LOS ANGELES — So much for the Los Angeles Clippers belonging in the NBA’s top tier.
All season, we’ve heard that Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and their teammates are a new breed of Clippers. Deep. Poised. Comfortable, and happy, together. And worthy to be considered among the cream of the crop in the league.
It sounded good. It made sense on paper. It always does.
Paul is an astoundingly great point guard. Griffin’s game has evolved noticeably the past two years, and he’s more than capable of being a regular league-wide Top 10 player. Jordan has gone from an afterthought to a defensive and rebounding force to be reckoned with.
And yet the past is the past, and often a prelude to what we should expect from the immediate future. And this Clippers’ team has a past riddled with the kinds of things that can hold back any talent-laden squad from being the next truly great thing: Infighting, bad luck, terrible decisions, and an utter inability to make even a Western Conference Finals.
Why? Because when push comes to shove, they fall down.
So how do you prove that the past is the past, and today is different? That those ugly memories are lessons learned and not signs of more to come? Good start would be to walk onto your home court at Staples Center, stare down the team you hate most — and that hates you equally — and get it done. Against the uber-hyped Golden State Warriors you show all of us that the regular-season asterisk, the one that in the fine print points out you’re great in December but it never translates to May, has vanished. You do it by stepping up against your rival, the Warriors, and getting the win.
Ah, yeah, no dice.
On Wednesday night, it was the Warriors 115, Clippers 98. Same Clippers team. Same deal.
Don’t try to imagine it’s just an early-season game with no prediction value for what’s to come. That’s true, often, but not when teams hate each other, as these guys do. When it’s personal, as it is between these two West Cost powerhouses. Hate breeds effort and tension and passion, and those things on a basketball floor tell us what we need to know.
And it’s this: The Warriors, of course, are to be believed. The Clippers still haven’t earned that right, even if they still are 16-7, good for third in the Western Conference. They’ve always been good at the regular season, and turning it into an 82-game illusion.
And it’s not like the Warriors were in top form here in LA. A team that has made more than half their field goals this year and has the league’s best offense often looked utterly unable to buy a bucket. A team that’s supposed to represent the 3-point capital of the universe hit only 23.3 percent of them against the Clippers. The team that has an unfair advantage with — between Kevin Durant and Steph Curry — two of the best five players in the game, failed to get 20 points from either of them.
Durant was 5-for-17 with just 16 points. Curry scored 19 points and was 0-for-8 on threes, a rare dud from behind the arc. Klay Thompson scored 24 points on 8-for-18 shooting.
And still they rolled.
The problem with the Clippers has never been their talent. It has always been, for one reason or another, an inability to show up in big games. Those usually happen once April rolls around. But Wednesday night counted as a big game, too.
As such, Blake Griffin went 5-for-20 and added seven — seven! — turnovers. CP3 had 15 points, was efficient and in control, but was never able or willing to exert his control over the situation, which quickly got out of hand and never changed course.
It’s as simple as this: The Warriors, even on off nights, are dominant against a team like the Clippers, who are a quality team but just aren’t in the same league. This time, it was Draymond Green who stepped up, scoring 22 on 8-of-10 shooting. And Durant, without a hot hand, who kept up his trend toward a career-best rebounding season, this time pulling down eight boards and adding seven assists. Curry may have missed every three he took, but he had seven steals.
In games that are or feel like the playoffs, the Warriors find ways to win.
And the Clippers find ways to lose.
It’s early. It’s December. There’s time. And, in the NBA, things certainly change. But one thing that has been consistent and true for years now is that the Warriors are real, no matter the time of year — and the Clippers simply aren’t.
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