Bernucca: Unlikely Clippers-Warriors rivalry heating up

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There is an unlikely NBA rivalry developing in California.  And it doesn’t include the Lakers. warriors small logo

The Lakers are too busy battling the unrealistic expectations of their spoiled fans to immerse themselves in a full-fledged rivalry such as one with their neighbors down the hall at Staples Center.

No, the developing rivalry is between the Clippers and the Warriors, which went to a new level Saturday night.

You probably spent Saturday watching eight hours of NFL playoff games before hitting the clicker and tapping out. If so, you missed an escalation of the dislike between the once-dormant clubs that included a dangerous flagrant foul, dueling staredowns and some fighting words.

The Clippers are virtually tied with the Oklahoma City Thunder for the best record in the NBA. Already armed with star power and athleticism, they commanded everyone’s undivided attention by going undefeated in December.

But the one team they have had trouble with is the Warriors, who had won the first two meetings this season. The first came early, before anyone had a sense that either team would be this good. The second came just last week, when everyone was well aware of each team’s capabilities.

The Warriors are fifth in the Western Conference but seventh in the NBA standings. They may have more quality wins than the Clippers, having beaten Miami as part of a 6-1 road trip, completed season sweeps of Atlanta and Brooklyn and the pair of wins over the Clippers.

That set up Chapter Three on Saturday night.

“The first time they beat us here, you would have thought they won the NBA Finals,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said. “Then they beat us up there pretty handily, so we wanted to protect our home court.

“The fact that they beat us twice was the biggest thing,” said Clippers forward Matt Barnes, a Santa Clara native who has played for all four California teams in his career. “They’re a conference opponent and they’re only a few games behind us, so you just want to come out and make a statement.”

Which is exactly what the Clippers did. They used a 15-0 run to open a 23-6 lead, extended it to 35-12 after one quarter and never really came off the pedal until the final period, leading by as many as 39 points in a 115-89 rout that avenged a 21-point loss in Oakland on Wednesday.

“They played like they wanted to send a message, so give them credit,” Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. “It’s fresh in their minds what took place just the other day, so we knew their mindset and we didn’t respond.”

That’s not entirely true. Late in the second quarter with his team trailing by 26 points, Warriors forward David Lee decided he wasn’t going to let Blake Griffin bring the house down with a transition alley-oop dunk. So he shoved the airborne Griffin, nearly pushing his head into the backboard before watching him land in a heap on a cameraman.

Griffin didn’t take the bait, simply glaring at Lee, who was given a flagrant foul. But that wasn’t even the best death stare of the night. That came late in the third quarter after Paul threw three consecutive alley-oops to DeAndre Jordan, including one off the backboard and another from just over halfcourt to make it 94-56.

Lob City was in full effect, with the Clippers dancing and prancing and whooping and hollering and the sellout crowd going absolutely nuts. A seething Jackson called a timeout and spent the early portion of it staring down the sideline at the Clippers, some of whom stared right back.

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