Let’s just say it -- the wrong team won, but the right team lost.
Los Angeles’ 98-96 victory in Game 3 of this Western Conference quarterfinal over Golden State ended the only way it could, with Stephen Curry sitting on the floor and chewing on his mouth guard like it was gristly meat. He’d just missed a three-pointer that would have won this ghastly game, and he was unhappy that Chris Paul hadn’t been called for a foul he would never have been called for, and before he left the debated the non-call with official Ken Mauer while assistant coach Lindsey Hunter was snipping with Paul.
[RECAP: Clippers 98, Warriors 96]
Both came up empty. Like the game itself. Which explains why both coaches, Doc Rivers and Mark Jackson, took the postgame presser podium wearing their best disgusted faces.
“We have to play better,” Rivers said, telling the baldfaced truth, “and they will too,” speculating without any evidence to back his claim. “There will be a great game in this series.”
Not that that’s the way to bet, mind you.
This game boiled down to three factors, none of which helped the Warriors.
One, they shot dismally (41.6 percent, 66.7 percent from the line), and especially from behind the arc (6-for-31, a hideous 19.4 percent).
Two, they were scared straight by Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who finished with 22 rebounds, five blocks and a conservative nine changed shots. He removed David Lee’s inside game, thus rendering the Warriors’ lineup perpetually small, and the poor outside shooting made it all the worse.
[REWIND: Without Bogut, W's have no answer for Griffin or Jordan]
And three, they proved that they have no answers at all for Blake Griffin, who finished with 32 and eight, and that’s despite missing seven of his nine free throws.
All that, plus the general unpleasant tone of the game, left both Rivers and Mark Jackson viscerally displeased with what they had seen, and scurrying back to see the tape with a bottle of Pepto Bismol within reach for those special moments.
If there was an up side for the Warriors, and losing playoff games usually means that finding an up side is largely delusional thinking, it is that they could have been routed for a second consecutive time and steeled themselves for their late rally. They fell behind 68-50 halfway through the third quarter and looked for all the world like they were going to dissolve as they had in Game 2, only to slowly but carefully trim the lead to 11 by quarter’s end, and to one with 4:24 to go.
[RELATED: Warriors-Clippers central]
But because the Clippers have sufficient snarl to hide their artistic deficiencies, they punched the lead back to eight at 94-86 in slightly more than a minute, and kept the Warriors just far enough away for just far enough to take a 2-1 advantage in this hot mess of a series.
Barring an adjustment that neutralizes Griffin and Jordan, this series does not look to get much closer. Their control of both basket areas is almost complete, and the Warriors’ best response -- big nights from Curry and Klay Thompson -- has not been forthcoming.
Curry is 20-of-45 overall, 6-for-21 from three, and has largely become discouraged by the veteran’s attention paid him by Paul. Thompson, the Warriors’ one creditably performer both statistically and purposefully, is a slightly less damaging 19-for-46, and 7-for-20 from three. And Lee has altered enough of his own shots to make the ones Jordan has altered for him seem like dozens.
Of course, the Warriors never leave without some defiance in the message, and Thompson delivered. “We got good shots,” he said of the 6-for-31 stat. “I got some great wide-open looks from the corner . . . when I see Stephen release them, I think that’s a layup. We probably hit half of those on Sunday.”
That’s certainly conceivable, but hitting half of them may not be enough given the way the Clippers own both basket areas. The absence of Andrew Bogut will always be felt in this series, but the Warriors did nothing in the other areas to counter that except enjoy one of the Clippers’ less appealing games.
Now maybe Doc Rivers is right and both teams will play well on the same day before this series ends. But it is far more likely that less ugly will determine the path of this series, and for now, that role is being played more than willingly by the Clippers.