OAKLAND –- This was the type of game any team with championship aspirations must encounter in the regular season, the kind of experience that adds steel to the spine and a few cells of maturity to the mind.
After winning their first four games by double digits – and an average of 25 points – the Warriors on Wednesday night found themselves in a heated duel, a real test of their nerves and togetherness.
“In the third quarter, honestly, there were some emotions on the bench,” Steph Curry said. “And that’s what we need, a little fire to ignite. Guys were going after each other, challenging each other in a healthy way, which is good. You could tell that this means something to us, to start off 5-0 and to keep winning and to never get complacent, especially at home.
“You need those kinds of moments to test you and we answered that.”
The Warriors came through the anxiety and agitation with a 112-108 victory over the Clippers. The triumph reminded them what it’s like to take a few damaging blows, and how best to respond to a crisis.
The Warriors trailed by 10 with about eight minutes left, by nine with a little more than seven minutes on the clock. Interim coach Luke Walton turned things around by resorting to what has become the team’s most reliable rescue tactic.
They went to a small lineup, featuring Draymond Green at center and Harrison Barnes at power forward, with Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Curry essentially as guards.
“We turned it up,” Green said. “Our defense, we started getting stops. Once we get stops, there are not many teams that can keep up with us.”
The Warriors pulled it together and held Los Angeles to 4-for-16 shooting over the final seven minutes, while also forcing a shot-clock turnover. In less than three minutes, a 10-point deficit became a one-point Warriors lead.
“We were pissed off,” Green said. “We don’t really get concerned. 10 points? We’ll cover 10 points in a couple minutes.”
Pretty close, as it took precisely 2:16 for the Warriors to regain the lead on a Curry 3-pointer with 5:32 left. The Clippers led only once more, and for all of nine seconds, as the Warriors closed it out.
“You learn from games like this,” Thompson said.
The Warriors rediscovered that when times get tight, they can push each other through those tense moments. They can communicate, sometimes colorfully, and achieve the desired results. They can jump the officials, if necessary.
They also learned that Walton’s normally placid exterior can be stripped away and replaced by outward expressions of indignation.
“Luke’s not a fiery guy,” Thompson said. “But we respect everything that comes out of his mouth. He’s a very smart, intellectual coach and he told us what had to be done and we responded well.”
Walton’s display of pique was effective. It was the first time he reached into his coaching bag and pulled out that tool.
Then again, he hadn’t needed it before Wednesday.
“I’m still laid-back, but I’ve always been competitive,” Walton said. “When you’re in the heat of battle and get going, there are going to be some emotions out there. It’s the same way as when I played. You want to win and you try everything you can to make that happen. Sometimes it makes you louder than normal and you use some words that you normally would not use.”
The victory pushed the Warriors’ record, making them the first teams since Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (1995-96, 1996-97) to win their first five games in back-to-back seasons. The Warriors lifted to 21 their franchise-record home win streak.
The win also was the Warriors’ eighth in a row – and 18th in the last 20 – over the rival Clippers within the confines of Oracle Arena. L.A. in the offseason retooled its roster and still suffererd a familiar outcome.
“It was good for us to feel a little bit of adversity against a good team like that,” Curry said. “We know what we’re not going to blow everybody out this year, and we answered the bell.”