Fight night: Feisty Warriors-Clippers rivalry back on center stage

Consider it proof that rivalries still matter and thrive in sports. What unfurls again tonight in downtown Los Angeles, and what could await in the second round of the postseason, qualifies as NBA antagonism at its thickest and feistiest. From a near-brawl on a memorable Christmas night to the ongoing commentary of Draymond Green, the Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers truly cannot stand each other, which is a little hard to believe when weighing the respective histories of the franchises.

“We don't like each other,” Warriors center Andrew Bogut said, flatly.

L.A. vs. the Bay Area certainly applies as built-in drama, as observed each baseball season. But not until the Warriors gained a respectability that morphed into greatness this season — while the formerly laughable Clippers turned edgy and nationally relevant with Doc Rivers, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin — did their games become rock 'em, sock 'em events. Take the Monday salvo of Green, who has shin issues that may force him to miss a second straight game.

“I'm sitting out. I've got Blake-itis,” he said of Griffin, who recently missed weeks because of a staph infection.

Which comes one year after the normally reserved Klay Thompson likened Griffin's style of play to a “bull in a china shop,” which upset the heavy-rotation commercial actor who sometimes channels Hollywood with his flopping and complaining.

The court is small and the egos are big. If someone can't show you up, he's liable to knock you down. And when teams meet so frequently during a schedule that begins in November and lasts virtually until the Twelfth of Never, the concept of dislike — or dare we say hatred, in this case — builds progressively. After the Clippers won Sunday in Boston, which extended their winning streak to seven and elevates their status as a Western Conference contender, their coach referenced the Warriors' travel itinerary.

“They're actually in L.A. right now, hopefully going out,” Rivers said. “I'm hoping L.A. does its job tonight.”

The Warriors, who have won 14 of 15 and reign as the league's most rousing success story this regular season, would prefer to party in late June. Coach Steve Kerr spent a day off with his family in their Southern California home, then reminded his team about the advantages of late-season momentum and filed-away psychological edges.

The NBA may be portrayed as ballet in Nikes, but it's not a league for wimps. Never has been. The champion Celtics of the '60s may have had Bill Russell and Bob Cousy, but they also had a bruiser, Jim Loscutoff. Tom Heinsohn was no choirboy, either. When teams couldn't stop Rick Barry in the '70s, they egged him into punch-outs.

“When you're fighting for something,” reminded Green, “stuff tends to happen.”

The stuff that happened at Oracle Arena on March 8 — when the Warriors whomped the Clips 106-98 — was, in a word, bush, if not unexpected. Dahntay Jones, who barely played that day for L.A., wandered over and bumped Green, who after his 23 points and six assists was being interviewed on ABC.

“I think he wanted reaction from me,” Green said.

His reaction was to do nothing. “He don't play,” said Green. “Me getting suspended and him getting suspended, it's different … if he gets suspended, they may not even notice.”

Jones and the Clips must have noticed the $10,000 he was fined by the league. As if that will have any effect. Warriors-Clippers is UFC dressed up with 24-second clocks. It's a history full of anger and body blows — with a bit of comic relief, as when Green stuck out his tongue at Griffin.

Rivers poked fun at Green for “overreacting.” Green told a radio station, “Cool story, Glenn,” and produced hoodies and T-shirts with that phrase. Rivers' son Jeremiah went to Twitter to call Green “lame.”

Green responded by noting Jeremiah had an uneventful college career at Indiana.

“His son didn't play at Indiana, though, so he can't talk,” said Green, who starred at Big Ten Conference rival Michigan State. “We're not going to even say his name. Give him no publicity.”

Christmas Day means peace on Earth, goodwill toward men, except when the men wear the uniforms of the Warriors and Clippers. It was the night of Dec. 25, 2013, the last game of an NBA schedule created by wise folk who know that once the presents are open, there's not much to do but watch hoops on TV.

That game, Green — he's always involved, one way or another — was called for a flagrant foul against Griffin. Not long later, Griffin and Bogut scuffled, and Griffin was whistled for a second technical. Invited to the T-party, Griffin was outraged.

“It was cowardly basketball,” he said later.

That's a new one. We've heard of dirty basketball and intimidating basketball. But cowardly basketball? There's a book by James Dobson, “Parenting isn't for Cowards.” Add a chapter about basketball by Griffin.

There has been so much between these teams in a short span. Early in the 2013-14 season, Mark Jackson, then coaching the W's, took exception to Griffin twice bumping him on the sideline as Griffin tried to inbound the ball. Intentional? Accidental? Jackson wasn't about to find out.

“I wasn't going to let it happen a third time,” said Jackson, who could handle a basketball and, at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, could handle himself in a dust-up.

Such petty situations. Such great irritation. You had the Warriors taking umbrage because the Clippers, for a reason only they would know, refused to join the W's in chapel services at the Oracle a season past. The Clips took umbrage because the Warriors bench, with Kent Bazemore the instigator, got jollies from Griffin hitting the side of the backboard on a would-be 3-pointer.

The playoffs last year added to the fire. Bodies collided, voices bellowed. The Clips were undergoing their own torture with their now-banned owner's stupid racist remarks. Fans were irked. Players were irked. What some critics berate as a game for children was hardly child's play.

The Clips, with the seventh game at the Staples Center, were winners, four games to three. But if you think that was the end, you don't know the Warriors and Clippers. Some teams shake hands when a series is over. The Clips and Warriors taunted each other in the tunnel that connects the locker rooms.

“It's Chris Paul who starts all the stuff,” Warriors center Marreese Speights contends. “Before Chris Paul came, the Clippers were not like that.”

The toughest team wins. Basketball was always like that.

Still is.

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