OAKLAND, Calif. -- We like to manufacture rivalries in sports because, well, sports are more fun with when two teams don’t like each other.
Nobody wants to see two teams fawning over each other before, during and after games. There’s no fun in seeing grown men pat each other on the backs and try to one up each other’s compliments.
Perhaps that’s what many professional sports have become, for the most part. But not on Christmas night.
The ingenious schedule makers at the NBA saved one the league’s most heated rivalries for the nightcap to a five-game Christmas slate that featured matchups that looked far more tantalized in August, when the schedule was released, than they did in December.
However, there were no diminishing returns on the Clippers-Warriors matchup four months later. The bad blood between these two teams is high to begin with; it was taken to another level here.
For three quarters, the Clippers and Warriors were engaged in a solid game of basketball with little to no extracurricular activity ... but you had the feeling that would change at some point.
It began with Draymond Green elbowing Blake Griffin, with Green being ejected for a flagrant-2 foul after they had to be separated at the end of the third quarter. Less than two minutes into the fourth quarter, Andrew Bogut tied up Griffin in the paint, getting a flagrant-1. In the process, Bogut got Griffin tossed after the Clippers forward picked up his second technical. If that wasn’t enough, Bogut and Chris Paul got into it at game’s end and had to be separated.
“Honestly, I thought we were just kicking their butts and they went to something else, to be honest,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “But that’s fine.”
Rivalries are supposed to be built in the playoffs, at least that’s what players and coaches preach. But walk around the Clippers' locker room and ask the players which team they dislike the most, and the Warriors are the hands down winners. It’s not even close.
Playoff pedigree suggests it should be the Memphis Grizzlies after two hard-fought series. Simple geography would point to the Los Angeles Lakers, since they share Staples Center with the Clippers. But defining rivalries isn’t an exact science. Sometimes mutual dislike overrides all; that’s one of the few things the Clippers and Warriors can see eye to eye on.
There are also a couple of other big things the Clippers and Warriors, or at least their coaches, can agree on. Neither team has done much to deserve the praise upon which they’ve been lavished. And neither has much recent playoff success to hang their hats on.
“Some people would say this is a rivalry, but I would say no because neither one of us and, I’ll say that again, neither one us has done anything to claim it to be a rivalry,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “We are two teams trying to get to a place. It’s good old-fashioned basketball and playing with an edge.”
Rivers didn’t disagree with Jackson, who was traded to the Clippers in package deal for Rivers more than two decades ago.
“Both us are trying to become good teams,” Rivers said. “But neither team has done anything to have a rivalry, yet. But I do think it would be neat if we could create one by both us becoming great teams.”
Jackson and Rivers have both been a part of their fair share of rivalries, which is a big reason that even after watching these teams go after each other with a playoff-intensity twice this season -- and four times last season -- it doesn’t mean much until they actually meet in the postseason and one team does something more than win a couple of rounds.
“I just think we’ve both got to do something,” Jackson said. “We haven’t done anything. At the end of the day we can fool folks and think we have and so can they, but we haven’t done anything.
“Both teams have a history of losing, both teams have turned the corner and both teams are headed in the right directions, and let’s continue the climb and see where the chips fall.”
As much as the Clippers and Warriors don’t like each other, both coaches realize one team will have to win something for this to be taken seriously as a rivalry. The fact remains that the Clippers have never made the Western Conference finals and the last time the Warriors got there was 1976.
“I don’t care about the past except for studying it,” Rivers said. “But our future is our future and we have to make our own. I’m sure Mark and Golden State feel the same way, and the only way it could be a great rivalry is that we both are successful at doing what we want to do. That would be nice. I think it would be really cool. I’m all for it. Let’s do it.”