Amid distractions, Clippers can't withstand Warriors in Game 4

By Royce Young | NBA writer

Steve Kerr met with Phil Jackson about the Knicks job. (USATSI)
The Clippers had to play Game 4, trying to put aside exterior factors. (USATSI)

More on Sterling: League investigating | Barkley: Ban Sterling | Reactions

The Clippers did everything they could focus on the task at hand, to put aside the exterior distractions and do their jobs on the floor.

They shut down their availability pregame in the locker room, and refused to talk about owner Donald Sterling's alleged racially charged comments.

But they also had responsibility. The world was watching, and they opted for a simple, silent protest, turning their warmups inside out to conceal the team's logo. A powerful gesture, speaking louder than anything they could have said.

Then they had to play basketball. And do it at a high level against a very good team in a very difficult environment. Balancing playing a game for each other and their families, while still wearing that Clippers logo on their jersey was an incredible challenge. It seemed as if there were two scenarios at play before the game started: 1) The Clippers fed off that emotion of being us-versus-them and rallied behind it or 2) the outside noise would pummel them too much mentally to have the right mindset.

And with the Warriors mostly cruising to a 118-97 win, it seemed that the latter scenario played out.

"It could have," Doc Rivers said when asked about the distractions playing a part. "I'm not going to deny that we had other stuff. Listen, I just believe that when the game starts, the game starts and nobody cares anymore. Golden State surely didn't care. And it's just like when a player plays with an injury. They don't care and they're going to try and come out and attack you. If we were injured physically, the other team doesn't care and they really shouldn't care, because it's a competition. And we didn't handle the competition right.

"I just know it's my job as a coach to get them ready, and I didn't do the right stuff."

The reality also is, though, the off court issue may have actually been entirely unrelated to the team's performance on it. Because here's some breaking news: The Warriors are good, and are capable of sometimes being great. Especially at the roaring Oracle Arena. When Stephen Curry gets it rolling like he did (33 points), that's a handful for anyone. This was a near must-win Game 4 for the Warriors who played desperate, jumping the Clippers from tipoff, outscoring L.A. 39-24 after a quarter.

"I think they were playing great," Rivers said. "I think you always have to leave it at that. Once the game starts, there are no excuses."

But it wasn't just the Clippers who have been impacted here. The Clippers are owned by Sterling, therefore creating a direct connection, but everyone in the league has felt the weight of this situation. The Warriors have been answering the same questions as well, and while they weren't staging protests pregame, they had to deal with it too.

"I believe everybody was affected by what took place. I don't believe it was just the Clippers," Mark Jackson said. "I don't think there was anything said directly to the Clippers and the players. I think it was insulting to all of us. I wouldn't minimize -- we got blown out in Game 2, with no controversy. We own that. At the end of the day, we played extremely well today and won a ballgame. I think both teams were somewhat bothered by what took place the last 24 hours, but my guys just played with great energy and effort."

Said Curry: "We obviously understand what the situation is, and it's unfortunate to take the focus off the court. Kudos to the Clippers for handling it the way they have. I know it's probably more stressful to them than us, but it's all about the game and how we represent what we do on the court. So hopefully all the fans around the NBA can focus on that and enjoy the playoffs."

The Clippers' struggles also were directly related to foul trouble issues again. Blake Griffin and Chris Paul both were in second half foul trouble which limited minutes, and their aggression.

But it's impossible to ignore the circumstances. There was a cloud hovering over this game. And the problem for the Clippers is, that cloud isn't going away any time soon. With a critically important Game 5 ahead, things may actually get worse for the Clippers before they get better.

"We're going home now," Rivers said. "Usually that would mean we're going to our safe haven. And I don't even know if that's true."

 
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