SAN FRANCISCO – There might not be a truer measure of an NBA team’s legitimacy as a title contender than how it performs in a late-season home game against an opponent facing the same test.
The Warriors passed with rainbow colors Thursday night, posting a 115-91 rout of a Los Angeles Clippers team that entered the game trailing them in the Western Conference standings by a fraction of a percentage point.
Golden State’s fourth consecutive win sends it three games over .500 for the first time this season.
Jordan Poole scored 34 points to lead the Warriors, while Klay Thompson contributed 19 points and a season-high 11 rebounds.
With Stephen Curry returning in a matter of days and perhaps Andrew Wiggins shortly thereafter, the Warriors are absolutely moving toward legitimate contender status.
Here are three observations from a game that, all things considered, is one of the most impressive this season:
Another pivotal third quarter
The Warriors spent most of the first half on the ropes, limited by a long and active LA defense to 33.3 percent shooting from the field, including 13.6 percent from distance.
Then came the third quarter. The script flipped. The Warriors pulled their own defense out of the basement and used it to fire up their offense. For the second consecutive game, it turned the game in their favor.
Golden State held the Clippers, who scored 55 points while shooting 50 percent in the first half, to a preposterously low 18.2 percent (4 of 22) in third quarter. So discombobulated was LA that even open shots were bricks.
The Warriors forced seven turnovers, off which they scored 12 points. The posted a resounding 42-16 victory in the quarter while shooting 52 percent, including 50 percent from deep.
After a relatively mundane first half, with nine points on 3-of-10 shooting, including 0-of-3 from beyond the arc, Poole sizzled in the third quarter.
Sizzled might an understatement, as he scored 22 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including 4-of-8 from deep and 8-of-8 from the line – all in less than 10 minutes. The Clippers were cooked.
Much of the damage JP laid on LA came in transition, taking advantage of excellent team defense and forced turnovers and turning them into bucket that energized the sellout crowd.
Poole’s 34 points came on 9-of-20 from the field, including 5-of-12 from distance, and 11-of-12 from the line.
JP was very good in the victory over Portland on Tuesday. He was even better this time around.
Comebacks "R" Us
While the Warriors spend considerable energy talking about the need for better defense, the Clippers strolled into their house and immediately delivered a tutorial. LA’s first-half defense was spectacular.
The Warriors took those lessons and in the second half turned them up on the Clippers. Without mercy.
Trailing by double digits at the half, the Warriors rang up an astonishing 70-36 advantage in the second half – because their defense arrived to save them from themselves. LA after halftime shot 22.2 percent from the field, including 13.6 percent from distance.
This makes the second consecutive game in which the Warriors wiped out a double-digit lead to win by double digits. The Clippers met the same fate as the Trail Blazers did two nights earlier.
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The Warriors don’t want to make a habit of this, but comebacks are good for a team’s confidence, something they will need down the stretch.