On their path to three NBA championships in five seasons, with lineups featuring three of the best shooters in league history fueling the final two titles, the Golden State Warriors left outmanned opponents with few options to stop them at their dynastic peak. Two were hope and prayer.
Things have changed since Kevin Durant bolted for Brooklyn in free agency and Klay Thompson injured, and then reinjured, his legs. Opponents now load up on Stephen Curry, gambling his young teammates won’t burn them.
The job is more straightforward now. That hasn’t made it easier.
Two nights after holding Curry to five-of-17 shooting to kick off a two-game road series against the Warriors with a victory, the Clippers again threw a mix of defenders and coverages at the Warriors superstar, who put on a show reminiscent of his most valuable player seasons of the past during a 115-105 Warriors victory.
Highlights from the Clippers’ 115-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday night in San Francisco.
Curry’s season-high nine three-pointers led to 38 points and his season-high 11 assists led to 26 more points for teammates.
“I thought we did a good job in the first half,” said coach Tyronn Lue, who tried outfoxing Curry during three consecutive NBA Finals while coaching Cleveland. “Then in the second half he just got loose and made a couple deep ones, but I thought he got a lot more free than he did in the first game.
“They ran some different stuff as well that put us in some tough positions and we knew that would happen.”
Dribbling during the first half toward the three-point arc and seeing Kawhi Leonard and Nicolas Batum in front of him with Paul George shaded to his right, Curry passed over their arms to Draymond Green at the free-throw line, and Green charged into a soft defensive rotation for a layup. Curry whipped an assist with his right hand to the left corner for a three-pointer by Mychal Mulder, then zipped a left-handed, cross-court assist to the right corner for a three by Damion Lee.
Given a foot too much space in the first half, Curry made his only two attempts during the opening minutes. He scored eight points during the third quarter’s final minute to supercharge an 18-2 Warriors run that trimmed a 22-point Clippers lead to just six entering the final quarter.
With three minutes to play, and his Warriors leading by two, he wriggled into the lane and adjusted his body in midair to score around Clippers center Serge Ibaka.
George scored a team-high 25 points for the Clippers and Kawhi Leonard added 24 points but they combined to score 17 after halftime. The bench contributed just 20 points.
Curry’s brilliance was matched only by the Clippers unraveling. It took less than five minutes for their 22-point lead to disappear, the fourth time this season the Clippers have allowed a double-digit lead to vanish. The first three times it happened, the Clippers won — beating three of the Western Conference’s best teams in the Lakers, Nuggets and Suns.
Against a Warriors team that has struggled unevenly through the season’s first two weeks, their resolve was worn down, outscored 52-20 after leading by their largest margin. That included a 12-1 run late in the fourth quarter that left Curry to yell into an empty Chase Center and the Clippers to hear the echo of September’s postseason collapses.
The Clippers made 14 of their 31 three-pointers but committed 19 turnovers for the second consecutive game that led to 28 Warriors points.
Lue attributed the blown leads to a mixture of early season hiccups and troubling trends.
“Just getting the lead and then not continuing to play the way we were playing to get the lead,” Lue said. “… Don’t get comfortable and start taking some bad shots and questionable shots.”
It was Curry’s second incandescent performance of the week. His career-high 62 points in a victory Sunday against Portland was noticed two states away in Arizona, where the Clippers were holding interviews following a win against the Suns. Before Batum was seen for his videoconference with reporters, he was heard off-camera noticing Curry’s box score: “62 points! Whoo!”
Seeing Curry go off in person led only to frustration. Their lead slipping away in the fourth quarter, Batum grabbed a ball after one Warriors possession and slammed it into the hardwood.