The last team standing in the playoffs last season is also the last team standing among the Western Conference unbeatens this season.
The Golden State Warriors can thank their most valuable player – both this year and last – for that.
Stephen Curry hit his seventh three-pointer with 1:08 remaining to produce the 17th and final lead change of the night, and the Warriors outlasted the Los Angeles Clippers 112-108 in a battle of the West’s last two unbeaten teams.
“Nothing’s going to come easy this year,” said Curry, the game’s leading scorer with 31 points.
“We’ve been through this before. There were some emotions on the bench. That’s what we needed – a little fire. You can tell this meant something to us.”
Curry scored 13 consecutive Warriors’ points late in the game, including his straightaway three-pointer that turned a one-point deficit into a 108-106 lead.
Curry and backcourt mate Klay Thompson added two last-minute free throws apiece as the Warriors (5-0) recorded their eighth consecutive home win over their Southern California rivals.
Golden State had won their first four games by a record total of 100 points.
“The guys kept their poise out there,” Warriors interim coach Luke Walton said. “They’re obviously battle-tested.”
A majority of Curry’s points came on seven-for-11 accuracy from three-point range.
“You don’t get better than that,” Walton said of Curry, who overcame early foul trouble and four-for-12 shooting in the first three periods.
“When we really needed him the most, he stepped up for us and made huge plays. He’s a winner. He showed why he’s the MVP of the league right now.”
Chris Paul had 24 points and nine assists for the Clippers (4-1), and Blake Griffin contributed 23 points and 10 rebounds.
“It would have been encouraging if we won,” said Clippers shooting guard J.J. Redick, who buried three three-pointers on a 13-point night.
“We are not the ‘Bad News Bears.’ We are a team that has championship aspirations, and for us to do that, we have to win.”
Playing just their second road game of the season, the Clippers trailed by as many as 17 in the first half before rallying into a 97-87 lead on a follow shot by Jamal Crawford with 7:56 to play.
Barnes then caught fire for the Warriors, dropping in four consecutive hoops, including back-to-back threes, in a personal 10-1 run that closed the gap to 98-97.
Curry’s sixth three-pointer helped the Warriors go up by as much as 103-99, but Griffin and Paul countered with hoops that produced a 103-all tie with 3:28 left.
The Clippers took a brief 106-105 lead on a free throw by centre DeAndre Jordan (11 points, 13 rebounds) with 1:17 to go. However, Curry’s seventh three-pointer with 1:08 remaining put Golden State ahead for good.
“That’s what makes it a rivalry,” Walton said of the tightness of the game. “That was great basketball tonight.”