OAKLAND, Calif. – “Cowardly basketball,” is what Clipper Blake Griffin called the Warriors’ tactics more than once, inflamed all the way to doubling down to a “cowardly, cowardly basketball” throwdown.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers, diplomatically but with obvious missile lock, chose the phrasing that Golden State “went to something else,” as in something else besides “the basketball part of it.”
Klay Thompson, of the Warriors, asked if things are extra heated between the California teams, said, “Obviously. You saw it out there.”
And yet several of the participants were still very clear after Wednesday when talking about a “rivalry; after the second meeting of the season became a second night of tension; after Draymond Green was ejected on a Flagrant 2 and Griffin with two technicals; and even after the sides nearly scuffled on the court post-game, and Matt Barnes tried to check Andrew Bogut from behind into the boards.
No, came the counter — Clippers-Warriors is not a rivalry.
The storyline carried over into Thursday, when the league announced that Griffin should not have been given the second technical and kicked out with 10:43 remaining of what became a two-point loss for the Clippers. The correct call, said Rod Thorn, the NBA president of basketball operations, would have been a common foul on Griffin and a technical on Bogut for “grabbing Griffin by the shirt and wrestling with him.”
It will have to do as a Clippers consolation prize. The conversation about a rivalry, meanwhile, is semantics more than anything, and sensible definitions at that. The best hate is brewed in a playoff cauldron, looking across the line four to seven times in a row and knowing something real is at stake that two games before New Year’s can’t come within a galaxy of matching. Golden State and Los Angeles haven’t lived that. More specifically, as the key point of Warriors coach Mark Jackson, they haven’t really lived at all. These are two teams trying to make it out of the second round, not exactly Celtics-Showtime Lakers or Bulls-Bad Boy Pistons, or even New York-Indiana, “Knicks vs. Hicks,” that Jackson played in.
“It was a tough, hard-fought game, but I still believe this isn’t a rivalry because neither one of us have done anything,” Jackson said after Golden State’s 105-103 victory at Oracle Arena on Christmas night. “It was two teams playing with an edge competing against each other. Just a hard-fought game.”
Or maybe a little more.
“Instead of just playing straight up and playing a game, it got into a little something more than that,” Griffin said. “It’s unfortunate because you want to play a team head-to-head. You don’t want to start playing other games and cowardly basketball,” saying another time, “To me, that’s cowardly, cowardly basketball.”
“Well,” Rivers said, “I don’t think it was us tonight. Honestly, I thought we were kicking their butts and they went to something else, to be honest. But that’s fine. We have to have better composure and just keep playing. There’s no doubt about that. But I thought in the basketball part of it, we were showing them pretty well. All the other stuff worked in their favor, so it’s a smart thing for them to do. That’s fine.”
Clippers-Warriors has become a two-day story, with more sure to follow, before Jan. 30 and then in that meeting in Oakland and also, depending how the night at Oracle goes, March 12 in Los Angeles in the final regular-season showdown. Or choose another word than showdown. A lot of this is semantics, after all.