Programming note: Coverage of Game 5 between the Warriors and Clippers begins tonight at 7 p.m. with Warriors Pregame Live, only on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area (Channel locations)
LOS ANGELES – What began as a highly anticipated NBA playoff series between two teams with mutual dislike has now evolved into a subplot in one of the biggest morality plays in modern sports.
And yet there is basketball to play, as the Warriors and Clippers take the court for Game 5 on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
In submitting their most impressive performance thus far, 118-97 win in Game 4 at Oracle Arena on Sunday, the Warriors evened the series at two games apiece.
There is some sentiment that the Clippers may have been adversely affected by the controversy surrounding team owner Donald Sterling, whose racially charged rant had been released a day before Game 4.
Warriors coach Mark Jackson pointed out that those comments affected the Warriors and, for that matter, all NBA players, as well as humanity at large.
So it's back to the game.
"It's no different,'' Jackson said. "This is a game of adjustments. It's been a great series, obviously both teams battling, competing, playing at high levels, pretty evenly matched. It's been a lot of fun and it's great for basketball. I don't want to lose sight of the job that's being done by both teams. It should be an exciting Game 5.''
One of the keys to the Warriors victory in Game 4 was the setting of a faster pace from the outset, a byproduct of Jackson inserting second-year forward Draymond Green for center Jermaine O'Neal, who is an 18-year veteran.
"I will go the same way, with Draymond in the starting lineup,'' Jackson said. "Obviously, we've had success. This is a tough challenge, against an outstanding team, and we've got to duplicate the type of energy, effort, focus and passion that we had in Game 4.''
The Warriors practiced on Monday in Oakland before heading to Los Angeles, where they conducted a brief shootaround Tuesday morning. Clippers coach Doc Rivers on Monday canceled practice, saying he needed to let his team "breathe.''
The Clippers certainly were not sharp in Game 4. Now that NBA commissioner has issued the first step of a plan to oust Sterling, it will be intriguing to see how the team responds.
Said Jackson of the Warriors: "We're not playing with the owner. The story remains the same. We're playing against the Clippers and the issues that they have as an organization with their owner.''
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Green vs. Blake Griffin. Green pestered Griffin toward the outskirts of Game 4, opening one path to a Warriors win. Yet Griffin remains bigger and stronger and a better athlete. This test could be tougher for Green.
Stephen Curry vs. Chris Paul. Curry had by far has best performance in Game 4, finishing with a game-high 33 points, including 7-of-14 shooting from 3-point distance. Paul, who also serves as president of the Players' Association, get into early foul trouble and never truly recovered.
David Lee vs. DeAndre Jordan. Lee, having moved to center, was able to pull Jordan away from the basket, neutralizing the big man's impact in the paint. The Warriors took advantage. It'll be interesting to see if the ploy works again.
KEYS TO THE GAME: 1) Focus, focus, focus. The Warriors were the more focused team in Game 4, and it showed. 2) Bothering Blake. As long as Griffin – who dominated Games 2 and 3 – stays under wraps, the Warriors have distinct advantage. 3) Slay 'em with treys. After shooting 20 percent from deep in Games 2 and 3, the Warriors rebounded in Game 4 bury the Clips with bombs.
KEEP ON EYE ON: The Clippers clearly were preoccupied or tired – or both – in Game 4. That's understandable. We could know within minutes whether they have recovered.
INJURY REPORT: C Andrew Bogut (fractured rib), C Festus Ezeli (right knee surgery rehab) and G Nemanja Nedovic (strained right calf) are out, despite reports Ezeli could return.
"I read where Festus could play,'' Jackson said. "That's not true. He's not playing tonight. He's continuing his rehab, continuing to get closer and closer but he's not playing.''
The Clippers report no injuries.
WHAT'S NEXT: The teams on Thursday return to Oakland, where they meet for Game 6 at Oracle Arena.