The contest was close down the stretch, and it could have turned out very differently if Paul had been able to draw a whistle on any of his three forays into the lane during the final two minutes. He hit the deck especially hard with one second remaining, but replay showed that Klay Thompson swatted the ball cleanly from behind as Kent Bazemore stepped in to take what should have been a clear offensive foul.
There was no whistle, though, and the Clips had to heave up a desperation triple with no timeouts remaining. Jamal Crawford's fall-away three came up short.
Speaking of coming up short, both the Warriors and Clippers had to finish the game short-handed because of a series of altercations that resulted in Draymond Green and Blake Griffin being ejected in the second half.
At the end of the third period, Green flung an elbow that may not have actually connected with Griffin's chin, but it was certainly obvious enough to warrant banishment to the locker room. Oddly, Griffin also received a technical on the play.
That curious T came back to haunt the Clippers just a few minutes later, as Andrew Bogut wisely (or deviously, depending on your perspective) tied Griffin up under the basket. The officials already sensed the game starting to slip out of their control, so double technicals were issued quickly to both Griffin and Bogut.
As a result, Griffin joined Green in the "Early Exit" club.
Per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, Griffin wasn't pleased with the Warriors' "tactics" after the game:
Griffin called Golden State tactics "cowardly basketball."— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) December 26, 2013
Not coincidentally, neither was Doc Rivers:
Doc Rivers said Golden State basically tried to get Blake Griffin ejected.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) December 26, 2013
Bad blood is nothing new for these teams. Though neither club is especially physical by nature, Green, Bogut, Paul and Matt Barnes are always ready to mix things up. Most recent meetings have involved at least a few extracurriculars.
In fact, CP3 and Barnes were ready to keep fighting after the final buzzer sounded.
When Crawford's potential game-winner fell short, Bogut corralled the loose ball. As he often does, Paul went to snatch the rock away, almost certainly hoping to instigate another tussle. Somehow, Barnes appeared instantly, shoving Bogut in the back and inciting yet another scrum in front of the Warriors bench.
After the game, Barnes offered up his typical tough-guy bluster, via Woike:
"Bogut was talkin trash all game. He can talk it on the court; he knows better than to talk it off the court" - Matt Barnes— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) December 26, 2013
Though they were probably guilty of instigating an equal share of physicality, the Warriors took a slightly more diplomatic tone in their postgame comments.
Per the Dubs' official Twitter feed, Bogut said:
"They're a physical team in the middle. Sometimes that's how it gets. Neither of us backed down and that's how it should be." @andrewbogut— Golden St. Warriors (@warriors) December 26, 2013
And you know what? He's right. These teams are going to be jostling for playoff position and the Pacific Division crown all season long. They should be fighting tooth and nail when they square off. Some of the chippiness could probably go by the wayside, but it'd be silly to expect the Dubs and Clips to bring anything less than maximum effort.
The only shame is that the physicality and poor officiating obscured some brilliant play by Paul, who led all scorers with 26 points and played phenomenal defense on Curry until the Warriors point guard finally shook loose in the final period. Still, Steph needed 17 shots to get his 15 points.
After the game, Warriors coach Mark Jackson downplayed the rivalry angle, per Scott Howard-Cooper of NBA.com:
Mark Jackson: "We like them. Merry Christmas." Said still believes Clips-GSW not a rivalry because "neither one of us have done anything."— Scott Howard-Cooper (@SHowardCooper) December 26, 2013
Nice try, coach. We all saw what happened. These two teams hate each other, and the Clips are going to be somewhat justified in feeling they got a raw deal in this one. That'll only intensify the animosity.
For the Warriors, winning a tight game that the officials allowed to get out of control was a sign of mild growth. They've still got a long way to go, and some key weaknesses reared their ugly heads throughout the game.
Jackson's rotations continue to make little sense, Harrison Barnes proved once again that he's miscast as a shot-creator and key turnovers nearly sank the Dubs. But for all that, Golden State notched a win and gained an even stronger mental edge on the Clippers.
Remember, the Warriors have gone 4-2 against L.A. since the beginning of last season.
And if Bazemore's postgame exuberance is any indication, Golden State is pretty happy with the result it earned.
Ultimately, the Dubs came ready to fight—both literally and figuratively—against the Clippers. They walked away with the satisfaction of a win and the knowledge that they could get under L.A.'s skin.
Both of those things will be valuable as these teams continue to wrestle for California supremacy.