Boxing is a sport blessed with a rich and long history, full of fights that have become legendary sporting spectacles. But what makes a boxing fight a classic? It often has to be action packed, filled with back and forth exchanges between two furious rivals, each hungry for a victory and driven by the eye of the tiger.
Classic fights such as Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns, Alexis Arguello vs. Aaron Pryor, Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Morales, and Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo have been the epitomes of what defines a toe-to-toe exchange. For a sport that is often referred to as the “sweet science,” it is ironic that at its best, boxing ceases to be sweet, and all notions of science is thrown right out of the window in exchange for pure faith in wanton exchanges of fisticuffs.
Basketball is not nearly as violent as boxing, but it also evokes a similar spirit in its best games. Statistics are thrown right out of the window, and the game becomes a simple exchange of buckets. In most cases, strategy takes a back seat to pure skill and will. In the end, the winner is determined by who is willing to take the shots on the face, enduring them, and coming back with bigger shots of their own.
The Los Angeles Clippers are a classic rival, the first obstacle that the Warriors had to overcome on their way to becoming an all-time great dynasty. It is safe to say that the Warriors were on the winning end of the rivalry when the Clippers had nothing to show for their assembled talent led by Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan. The often touted “Lob City” floundered against the Warriors, and eventually, their core three left the team to ply their trades in other cities.
But now, the Clippers are experiencing a resurgence from mediocrity. Sporting a record of 19-13 coming into their game against the Warriors, they are in contention for the top spot in the Western Conference. They have been led by Tobias Harris, who is having a career year so far — averaging 21.3 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 2.3 assists, with a shooting split of .507/.404/.877, per Basketball Reference.
The first encounter between the Warriors and the Clippers this season was a memorable affair, mostly due to the now infamous spat between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant. The Clippers got the best of the Warriors in overtime, and it sparked the first instance of off-court adversity the Warriors have had to face this season.
While the Warriors have now mostly recovered from injuries and any off-court problems that they may have had, they are still trying to find solid footing in this season — or at least, they are trying to find a way to string consecutive victories, reminiscent of the Warriors teams of a few years ago.
In the rematch against the Clippers, the Warriors were taken aback by a flurry of furious three-point shots from their adversaries. The Clippers finished the first half with a ridiculous line from three-point range — 13-of-16, good for 81.2 percent.
Just like how Muhammad Ali took heavy blows from George Foreman during their “Rumble in the Jungle,” the Warriors took shot after shot from the Clippers. In what has to be categorized as an example of a reversal of roles, the Clippers — once the victims of the three-point shooting revolution that the Warriors led — were now raining down a bombing run of threes on the team once considered to be the undisputed kings of the three-point shot.
However, just like Ali, the Warriors patiently laid back on the ropes, took all the shots that were thrown at them, and endured. While the Clippers didn’t necessarily empty out their clip, the Warriors came out and fought back by fighting fire with an even brighter and hotter fire.
It is conventional wisdom — considered a no-brainer, even — that the best course of action to take for the Warriors in order to take a leap ahead of the Clippers is to get the ball in the hands of their two best players: Durant and Stephen Curry. During the first possession of the third quarter, the Warriors do exactly that by opening with a modified version of their Motion Weak set that gets Curry a layup.
Meanwhile, Durant gets going with two straight field goals of his own — the first coming off of a good defensive possession and simply getting to his spot, and the second courtesy of a blow-by drive to the basket that is virtually impossible to stop; Marcin Gortat had absolutely no chance at stopping Durant’s path to the rim.
The deadliest game of “your turn, my turn” continued with Curry taking over the scoring reins in these subsequent possessions. A solid pick from Kevon Looney gives Curry all the breathing room he needs for the three, helped in part by Gortat electing to slightly drop back instead of hedging. The next basket involves Curry’s ability to use the glass and kiss the ball off the board for the easy floater.
The Warriors tie the game up with an excellent two-way sequence. Durant displays his ability to play help defense by going up to contest Danilo Gallinari’s layup. After forcing the miss, the Warriors quickly bring the ball across the court and into the hands of Green. A classic pass and screen gives Klay Thompson an open three.
Durant starts to display his trademark aggression and assertiveness on offense by blowing past two defenders for an easy layup. Durant’s ability to dribble and cover ground in mere seconds is an often overstated aspect of his scoring ability — yet it is these tenets that are often taken for granted by some.
With the Warriors having one of their signature third quarter runs — something that hasn’t been seen in what seems like an eternity — Durant pulls up for three on the left wing, his favorite pull-up spot that has won games and championships for the Warriors in the past.
But Durant isn’t finished yet. He puts another layer of hurt on the Clippers by draining this three-point shot, with a foul and an additional free point to boot.
One of the more pleasant sights for Warriors fans everywhere — besides seeing Curry go off and activating his Human Torch mode — is seeing Durant being a two-way monster. To cap the third quarter resurgence, Durant gets an earth-shattering help side block on Montrezl Harrell that leads to a Looney basket on the other end.
But once the fourth quarter begins, the Warriors allow the Clippers to go on a 12-3 run to tie the game at 106-all. With Durant resting on the bench, it is up to Curry to lead the second unit until Durant comes back in.
This sequence is an example of how Curry is at his most dangerous during chaotic free-for-all situations, where more often than not, defenses are not in a position to be organized. A missed three-point shot from Jonas Jerebko bounces its way toward the hands of Curry, who relocates to the left corner and buries the three to regain the lead for the Warriors.
Meanwhile, everyone else not named Curry or Durant begins to contribute to the cause during the fourth quarter — a much needed development, since Curry and Durant cannot do things by themselves all the time.
1. The Warriors run a spread pick-and-roll with Curry and Shaun Livingston, who gets the pass on the short roll. He kicks the ball out to Thompson on the wing, who immediately passes to Jerebko on the corner for the three.
2. Thompson attempts to drive inside, drawing the attention of two defenders. He passes to Livingston near the rim, and a virtual 2-on-1 situation with Looney is created. Looney receives the bounce pass and finishes.
3. Thompson misses the turnaround jumper, but the defenders are caught ball watching and forget to box Looney out. He goes up to put the ball back in the basket.
With the Clippers snatching the lead back from the Warriors, the time has come for Curry and Durant to take over the game. Durant manages to bury a mid-range jumper off of a mini-pin down by Green, and the Warriors regain the lead.
The Warriors then attempt to run Curry off of a single pin down screen to get him open for a three. Curry stops just before the screen being set by Andre Iguodala — then without warning, he suddenly turns on the jets and runs toward the three-point line. Avery Bradley attempts to catch up to him, but his hurried panic builds up his momentum, causing him to make contact with Curry while he is in his shooting motion.
After Curry’s huge haymaker, Durant delivers one of his own. True to his identity as an elite defender, Green manages to dig at the ball, forcing a turnover. The Warriors give Durant the ball, and he does what he does better than most people in the world.
But the Clippers aren’t finished yet. They fight back to within five points. The Warriors respond by going to their late game go-to play: the Curry/Durant pick-and-roll. In this sequence, the pick by Durant forces Curry’s smaller defender to switch onto him. Durant receives the ball and takes advantage of the height mismatch by shooting a Nowitzki-esque one-legged fadeaway jumper.
The Clippers would throw their last ditch flurry, hoping that it would knock out the Warriors for good. They tie the game up with a 7-0 run, and with twenty seconds left in the game, the Warriors have the luxury of choosing either Curry or Durant — two of the premier clutch performers in the NBA — to take the last shot.
During the Warriors’ previous game against the Dallas Mavericks, Durant was the chosen one, pulling up for the three to secure a victory for the Warriors. This time, it was Curry’s turn to shine.
Curry dribbles the ball and waits for the clock to reach the seven second mark. Green then sets the screen, forcing Harrell to switch onto Curry — a clear mismatch. Curry then does his usual dribbling razzle-dazzle, getting past the slower big man and making a beeline toward the rim. With the help of Green’s excellent seal on Bradley, Curry gets into the body of Harrell and releases the layup without it having blocked.
At long last, this game-winner proved to be the haymaker that put the Clippers down for the count.
If one looks solely at the Clippers’ three-point shooting line, then it would be easy to make the conclusion that the Warriors weren’t meant to win this game. They shouldn’t have won this game. The Clippers were throwing everything including the kitchen sink at the defending champions, and almost every throw met its mark — in fact, they missed only 5 three-point shots, out of 23 attempted. If the Clippers had come away with the victory, then the significance of this shooting performance would not have been lost on anyone, and it would have been a record remembered in the annals of NBA history. Other teams would most likely have folded under the intense beating that the Clippers inflicted from beyond the arc.
But the Warriors are not like any other team. Despite all of the flaws that they may have — there aren’t a lot, but they are present — they possess two of the best insurance policies that a professional basketball team can have. The Warriors will receive the best from every challenger that they face, and it is inevitable that they will be maneuvered into a corner and receive a beating that could very well knock them out.
But true champions find ways to rise from adversity. Just like how Ali “rope-a-doped” Foreman — letting him punch himself out until the moment to strike back presented itself — the Warriors took each three-point shot by the Clippers on the chin, but they did not allow themselves to be knocked down.
When the opportunity presented itself — and the Clippers were ripe for the taking — the Warriors unleashed their own 1-2 combination to knock the Clippers out cold.
The left jab of Kevin Durant ... followed by the right straight of Stephen Curry.
And just like that, history was made to be a mere footnote.
Thirty-four down, 48 more to go.
Happy Holidays, Dub Nation!