No Green, still money: As bodies fly and Kerr spars with Rivers, Warriors rally and win 

click to enlarge Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, grabs a loose ball as Clippers guard Chris Paul falls to the floor during Tuesday’s game. - DANNY MOLOSHOK/AP
  • Danny Moloshok/AP
  • Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, grabs a loose ball as Clippers guard Chris Paul falls to the floor during Tuesday’s game.

LOS ANGELES — You kept waiting for a wink, a chuckle, a grin, something to indicate Doc Rivers was joking. But this was another night at the fights — it took all of, what, 2 minutes, 22 seconds for Blake Griffin to torso-slam Harrison Barnes as he drove midair — so it was obvious again that levity doesn't happen when the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are renewing their Octagon-meets-Twitter-war animus.

Doc's squirrelly pregame goal: Crawl into Steve Kerr's psyche, tick off the NBA's best team this regular season, by saying the Warriors had cowardly reasons Tuesday to rest the soul of their stirring success story, Draymond Green. Never mind if the game carried little consequence for a team looking at home-court advantage throughout the postseason, which, given a lockdown edge at Oracle Arena, could translate to a magical spring. Never mind that Kerr, wisely, is using advanced metrics to decide when he should rest players, a gimme if Green truly had inflammation in two shins and wasn't offering an exaggeration of what day joggers know as shin splints. Rivers wanted to take his dig anyway, a constant in the heated rivalry that never stops giving.

"I guess, you know, that was pretty predictable," the Clippers' coach said. "We kind of assumed they didn't want to take the risk of going 2-2 with their regular guys. You pretty much could predict they weren't going to play everybody."

By "2-2," Rivers meant the Warriors intentionally were sitting Green so they could say they weren't at full strength in settling for a would-be deadlock in their regular-season series. Rivers also mentioned something about "playoff positioning." Um, was he accusing the Warriors of tanking the game to improve the Clippers' chances of soaring as high as second or third in the Western Conference playoff standings? Such upward mobility would allow the Warriors to avoid the Clippers in the second round, and in this antagonistic opera, the suggestion of a duck job and tank job is a seed that will remain explosive for weeks, just in case the teams do meet in the second round.

Well, guess what happened to Doc's theory?

The Warriors blew it up, without Green, in a 110-106 beauty that again showcased their mental resolve and made a fool of Rivers. This team has had some monumental moments in a breakthrough season, none more impressive than this. In returning from an early 17-point deficit, they changed momentum when Stephen Curry, in maybe the concluding MVP moment, turned Chris Paul's ankles to mush in a shake move that sent Mr. State Farm falling to the floor like, well, Cliff Paul. Klay Thompson, too, was excelling defensively on the previously sizzling J.J. Redick. When the Clippers' Matt Barnes erred in fouling Andre Iguodala behind the 3-point line with 1:10 left, three free thows clinched Victory No. 61 ... and gave them a 3-1 series victory over the Clippers.

What's up now, Doc?

"We flipped off the switch," Rivers said sheepishly. "Once we let them get loose and make shots, they're shotmakers. That's what they do."

Here is where we discovered something about Kerr. In a rookie coaching season out of a Disney movie, he is perceived by many as doing nothing more than rolling out the ball and grinning during Splash Brothers-fueled routs. Now, a coaching lifer was testing him with head games. When Mark Jackson was in this rivalry, he always looked ready for a scrap, including 15-plus months ago, when he almost became the first ordained minster to find himself in a full-scale brawl on Christmas. Kerr has deftly navigated tensions within the team after Jackson's sensitive firing, a decision opposed by Curry. For all his control-freak faults, no one could doubt Jackson's spirit and feistiness. How would Kerr handle his first real challenge in the rivalry?

With laughter.

"Excuse me? What was that?" he asked as a media mob explained Rivers' theory beforehand. "We don't want to be 2-2? Oh, is that right? Either that or we have a nine-game lead with a couple of guys banged up. It's somewhere in there."

Four hours later, Kerr refused to rub it in. He just paid another tribute to his players. "Once we got going, the competitive spirit kicked in," he said. "They want to win. They hate losing. Even with a game that didn't mean a lot in the standings. We were hard to keep down."

And here's the thing: Earlier in the day, Kerr had admitted Green could play if the game "meant anything." Yet, in the big picture, "with what he has going on with his shins, it made more sense to give him a few days off to make sure it was 100 percent clear."

His reaction wasn't surprising. In a life filled with perspective, from the day his father was assassinated as president of the American University in Beirut, Kerr isn't going to let one Rivers crack disrupt his world. But this is a sneaky competitor. When his defensive passion was a little too aggressive during a Chicago Bulls practice in the '90s, Michael Jordan slugged him. And as a typically physical game proceeded on national TV, Kerr was as engaged as hard fouls and cheap shots ruled the night. The refs let the teams play — Griffin's football move on Barnes was called a hard common foul after a sideline replay, and so was David Lee's collar job and near-takedown of Griffin. When Rivers' son Austin hit a 3-pointer by the Warriors' bench, he turned around and said something to the visitors, who erupted in laughter.

Was it any wonder only a couple of players participated in handshakes before the opening tap? As the Warriors rallied from an early deficit, the intensity grew more heated as Doc began to fear the worst: What if Green didn't play and the Warriors STILL won? There were more pushes and shoves — the maniacal Matt Barnes shoving Marreese Speights when the Warriors big man seemed to accidentally bump into Paul, earning Speights an unfair technical foul. This came after Griffin — he missed his calling in WrestleMania — pounded Speights.

In the end, this was another wild night in a rivalry that clearly is the NBA's best — and possibly in all of American sports. The bodies fly as much as the words, and there is no sign of letting up. Doesn't Rivers think the back-and-forth gets a little crazy sometimes? Such as when he and Green engaged in volleys that had Draymond referring to Doc as his given "Glenn" and selling T-shirts and hoodies to that effect?

"Oh, I don't care," Rivers said, "as long as it doesn't get nasty. I was joking about Draymond. I have tremendous respect for him, but that doesn't mean I don't want to beat his butt and he doesn't want to beat my butt. I don't think it's anything nasty — but in the games, some nasty things have happened. But I'm good with that as well."

Is Kerr good with it? Asked about the circus surrounding the rivalry, he gave us vintage droll Steve: "I have no take on it. It makes no difference. It's irrelevant."

The Warriors are vaulting into the national consciousness. ESPN caught on, finally, and put Curry on a magazine cover and the team in a TV profile. StubHub is weighing in with a lawsuit, claiming the Warriors engage in monopolistic business practices in demanding season-ticket holders do resales only with Ticketmaster, the team's partner. Curry is going to be MVP, despite the late push of James Harden. Now, a nation tiring of LeBron James is gearing up for these two antagonists out West, in what is supposed to be the soft and sunny coast of America, dueling like gangs in what would be another amazing playoff series, this time unimpeded by Donald Sterling.

Kerr was asked, late in the night, if he envisioned this.

"Yeah, I thought we'd be 62 and ..."

It's 61. As screw-ups go, it was miniscule compared to Doc's doozy.

Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.

About The Author

Jay Mariotti

Jay Mariotti

Bio:
Jay Mariotti is sports director and lead sports columnist at the San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at jmariotti@sfexaminer.com. Read his website at jaymariotti.com.
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