LOS ANGELES -- The Golden State Warriors seized control of their NBA playoff first-round series against the Los Angeles Clippers, taking a three games-to-one lead Sunday afternoon.
But any Warriors observer can admit the team's susceptibility to complacency, evidenced by their blown 31-point lead in Game 2 last week.
The occasional lapses have been met with a scrappy, young, No. 8-seeded Clippers team that has stuck with the champs tooth and nail throughout the series. Despite the loss, the Clippers showed why the Warriors can't afford to display their complacent ways in Game 5 on Wednesday night.
"They're a talented team," Warriors guard Stephen Curry said after Sunday's 113-105 win. "They're an eighth seed of whatever that means, but they're competitive, and they have guys that you got to pay attention to."
In a game the Warriors led by 10 at the end the first quarter and eight at halftime, the Clippers never seemed out of it. Rookie guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scored 25 points, helping offset Klay Thompson's 27 first-half points. In the third quarter, the Clippers opened on an 18-11 run to cut the Warriors' eight-point lead to one with 6:19 to go in the quarter. A little over two minutes later, Los Angeles even took a brief five-point lead before Golden State regained control.
"I loved how we fought," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. "I loved how we kept coming back. You know, because you have to against them. I didn't think any of our guys were fazed when one of their guys made a shot or made a great play. We went right back at them. I think that's how you have to play them."
Many NBA observers didn't believe the Clippers would be in the playoffs two months ago, let alone secure the No. 8 seed. One day before the trade deadline, the Clippers sent away leading scorer Tobias Harris, center Boban Marjanović and forward Mike Scott in exchange for forward Wilson Chandler, big man Mike Muscala and rookie guard Landry Shamet in a move that was seen as a deal to build the team for the future instead of play for the present.
Instead, the Clippers won 13 of 15 games in March to earn a playoff berth in the final weeks of the season. Still, the Warriors -- who have battled with complacency issues all season -- have had mental lapses in the first-round matchup. On Tuesday, they were outscored 85-58 in the second half of Game 2, as Shamet scored 12 and made the go-ahead bucket late in the fourth quarter, putting a brief scare in the champs.
"They don't stop, man," Durant said. "They're one of those teams, they make you feel them all game, and even when you go home after the game, you're going to be thinking about them because they're tough."
Despite being severely outmanned in the series, the Clippers have given the Warriors their best shot. Guard Patrick Beverley has baited Warriors forward Kevin Durant into an ejection, enticing Curry into foul trouble and earning the champs' respect in the process as both teams head to Oracle Arena for Game 5.
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"One thing I will say about our team is we will be ready," Rivers said following Game 4. "We'll show up. I can guarantee you that. This team has never not done that, and it would be nice to get back here, that's for sure."
"We have definitely had to earn the wins we've gotten," Curry added. "And the work is not done until the horn sounds on that fourth win."