy af­ter spend­ing time on va­ca­tion or, for the team’s four all-stars and its coach­ing staff, in New Or­leans.

“We weren’t com­pet­i­tive,” War­riors Coach Steve Kerr said, “and we weren’t very smart.”

Sleep­walk­ing, as Golden State did through­out the first half Thurs­day, has been a com­mon af­flic­tion this sea­son, de­spite com­pil­ing an NBAbest 48-9 record en­ter­ing Saturday while post­ing the league’s best of­fense and sec­ond-best de­fense. The War­riors of­ten lol­ly­gag their way through games — at least un­til they find some spark, some rea­son to kick them­selves into gear.

The Clip­pers gave them the first one, when they goofed off at the end of the sec­ond quar­ter and al­lowed a 16-point ad­van­tage to drop to 12 by half­time, set­ting an omi­nous tone for the sec­ond half ahead, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing the ab­sence of Paul, their star point guard, who is con­tin­u­ing to re­cover from thumb surgery.

Once Golden State pre­dictably started the third quar­ter strong, it got the fi­nal mo­ti­va­tion it needed from the ref­er­ees. The War­riors picked up sev­eral ticky-tack calls early in the quar­ter, in­clud­ing one on Dray­mond Green that re­sulted in a tech­ni­cal foul, a near-ejec­tion and a shout­ing match with Kerr that both down­played after­ward.

It only takes a sliver of mo­men­tum to ig­nite the War­riors into the kind of in­ferno that no cur­rent team can stop and that few — if any — of the all-time-great squads could truly con­tend with. Com­bin­ing the War­riors’ ha­tred for the Clip­pers (which re­mains real) and their pal­pa­ble con­tempt for Thurs­day’s ref­er­ee­ing crew was like light­ing a box full of matches and throw­ing them into a bucket of gaso­line.

The re­sult was a 12-minute-long heat check, the likes of which have rarely been seen in re­cent sea­sons. It of­fered a re­minder of what Du­rant signed up for when he joined the War­riors and a look at the kind of fire­power they would have at their dis­posal.

Make no mis­take: The Clip­pers are a good team, even without Paul. Many teams would kill to have pieces like Grif­fin, Redick and DeAn­dre Jor­dan on their ros­ters. But they might as well have not been there dur­ing Thurs­day night’s third quar­ter.

Golden State’s num­bers were stag­ger­ing: 50 points on 17-for-23 shoot­ing (73.9 per­cent) and 9 for 15 (60 per­cent) from three-point range, pick­ing up 13 as­sists and com­mit­ting just three turnovers. Mean­while, the Clip­pers looked like a team that knew what it was: thor­oughly out­manned and out­gunned by some­one it has long con­sid­ered a ri­val but who no longer gives it the time of day. “It was pretty spec­tac­u­lar,” Green said. He was speak­ing of the third quar­ter as a whole, but he could have been fo­cused specif­i­cally on Curry’s clos­ing run, which was a sight to be­hold. He fin­ished the quar­ter with 20 over­all, in­clud­ing 17 in the fi­nal 3:37 as he sin­gle-hand­edly pow­ered a 21-9 run that put the game away for good, capped off by his daz­zling turn­around jumper over the out­stretched arms of Luc Mbah a Moute and Ja­mal Craw­ford that dropped through the hoop as the buzzer sounded.

With that, Or­a­cle Arena could have been home to a re­li­gious re­vival, as Curry leapt into the air and gave a snarl for the home fans as they lost them­selves in the lat­est mo­ment of his great­ness. Sud­denly, the rout was on again, and a con­test that had been lop­sided in the Clip­pers’ fa­vor 13 game min­utes ear­lier was al­ready a wrap for the War­riors, for that 10th time in a row.

“You’ve got to carry it through,” Clip­pers Coach Doc Rivers said. “Golden State is a good team. You can’t play one half.”

The games come and go be­tween these two teams, but the story never changes. Or at least the nar­ra­tive arc of the story doesn’t change. Ev­ery time, the War­riors set up the foot­ball, just like Lucy does. And, ev­ery time, the Clip­pers storm af­ter it, just like Char­lie Brown — and find them­selves swing­ing and miss­ing ev­ery time.

Whether the Clip­pers play well for one half or no halves, one quar­ter or three quar­ters, the re­sult is the same: They sim­ply can’t hang with the War­riors. For 23 min­utes Thurs­day night, it looked as if that might fi­nally change.

Then re­al­ity set in, the War­riors yanked that foot­ball away, and the Clip­pers found them­selves in the same po­si­tion they’ve been in time and again: on the ground and em­bar­rassed, won­der­ing how they had found them­selves here once again.

BEN MAR­GOT/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Stephen Curry and Kevin Du­rant com­bined for 35 points in the third quar­ter Thurs­day against the Clip­pers, turn­ing a deficit into a Golden State rout.

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