LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Preaching the mantra of unity, the Los Angeles Clippers got back to winning ways against the Golden State Warriors just hours after disgraced team owner Donald Sterling had been banned from the game for life on Tuesday.
With the National Basketball Association having also fined Sterling $2.5 million for racist comments that drew outrage from players, fans and commercial sponsors, the Clippers rocked their home Staples Center venue as they beat the Warriors 113-103.
Two days after being pounded 97-118 in Oakland, where they were clearly distracted by the first reports of Sterling’s divisive comments, the Los Angeles players were energized as they seized a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven playoff series.
Chants of “We Are One! We Are One!” echoed around the arena during the fourth quarter as impassioned Clippers fans roared their team on to victory, center DeAndre Jordan pouring in 25 points, a playoff career high, along with 18 rebounds.
All-Star guard Chris Paul weighed in with 20 points while Jamal Crawford contributed 19 from the bench but it was the sense of closure following NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s tough stand against Sterling that set the tone.
“I think it put a lot of guys’ minds at ease in that locker room,” Paul said of Sterling being barred from any role in the operations of his franchise or from serving as one of the league’s governors.
“It’s definitely been tough the last few days, but we’ve been getting through it.
“When we ran out for warm-ups, it was one of the most emotional things I think I’ve ever been a part of. We have a tough locker room, all of us are tough, but it almost brought tears to your eyes just to feel the support from our fans.”
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers had predicted before the game that a soldout Staples Center would be a “safe haven” for his team, but even he was taken aback by the crowd’s high-octane energy.
“They were awesome, that’s as good as I’ve ever seen them,” Rivers told reporters. “They’re unbelievable. Everybody was going through this. It’s almost like everybody wanted to exhale tonight. It was good.”
Repeatedly during Game Five, the public address announcer kept reminding the fans: “We Are One”.
In response, the crowd kept raising the decibel level while waving placards ranging from “For Sale. Racists need not apply” and “I’m here for Griffin, not for Sterling” to “Everyone is Different, Respect the Differences.”
Clippers guard J.J. Redick paid tribute to his team mates for rebounding from their lackluster display in Game Four on Sunday, and also to the crowd for pulling together in the wake of the Sterling controversy.
“Our team showed some great mental toughness,” said Redick. “It’s crazy to me to think that a team as good as Golden State didn’t get our full attention for three days, and that’s human nature, but we were distracted (for Game Four).
“You could tell tonight. We had a great crowd and we were locked in. We were focused and it was still a battle. They’re a great basketball team and it’s going to be tough to close them out.”
The Clippers will aim to wrap up their Western Conference quarter-final series against the Warriors when they return to Oakland for Game Six on Thursday.
Editing by Patrick Johnston