OAKLAND, Calif. -- Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors used a spirited first-quarter start against the LA Clippers to get back on the winning track, ultimately earning a 134-127 victory Thursday night at Oracle Arena.
"It was a good step in the right direction," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "I think we did a lot of good things, but you can tell, it's not like we're going to wave a magic wand and be on top of our game again. But I liked our start. We got off to a better start."
Curry exploded for 44 points on 14-of-19 from the field, including 8-of-11 from beyond the arc, to go with 6 rebounds and 10 assists in 37 minutes. It was his third 40-point game of the season.
First-quarter play has been an issue for the Warriors, but their production in the first is what got them over Thursday night.
In their first game back from the All-Star break, Kerr tinkered with his starting lineup to generate an early spark. Backup center JaVale McGee, as ESPN reported beforehand, got the start in place of Zaza Pachulia.
Golden State expected to start JaVale McGee at center tonight against LA Clippers, league sources tell ESPN.
— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) February 23, 2018
"Coach felt like we needed more pressure at the rim to kind of open us up a bit on the wings and I thought Zaza handled it well," Durant said. "He came in and played extremely hard. We're going to need both of those guys. It doesn't matter if they're starting or coming off the bench. We're going to need both of them to be solid and play good basketball."
At his pregame media address, Kerr revealed that his team had a 100.0 defensive rating in the first five minutes of games last season. This season, that rating has skyrocketed to 114.0. Before Thursday, Golden State (45-14) had split its past eight games.
An energized, rejuvenated bunch ran up and down the floor on LA (30-27), producing 19 points to the Clippers' 11 in the first five minutes. There was an extra zest to the team's movement and a sense of focus that was noticeable.
"It was nice to kind of build a lead and play from ahead the entire game and take advantage of those first 12 minutes," Curry said.
With the first quarter approaching a close, Curry dribbled around two defenders and launched a 37-foot jumper that hit nothing but net to beat the buzzer.
"You sling them up and try to get it off in time and see what happens," Curry said. "But when it does happen, it's a good vibe to end the quarter, end the half and not really worry about shooting percentage. Just chuck it and see what happens."
The Warriors scored 34 points in the quarter, their most points in an opening quarter since Jan. 25 against Minnesota.
It was the fast start Kerr had been searching for, and it was needed desperately. In the final three quarters, the Clippers outscored the home team 104-100.
"They had 23 [points] at the end of the first quarter, we got [a great first quarter] out the way, but we got to also know we got four quarters of basketball left to play. So, we're not impressed with giving up that many points in the last three quarters. We started the game off well, now we have to put the full game together."
McGee finished with six points and four rebounds in 14 minutes.
Kerr said he's experimenting right now with the center position, stating that he's looking for a spark. McGee will start again Saturday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. "JaVale gave us a different look," Curry said, "I think sped us up a little bit on the offensive end and gave us a threat above the rim and pressuring you in the paint."
Curry was in dagger mood, executing clutch heroics.
With center DeAndre Jordan switched on him at the top of the key, Curry drove right and hit a contested 3-pointer with five seconds left in the half. But on this occasion, there was a little bit too much time left on the clock as Danilo Gallinari received an inbounds pass and nailed a half-court heave to end the first half.
The Clippers stayed in it, erasing what was an 18-point second-quarter deficit.
However, in the final period, with the game in limbo, Curry knocked down a deep transition 3 to give his team a seven-point advantage with under two minutes to play, providing the necessary separation to exit the arena victorious.
"Our defense was not very good, but our offense allowed us to stay in the game," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "We had a lot of mix-ups down the stretch."
Curry scored in the last 10 seconds of each of the first three quarters.
The last time these two teams played, Lou Williams lit up the Warriors for 50 points in a 125-106 Clippers win in the same building. He registered 21 points off the bench this time (7-of-17 field goals, 5-of-5 free throws) with 12 assists.
The sixth-man specialist wasn't content with being close on the road against the defending champs.
"A loss is a loss, bro," Williams said. "No moral victories over here."
Golden State will next host the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday.