The Clippers' defense felt the wrath of Stephen Curry in MVP form, as he hit shots from distances more commonly associated with golf. If Curry (43 points) is working back toward his old ways, Golden State is on its way to fulfilling its immense potential.
"I gotta be aggressive, and that's the thing about us," Curry said after the game. "We do got a lot of talent. There's a balancing act to it, for me to initiate offense with pick-and-rolls or whatever set, I gotta be aggressive to look to score, to look to draw attention, and good things will happen out of that."
An injured Chris Paul could only watch, and the remaining Clippers weren't markedly more active, especially on defense. From the outset, the resistance was soft. Golden State's first basket came off of Curry beating Austin Rivers on the kind of cut Paul would never cede.
During the first quarter, the Warriors outscored the Clippers 20-4 inside the paint, threshing through lanes at will. Upon checking in, former Warriors forward Marreese Speights received a warm standing ovation before Curry immediately flew past him for a bucket, plus the foul. Bereft of their floor general, the Clippers' defensive weaknesses were exploited in full.
Blake Griffin, still working his way back from injury, again had little success against Draymond Green's defense. Griffin had a much easier time when checked by James Michael McAdoo, but that run was followed by Durant taking on the assignment. When Griffin was contained, his teammates were helpless.
The end of the second quarter was a clubbing that decided this one early. The Warriors overwhelmed the Clippers on a series of transition plays, epitomized by Green's block of a Griffin layup, followed by a Green dunk on the other end. That play might have been the quarter's most memorable, if not for how the period finished.
With time winding down, Curry launched a typically speculative running bomb from beyond half court. Perfect swish, followed by Green knocking him into a belly-slide celebration. That was spectacular, but it was far from the end of festivities.
"You could kind of see when he was going into one of his modes," Green said of his teammate's explosion. "I think it started with two shots. The half-court shot and then when he hit the first pull-up in the third quarter."
The Clippers were hopeless in this, but the Warriors had to at least play the third quarter. "Play" they did, in a quarter that served as a clowning crescendo. With Raymond Felton as his fodder, Curry dined greedily, scoring 25 in the third, two more than the entire Clippers team managed.
In his scalding stretch, Curry hit two attempts from beyond 28 feet, both off the Oracle Arena logo, and had the crowd believing a third was in the offing when he launched another quarter-ending buzzer-beater from way beyond. That shot missed, but the crowd's surprised groan spoke to something more. After looking more mortal this season than the past two, Curry had the building buying that impossible was probable. The old magic was back. And it might just continue.
Curry's takeover was encouraged by his coach, who spoke to having to coax his superstar out of a more deferential mode, earlier in the season.
"I think he was almost worried that if he shot too much then that would take away from Kevin [Durant]," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "I think that was part of the first half of the season, was understanding those dynamics. Not necessarily what plays we're going to run, what combinations we would play, but also how guys would react out on the floor. I think what Steph has realized is he can just go be himself and let it fly. He doesn't have to worry about Kevin or Klay [Thompson] or anybody else. We feed off Steph's energy and his shooting."
There's something to "We feed off Steph's energy and his shooting," though it's a difficult to quantify truth. Durant's efficiency (he was subtly great again against the Clips, claiming 23 points on a mere 11 shots) is equal parts dependable and valuable. Durant's greatness just doesn't quite exhort a crowd, and possibly a team, to quite the degree that Curry's does.
Early in the season, the Warriors were rolling overall but had lost something from Curry. Oracle was a bit quieter, the team prone to wobbly stretches. On Saturday night, in a drama-free blowout, the arena was rocking again. The Warriors are truly the Warriors when Steph is Steph. Not every night will offer chances against Raymond Felton, but if Curry can ramp up to his MVP ways, the Warriors can't and won't be touched.