I'll concede it seems strange to make that case in the aftermath of a game in which the Clips were actually victims of overly physical play, but the Golden State Warriors' concerted effort to mix things up in a 105-103 Christmas victory was clearly calculated.
The Dubs have a couple of instigators in Andrew Bogut and Draymond Green, both of whom were right in the middle of things against the Clippers. But generally, the Warriors don't go in for extracurriculars. Their strategy against L.A. was to engage in physicality in hopes of getting the officials to overreact to the Clippers' chippy reputation.
The results worked out very much like the Warriors hoped. The Clippers lost their cool, but more importantly, the officials stepped in and overreacted precisely because of the Clips' history of getting into dust ups. Blake Griffin earned an ejection that the league summarily admitted was wrongful, per B/R's Howard Beck:
NBA mea culpa: League says Blake Griffin should not have been ejected last night vs. Warriors. Tech foul should have been common foul.— Howard Beck (@HowardBeck) December 26, 2013
In the moment, though, Griffin's dismissal wasn't surprising. The pair of dubious technicals he received were the predictable result of his and his team's reputations. Griffin and the Clips have made names for themselves, and not in a good way.
The game against the Warriors was a perfect example of the problems the Clippers have unwittingly created for themselves.
In an effort to play competitively and secure any edge possible, they've made themselves vulnerable.
Chris Paul is right in the middle of Los Angeles' troubling trend.
He spends every game trying to irritate opponents in hopes of gaining a mental edge. He flops on offense frequently, seeking out contact and exaggerating its severity whenever he finds it. He always looks for opportunities to snatch away a dead ball from an opponent, and he careens around the court hoping to be knocked down.
He's never planning to fight, but Paul desperately wants to force someone to take a frustrated swing at him. This has been a part of his game forever.
The problem is the rest of the roster has adopted the same mentality, with Griffin being the most notable follower. And it's backfiring.
Los Angeles' peers don't respect it as much as they otherwise might, and Griffin is now a target, as the Warriors proved.
In the irony of all ironies, the league's most notorious flopper called Golden State's tactics into question after the Christmas Day slugfest:
Blake Griffin: "You want to play a team head-to-head. You don’t want to start playing other games and playing cowardly basketball."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) December 26, 2013
Remember, the guy calling the Warriors cowards is the same guy who does things like this:
Give me a break.
Matt Barnes' presence only exacerbates the problem. He hasn't yet learned the art of subtle irritation that Paul has perfected. Barnes is ready to scrap at a moment's notice, and he has made a name for himself as a violence-escalator.
We all saw him dart into the postgame fracas between Bogut and Paul, shoving the big man in the back and hoping—praying, even—that somebody in the scrum would engage him.
"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
Again, there's nothing wrong with showing opponents that you won't be bullied. The Clippers were a league-wide laughingstock for decades, so it's no wonder that they're always playing with a chip on their collective shoulder. Paul's natural Napoleonic instincts only add to L.A.'s irascible image.
But Paul and his teammates sometimes get so caught up in flopping and playing the role of irritants that they forget to simply shut up and play. Individually, CP3 is a great enough talent to get away with focusing dually on running a team and pissing off opponents.
The rest of the Clippers aren't so good at multitasking, and problematically, some of them focus entirely on causing trouble.
Right, Ryan Hollins?
To Paul's credit, he owned up to his bush-league postgame antics against the Warriors:
Chris Paul took responsibility and apologized for end of game incident— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) December 26, 2013
But if you think he's going to change his ways, you're fooling yourself. Paul has been playing this way for too long, and he's not going to suddenly abandon his efforts to irritate and incite.
The bigger problem here is that the Clippers are a very good team, but their reputation is attracting increased physicality from opponents and a decreasingly sympathetic whistle from referees. Basically, they've been starting fights on purpose for so long that officials are now trained to view mutual combat as something that L.A. must have instigated.
In the case of the confrontations in the Warriors game, Golden State was almost uniformly the aggressor. But referees are now so suspicious of the way the Clippers play that they're never giving them the benefit of the doubt.
Rivers was supposed to bring defense and toughness to this Clippers team. He's done a good job of both, but L.A. is taking the latter too far. And now it's in danger of losing sight of what really matters.
The Clippers understand that a little grit is important, but now they have to learn that cultivating a hard edge can't come at the expense of on-court effectiveness. If L.A is serious about contending, it has to ditch the act before it's too late.