This was what the crowd came to Staples Center to see: Blake Griffin slamming home three consecutive monstrous dunks, each one set up by Chris Paul, in an electrifying sequence in the third quarter of the Clippers’ 126-115 victory Thursday over the Golden State Warriors.
What the 19,060 fans also saw was the Clippers making Staples Center their home, and not merely because they covered up the Lakers’ 16 championship banners with super-sized roll-up photos of their own core players.
While photos of Jamal Crawford, Griffin, J.J. Redick, DeAndre Jordan, Jared Dudley, Paul and Matt Barnes glowed under spotlights, the real Clippers came to life with an impressive revival after their season-opening dud against the Lakers on Tuesday. Hiding the Lakers’ banners doesn’t take away from their success over the decades, but it’s now possible to discuss the Clippers competing for championship-banner wall space and not be laughed out of the room.
“That’s the Blake. That Blake is dominant. That’s a hard Blake to guard,” Coach Doc Rivers said. “He just was relentless. He didn’t let anybody off the hook. I love when he plays like that.”
The Clippers’ starting backcourt of Redick and Paul outplayed the Warriors’ vaunted backcourt of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry for much of Thursday’s game until Curry went on a 17-point rampage in the fourth quarter.
Redick and Paul outscored their counterparts, 59-48, led by 42 points from Paul — his most as a Clipper and one short of his career high. Paul also led both teams with 15 assists.
Jordan, reaffirming his position within Coach Doc Rivers’ designated big three leadership group, shared the microphone with Griffin and Paul to welcome fans before the game and then proceeded to grab a game-high 17 rebounds and score nine points.
As exhilarating as Griffin’s dunks were, this figures to be an up-and-down journey — especially on the defensive end — while the Clippers get accustomed to Rivers and get comfortable enough to carry out his strategy instinctively.
Golden State hit 12 of 21 three-point shots and made a push early in the fourth quarter, and David Lee (22 points) had far too many easy layups before he fouled out late in the fourth quarter.
“It was funny,” Rivers said afterward, smiling. “They shot 52% and made unbelievable shots, but I was really happy with our defense overall.”
The Clippers did a lot of things right — certainly far more than they did against the Lakers but not as many as they might yet do.
“I love our guys. I love our team, but the good part is we have a long way to go,” Rivers said. “I really believe we’re going to be so much better, later, and the fact that we beat a really good team tonight means more than just getting that first win.”
They out-rebounded the Warriors, 44-33, and held Golden State to 10 second-chance points. There was a lot to murmur about, a statement by the Clippers that this will be their house — and not merely because they redecorated it with those photographs.
Rivers often talks about trust and how some rough spots will be smoothed once players are more nearly in sync.
“Every team goes through it. Sometimes the offensive trust clicks in first, sometimes the defensive trust,” Rivers said. “Every team’s different. You just don’t know….
“The one thing that is nice, when a team does get it on either end, by the way, you can see them play better. They’re free now. They don’t have a lot of thought anymore. And that’s what we’re trying to get on both ends.”
The Clippers haven’t gotten that yet. The season is only two games old, and they complete a back-to-back sequence Friday, in Sacramento, that will test their energy. But their performance Thursday was an indication they’re intent on taking ownership of their home court and their season, and making those photos stand for something.