WIN OVER WARRIORS SHOWS CLIPPERS’ TOUGHNESS

You could hear it in Blake Griffin’s voice when he sat down in front of the media after the Clippers’ 111-98 victory Wednesday over the Golden State Warriors.

The game meant something extra to him. It was not about the opponent, one of the Clippers’ most bitter rivals, or the time of the year or the continuation of the third longest winning streak in franchise history.

No. For Griffin, and a majority of his teammates, especially those who heard whispers about their lack of fight a year ago at this time of year, Wednesday was a moment worth savoring for a second. It’s why when DeAndre Jordan, the longest tenured Clipper, went to the line with 1:09 remaining and his team ahead by a dozen, Griffin stayed in the backcourt to share a hug with Chris Paul and applaud outwardly to the fans on either side of the arena.

“Man, I can’t really find the words,” Griffin said, sitting there less than an hour trying to figure out how to describe why he was smiling so broadly.  “I’m proud—proud of the way we fought, proud of the way guys handled themselves. Danny [Granger], coming off the bench and giving us big minutes. Willie [Green]. Guys were fighting---Darren [Collison]. We struggled at times, missed a lot of shots, easy ones, had some stupid turnovers, errors, but guys just kept fighting, and I’m just proud of the way we played.”

The injury riddled Clippers, playing without two of their top four scorers in Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick, made plenty of mistakes, missed plenty of shots they though they should make, left Stephen Curry open too many times in transition and lost Klay Thompson a few too many times.

But none of that mattered because they made the plays that were most crucial. Whether it was Jordan rejecting two consecutive shots by Jermaine O’Neal or Griffin following up Granger’s missed 3-pointer with a slam dunk that had the bridge of his nose near the rim or Green, who has played sparingly in the last two months, coming in and scoring 13 points including three important 3-pointers.

Griffin used the word “proud” to describe the Clippers’ effort in three separate answers out of about seven minutes total interview time. After 17 Playoff games in the last two seasons and hearing the doubts and suggestions and criticisms, Griffin knows the kind of win the Clippers put together Wednesday bodes well. They were injured, facing a team with the second best record since the All-Star break that desperately wanted to win the season series, and didn’t play their finest basketball.

 “Up 10 or down 10, I think we’ve come to a point where it doesn’t really matter,” Griffin said. “We stick together and try to pull it out.”

It’s the kind of resiliency in the face of adversity that Head Coach Doc Rivers has been harping on since the team gathered in San Diego five months ago for training camp.

“We have to prove to ourselves that we can win games like this,” Rivers said. “Each game like this helps. We have to learn physical composure and mental toughness and that is where we are growing.”

Matt Barnes, who has scored 10 or more points in each of the last 10 games, was around last year when the Clippers’ mental toughness was questioned, most pointedly after losing four-straight games to the Memphis Grizzlies in the postseason.

“I think it’s just mental toughness,” Barnes said. “This is a physical sport and in the past people would come in here and try to push around and mentally I think it worked. Now, I think we’re mentally locked in and it’s a lot harder to do that. You’re going to have to beat us playing basketball and that’s hard to do.”

Griffin knows that, too. It’s why he was proud enough Wednesday that he had trouble finding the right words.