'Ego is for losers': Warriors get even
OAKLAND, Calif. -- Yes, there was also a game.
What had already been a dramatic series on the floor morphed into a more fraught kind of theater after audio of Donald Sterling's purported racist comments leaked (then leaked a second time). Clippers players weren't available to media before the game, but prior to tipoff, they made their voices heard by wearing inside-out warm-ups and black socks. Sports often serve as distraction from life's harsher realities, but Sterling had distracted the distraction, forcing players and fans alike to consider a brand of ugliness that unfortunately isn't confined to just one man.
Nobody knew what to expect, Doc Rivers included.
"It's so individual, that there will be certain players that'll be great and there will be certain players that'll be thinking about this all night and they can't function, if you want me to be honest," Rivers said pregame. "That's what I expect. And my job will be to figure out who's functioning and who's not. Who can get it together and who can't."
For most of Sunday's game, the Clippers were dysfunctional. In the first quarter, they were sloppy with the ball and scattered on defense, falling down 39-19 through the first 11 minutes.
Stephen Curry, who's been quiet by his standards, exploded in the first, hitting five straight 3-pointers en route to 17 points in the stanza.
"It's all on me," Chris Paul said when asked about Curry's performance. "I let him get loose early."
Paul stopped short of blaming anything that happened on surrounding events, but admitted, "I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous," about how such events might impact the Game 5 atmosphere at Staples Center on Tuesday night.
Curry finished with 33 points, seven assists and an emphatic block of a J.J. Redick jump shot. He followed the rejection by knocking the ball off Redick and maniacally screaming at the crowd. After the game, Curry was a bit more demure, saying, "I don't get too many blocks, so I was definitely happy and I had to realize that there was still time on the shot clock and get back into the play."
The Warriors overwhelmed the Clippers with speed and a tenacity that matched an especially charged Oracle crowd. Golden State's ability to blitz the Clippers wasn't just a matter of effort, though. Warriors coach Mark Jackson elected to go small in Game 4, starting David Lee at center alongside Draymond Green at power forward.
It was a decision that was helped along by Jermaine O'Neal suggesting that Jackson sub him out of the starting unit. When asked if such a choice was hard on O'Neal's ego, O'Neal responded "Ego is for losers."
O'Neal had noticed a lack of spacing when Golden State played with two big men. Sunday's small-ball approach opened up vast swaths of open court.
"They played with pace, they played with force," Blake Griffin summarized of the small-ball Dubs.
The Warriors played aggressively and pushed for shots in transition. The result was 118 points, 15 3-pointers and a playoff performance that would have made Don Nelson beam.
Lee said of Golden State's downsizing, "It let us play at a faster pace, let us come down -- the more we push the ball like we did -- you saw the number of open looks that Steph got."
Lee more than fulfilled his promise to play better in Game 4 than he had in Game 3. Lee may have only tallied 15 points, but he was efficient on offense and more importantly, held the taller DeAndre Jordan to zero points.
Jordan's performance bore little resemblance to his recently dominant play. He took a single shot in his 25 minutes and finished with a mere six rebounds. After the Sterling news broke on Saturday, Jordan put out an all-black screen on Instagram, an avatar that supporters of Trayvon Martin had been using.
Jordan did not avail himself to media, and teammates could not speak to his perspective on the game. When asked about Jordan's play, Griffin said, "I really can't speak on that. I don't know, I couldn't tell you. Everybody has games that aren't as good as others. Honestly I think we all really had one of those games tonight."
The Warriors had the opposite experience, with much of the team firing on all cylinders. Even Hilton Armstrong got in on the action, scoring on consecutive post-ups to wild crowd reactions. According to Jackson, Armstrong approached him after the game and said, "Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for trusting me."
In this act and others, the Warriors found a measure of unity in the maelstrom of ugly events. Down a starting center and undersized, they responded with their best collective effort of the postseason.