LOS ANGELES -- So this is what life is like when you become a ward of the state.
Or more politely, what life is like when you see a happy future so soon after a present you knew you couldn’t endure.
The Los Angeles Clippers came back home Tuesday, free of the crushing burdens imposed upon them in the last five days by their former employer, the now officially spectral Donald T. Sterling. And, after a series of four accidental collisions impersonating a playoff series, they and the Golden State Warriors finally and fully engaged in regular old basketball.
Regular old DeAndre Jordan-until-Blake-Griffin-And-Chris-Paul-Get-Fully-Engaged basketball -- the kind that ends with the Clippers winning, 113-103, and taking a 3-2 series lead back to Oakland for Game 6 Thursday.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Clippers take decisive Game 5 from Warriors]
Or as it shall always be known, The First Day Of The Post-Donald Era.
Jordan was the hyperdominant player, finishing with 25 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks as well as foiling Golden State’s desperate Hack-A-Jordan tactic midway through the fourth quarter. Paul and Griffin finished with 18 apiece despite horrific starts, and the Clippers largely neutralized Stephen Curry, forcing Golden State to win with EE.
They didn’t. In fact, they held a lead for only 16 seconds in the final 44 minutes despite the Clippers never really pulling away. They didn’t do anything particularly poorly, but they never generated a single extended run. The better team, free of angst and outrage but weary beyond exhausted, won.
“They were tired from everything,” Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said. “You could just tell. Blake and DJ had four or five breaks where they could barely get across half court.”
But that’s over now, right?
“No, probably not,” he said. “We go back up there (Oakland), so this story probably has a couple more days to run.”
Indeed, there was one final vestige of Sterling, in that his wife Shelly asked Rivers if she could attend the game (she did). “That was touching, because she’s been affected by this too,” Rivers said. “She didn’t do this.”
In sum, barring some late-minute sanding and spackling around the edges, this is a playoff series again. For everyone.
Like the players and coaches of the two teams, the crowd at Staples Center basked in a newfound equilibrium, and for that they could thank the influential owners who provided Commissioner Adam Silver with the institutional power to throw the entire constitutional tool box at Sterling. Some of the league’s most powerful operators – San Antonio’s Peter Holt, Miami’s Micky Arison, Chicago’s Jerry Reinsdorf, Detroit’s Tom Gores and Washington’s Ted Leonsis – had already been whipping votes as Silver was trying to determine the mood of the membership.
Between that backroom arm-twisting and the newfound solidarity of the players pledging to boycott not only Warriors-Clippers but also Wizards-Bulls and Grizzlies-Thunder if Silver’s press conference was deemed inadequate to the mood of the working electorate, the end of the Sterling Era was ordained as done, and the sense of relief both inside the building and outside it was palpable.
Small protests assembled around 12th and Figueroa at the southeast corner of the arena, but they held little of the actual venom a more tepid league response would have sparked. Rather, the atmosphere was part political, part outdoor bazaar, part ticket-scalpers paradise and part rally.
Inside, the traditional late-arriving crowd had to be exhorted by a pregame MC to make noise and continually acknowledge “This Is Your Team!” and “We Are One!” the new mantras of this owner-free operation.
But by game time, there was a game, and the atmosphere was that of a game. But there was more than that – there was a sense of relief that there could be a game, and everyone in the building seemed to embrace normalcy as though it had been years and not days since they’d last enjoyed it.
That was how gut-punchy Friday’s release of the Sterling Eugenics And Social Policy Lecture really was. It was by no means the first (and there is some shame attached to that for all involved) but it was the worst, at least in the depth and breadth of the impact.
So there was a game, a taut, arrhythmic and occasionally irritable affair, with spotty shooting, frustrating officiating and the Warriors relearning the hard lesson that is closing out a series – even as bizarre as this one became.
Now it is back to rational, at a time when Golden State has no more mulligans to play. Timing is everything, even when you’re talking about the damage caused by one man so very out of our time.