By Matthew Harrington
On a night when the Los Angeles Lakers received the bleak prognosis that Kobe Bryant would sit out the rest of the season due to injury, the other two California franchises garnered the major headlines while stoking the flames of a heated, burgeoning rivalry. With the Lakers glory days behind them, the Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers took the Staples Center Court Wednesday night with bragging rights as best of the West Coast on the line. The Warriors ultimately succumbed to the Blake Griffin show, dropping a hotly-contested 111-98 verdict to split the season series with their Southern California rivals. The Pacific Division leaders snapped Golden State’s five-game win streak, adding a ninth-consecutive win to LA’s total.
Clippers All-Star Griffin scorched the Warriors for 30 points and 15 rebounds, including his 3,000 board of his career in the third quarter. Griffin is now the third player in NBA history to shoot over 50 percent with 6,000 points, 3,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists in the first four seasons of a career, joining Hall of Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Charles Barkley. Guard Chris Paul finished a pair of rebounds shy of a triple-double, collecting 16 points and 12 assists to hand the Dubs their fourth-straight loss to the Clippers at the Staples Center.
Klay Thompson went 10-for-19 from the field, finishing with 26 points including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc to lead Golden State in scoring. David Lee chipped in 20 points. The Warriors reserves scuffled from the field, connecting on only a trio out of 25 chances, but Draymond Green connected on 7-of-9 free throws and Harrison Barnes and Jermaine O’Neal pitched in three each to help the bench to a 20-point contribution.
The two teams matched each other point-for-point in the first quarter, wrapping up the first 12 minutes at a 29-29 stalemate. The lead changed hands nine times in a frantic second quarter that saw the Warriors escape to the half nursing a slim two-point edge at 56-54.
Golden State outscored the home team 20-15 over the first six and a half minutes of the second half to take its largest lead of the night at seven points but the Clippers closed the gap on a 10-3 run. Los Angeles tied it on a Willie Green three-pointer with 1:22 left in the quarter then scored the next five points unanswered to end the quarter on top 84-79. Jermaine O’Neal opened the fourth hitting three of four from the charity stripe to pull the Dubs within two, but it would be the closest the Northern California squad got. The Clippers dominated the run of play, outpacing the Warriors 27 points to 16 down the stretch for the win.
Looking to avoid consecutive losses, the Warriors welcome the Cleveland Cavaliers, currently two spots above Orlando for worst in the Eastern conference, to Oracle Arena for a Friday night showdown before a critical meeting with another of the Western Conference’s strongest teams. Golden State travels to Portland to face the Trailblazers Sunday evening.