Clippers showing signs of maturing into winners

first_img Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Yes, they’ll take home-court advantage and a 2-2 series heading back to Los Angeles.But that would be settling.They really, really want a commanding 3-1 lead.And that means fighting off any inclination to dwell too long on what happened Thursday.“Don’t think about it in those terms,” Clippers forward Blake Griffin explained. “Come out and just play the way we’ve played. Be the aggressor. It’s going to be a great environment, just like it was last night. Just enjoy it and have fun.” OAKLAND – The sign posts along the way to greatness don’t merely exist as a source of direction. Often times they serve as markers chronicling progress, and in the Clippers’ case, they crossed a rather significant one in their Game 3 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday.The question now is whether they can build on it, beginning Sunday in Game 4 when they can put a stranglehold on this series and take it back to Los Angeles with a chance to close it out as early as Tuesday night at Staples Center.The Clippers came here with the primary goal of wrestling back home-court advantage after dropping Game 1 in Los Angeles.They achieved that with their 98-96 victory Thursday, but now it’s time to get greedy and go for the jugular Sunday. center_img And in the big picture of it all, never cross back to a time when their mental toughness gets questioned.As it often was in the past.Even as recently as 7:30 p.m. Thursday night before taking the floor at maniacal Oracle Arena.And kept popping back into our heads as the Warriors mounted a furious comeback. Are the Clippers mentally tough enough to pull off momentous playoff win on the road in a hostile environment?Turns out, they are.Hard to believe the Clippers crossed that barrier in a win they almost let slip through their fingers in the closing minutes. But in retrospect. the fact they had to fight off the fast-charging Warriors might tell us more about the Clippers’ progress than easily coasting to victory would have.“Last night, we did,” Clippers guard Chris Paul said of a conquering an obstacle.Without hesitation, though, he adamantly rejected any thought about peeking backward.Perhaps another subtle sign of growth.“What happened last night has absolutely nothing to do with Game 4,” Paul said. “That game is in the books. Nothing can help us going forward.”Paul deserves credit for immediately moving on from such a significant achievement. The Clippers have neither the time nor the luxury of dwelling right now, not with Game 4 beckoning and a much grander goal than winning a first-round playoff series in mind. But make no mistake, they did take an important step forward.There is a certain resolve that is unique to winning playoff basketball games, one that contradicted the constant knock on the Clippers that they were frontrunners. Or, to put in more bluntly, they were great when the going was good but the minute you poked them a little too hard they crumbled.The convergence of two distinct events Thursday provide strong indication a milestone was reached. They didn’t just take a big lead on the road against a quality opponent in one of the more hostile environments in the NBA — significant enough under the circumstances — but then they absorbed punch after punch after punch from the Warriors as they fought their way back into it.We don’t have to reach very far to remember a time when the Clippers succumbed to such flurries, their two early playoff exists the previous two years providing all the necessary evidence. And while the Clippers were still angry about letting the Warriors back into the game while enjoying a day off at their downtown San Francisco hotel Friday, they also didn’t lose sight of the fact they ultimately prevailed under adverse conditions.“It’s gratifying,” Doc Rivers admitted. And deserved.Paul’s hamstring injury was so noticeable that Rivers gave serious consideration to pulling him from the game. On top of that, Paul was battling a temperature exceeding 100. But he pleaded with Rivers to stay in the game, and on the Warriors final possession it was Paul’s defense on Stephen Curry that forced the Warriors guard into shooting an air ball. Meanwhile, an emotionally charged crowd and all momentum were behind the Warriors, who shot their way back into it from an 18-point deficit.But the Clippers hung on, the final thrust a 7-0 run that put them ahead 94-86 with 2:41 remaining and provided the necessary cushion to withstand the Warriors final push.All of which is significant for a franchise with a focused eye pointed squarely on making a long playoff run.One sign post passed. But another looms.The Clippers can’t settle just for regaining home-court advantage.“I don’t even look at it as greed, we have to come out and win a game,” Rivers said. “Somebody’s got to win four games, and you’ve got to get them. You’ve got to go get each game and you win a game and you have to go get another win.”[email protected] @DailyNewsVinny on Twitterlast_img

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