In this season of many lessons, with plenty more to come, the Warriors on Friday night learned perhaps the most important one of all in a 115-105 win at Chase Center.
Do not accept premature burial, no matter the skill of those wielding the shovels.
Especially, though, if it’s the Los Angeles Clippers.
Trailing 85-63 with 3:15 remaining in the third quarter to the Clippers rolling in juggernaut mode, the Warriors did not give up and lay down. They threw off every ounce of dirt, shocked the ceremony and proved they have a heartbeat.
They arose with a vengeance over the final 15 minutes to steal a win over the Clippers that sent at least a temporary wave of warmth over the entire franchise.
“I feel like it gives us a lot of confidence,” said Eric Paschall, who totaled 12 points and six rebounds in his latest excellent performance as a 6-foot-6 second-unit center.
“Every night is capable of looking entirely different when you're trying to figure yourself out and stay competitive,” said Steph Curry, who was a catalyst during the comeback and finished with 38 points and 11 assists. “I just like the way we responded, which is night and day different than those first two games, where we would have no business winning a game like tonight.”
Curry’s reference to “those first two games” goes back to the season opener, a 125-99 loss at the Brooklyn Nets, followed by a 138-99 blasting at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas. The Warriors were buried early both times and never got out.
This time, against an opponent that can match up with any team in the NBA, the Warriors kept coming, using defense to trigger their one advance: transition-game speed. After closing the third quarter with an 18-2 blitz that pulled them within six, there was faith.
“They’re (Clippers) great players. You can’t discard that. They’re going to make shots,” Paschall said. “Our whole thing was just keep playing hard and see what happens off of that. And we did. We just kept playing hard and did some great things.”
Golden State outscored LA 52-20 over the final 15:04. The Warriors won the second half 64-40 behind a burst of energy that turned the defense ferocious and led to a cascade of 3-pointers, many in transition. The defense forced 11 turnovers, off which the Warriors scored 17 points. The Warriors also out-rebounded the Clippers 24-13 after halftime.
“It’s still early in the season and we are still a team that’s coming together and learning (about) one another,” coach Steve Kerr said, reflecting on the third-quarter deficit and what it took to erase it. “The most important thing in my mind, at that time, was to keep competing, keep fighting, and don’t give in. It’s important for us right now to establish our identity as a team that will compete and fight every night and play together and play hard."
Los Angeles has the most imposing roster in the Western Conference. Big. Skilled. Deep. Kawhi Leonard and Paul George are MVP candidates. Serge Ibaka is the most talented big man the franchise has had. Patrick Beverley brings an overdose of defense and effervescence. This is an upgraded roster built to win a championship.
Yet the Clippers, who were bounced from the 2020 postseason after failing to hold double-digits in successive closeout games, are at it again. They entered this game having blown double-digit leads in three previous games.
Make it four. So, pardon the Clippers if they walked out of Chase Center dazed and befuddled, as they’d seen a ghost.
“We have to dig deep,” George said. “That is what it comes down to.”
Oh, they dug plenty deep.
After falling behind 3-2 on a Curry 3-pointer 63 seconds after tipoff, the Clippers turned savage, building leads of 17 in the first quarter and 14 at the half before extending it to 22 in the third quarter. The Warriors lead again until 10:01 left in the fourth, when Paschall swished a triple.
Which is proof that LA, for all its deep digging, did not dig deep enough.