Leave it to the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors to bring semantics to basketball's center stage.
Both teams used the buildup to their Christmas nightcap to tell the world how this is not a rivalry. They used the next 48 minutes to prove something completely different.
There's at least a genuine dislike between these two Pacific Division foes. Either side would be foolish to suggest otherwise.
After Wednesday's gritty 105-103 Warriors win, this looks, feels, smells and tastes like a rivalry. By any other name, these hard-fought clashes are just as sweet for the basketball world.
While these two teams played nice for most of the first 36 minutes of Wednesday night's tilt, history said something was brewing. It wasn't long after that the bad blood started spilling over like Jason Kidd's soda.
Warriors forward Draymond Green started the extracurricular activities with an elbow planted in the vicinity of Clippers forward Blake Griffin's neck as the third quarter came to a close.
The two players exchanged words, and each picked up a technical foul in the process. Green was eventually given an early exit after being hit with a flagrant-2 for the thrown elbow.
Not surprisingly, things remained testy from there.
Early in the fourth quarter, Griffin found himself at the center of another altercation. The Clippers big man got tangled up with Warriors center Andrew Bogut as the pair battled under the boards.
Bogut was whistled for both a flagrant-1 and a technical foul, while Griffin received his second tech in less than two minutes of game time. The human highlight reel spent the game's remainder back in the Clippers locker room.
With a barrage of crunch-time shots coming from both sides, the outcome remained in doubt until the final seconds. Clippers point guard Chris Paul had a potential game-tying layup swatted away with a second left and guard Jamal Crawford misfired on a potential game-winning triple as the buzzer sounded.
Still, that didn't completely cool the scalding hot temperatures inside Oracle Arena. More barking ensued as the teams delayed their exits for one final shoving match.
While the physicality came from both ends, Clippers head coach Doc Rivers said the source of those altercations was entirely one-sided.
"I don't think it was us tonight, honestly," Rivers said, via Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle. "I think we were kicking their butts, and they went to something else."
Warriors head coach Mark Jackson did what he could to avoid the war of words:
Mark Jackson on the Clippers: "“We like them. Merry Christmas. ... It’s good, old-fashioned ball between two teams playing for something.”— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) December 26, 2013
But his Warriors may have no other choice. Not after Griffin attacked Golden State's integrity after the game with the kind of quote that hits harder than typical fighting words:
Blake Griffin: “When you look at it, I didn’t do anything, and I got thrown out of the game. ... To me, it’s cowardly basketball.”— Rusty Simmons (@Rusty_SFChron) December 26, 2013
Tell us how you really feel, Blake. Save for bringing someone's mother into the conversation, I'm not sure Griffin could have dropped a more powerful word.
"Now that Griffin called them cowardly, [the Warriors] have no choice but to treat him and the Clippers differently, lest they prove Griffin correct," ESPN.com's J.A. Adande wrote.
Somehow, this feels like par for the course when it comes to these two teams.
Remember, past meetings have featured a Griffin-Jackson sideline spat, a nasty Griffin tumble after another Warriors' flagrant-2 and even enough hostility to prevent the teams from sharing chapel service.
Of course, it takes more than rage to make a good sports rivalry. But these teams share more elements of a great one than they'd like to admit.
Imagine, for a moment, if all of this bad blood was shared not by the Warriors and Clippers, but rather the Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers. Would any of us even know it existed? Would we really care that it did?
Of course not. Strong rivalries don't happen without having good teams involved.
Neither team is in the position that it wants to be. Both the Clippers (20-10) and Warriors (17-13) have work to do before joining the ranks of the NBA elite.
But the talent is in place for either one (or both) to make that leap. And that talent was on full display Christmas night.
Paul, who leads the league in assists and is making a run at an MVP award, finished with a game-high 26 points to go along with 11 assists. Warriors guard Stephen Curry, who became a star during the 2013 postseason, fought through a rough shooting night but managed to walk away with 15 points and 11 dimes—his 12th game with double-digit points and assists on the season.
Griffin notched 20 points, 14 rebounds and five assists before officials ended his night. His on-court tussles weren't the only things getting people out of their seats.
Not to be outdone, Warriors forward David Lee tallied 23 points and 13 boards. He and Bogut (14 rebounds) became the league's first teammates to snag double-digit rebounds in 10 consecutive games since 1978, via NBA.com's Geoff Lepper.
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan kept his name in the Defensive Player of the Year discussion with 13 rebounds and six blocks in just under 39 minutes. Warriors guard Klay Thompson tied Lee with a team-high 23 points while padding his stat line with five rebounds, four assists and two blocks—including the all-important block on Paul's layup with one second remaining.
There's a long road lying ahead to the championship podium, but that path's existence is undeniable.
“Both [of] us are trying to become good teams,” Clippers coach Rivers said, via ESPN L.A.'s Arash Markazi. “But neither team has done anything to have a rivalry, yet. But I do think it would be neat if we could create one by both us becoming great teams.”
Therein lies the final step for this to become a full-fledged NBA rivalry. For as exciting as these regular-season games are, the stakes need to be raised for this to be viewed as anything more than two good teams with a distaste for one another.
Postseason Meeting in the Cards?
I hope everyone's been on their best behavior this year. A playoff matchup between these teams would be so much greater than anything we unwrapped during the holiday season.
"NBA rivalries are forged in the playoffs, and these two up-and-coming teams in the West have yet to meet on that stage," NBC Sports' Kurt Helin wrote. "But can they please? Can we get a Clippers/Warriors playoff matchup this season? I don’t think that’s too much to ask."
This is going to take more than some favorable karma coming from the basketball gods. These clubs are just two of many making serious noise out West.
Which of these teams has a better chance of winning the West?
As badly as we want to see this postseason meeting, only time will tell if one is in the cards. Truth be told, it's tough to come up with a potential Western Conference playoff pairing that doesn't tantalize the basketball mind.
Until that playoff meeting comes, though, the tension will build and fans will have to settle for the two remaining regular season games on Jan. 30 and Mar. 12.
This is nothing short of must-see TV. It's two passionate, talented and rapidly rising franchises who play with the kind of hatred that old-school hoops heads feel is lost in today's game.
It's brilliant, and it's more than apparent whenever these two forces collide.