OAKLAND, Calif. -- They had dispensed with decades of ineptitude. It still wasn't enough. The Los Angeles Clippers had their own set of disappointments to deal with, fresh wounds that carried more personal relevance than the woeful records of teams of bygone days.
There's a whole new wave of late-night talk show hosts -- Jimmy Fallon, Seth Meyers and the like -- who can't use the Clippers as source material for jokes the way Arsenio Hall and Jay Leno used to.
Yet, we still can't reference the Clippers as a standard of excellence. Not until they get past their own shortcomings, the baggage they packed with them on this trip to Oakland that included a five-game road losing streak in the playoffs dating back to 2012.
Even their first-round opponents, the Golden State Warriors, can claim more triumphs than the Clippers, having won two games in the second round against the San Antonio Spurs last year -- two more than the Blake Griffin- Chris Paul Clippers won when they made their lone foray to the conference semifinals against San Antonio in 2012.
In addition, the Warriors could lay claim to honors in this series.
"They're ahead, even though it's 1-1, because they have home court now," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before the game.
Now it's the Clippers who have the edge, not just mentally or "effectively." Actually.
They're up 2-1, thanks to holding off the Warriors 98-96 in a game that veered from ugly to bold statement to escape.
They have so far to go just to win this series, let alone to get to the previously off-limits conference finals. So much failure, from "generational curses" (as Warriors coach Mark Jackson described his own franchise's history) to self-inflicted setbacks, isn't easily overcome. Which is why this game felt like a breakthrough.
"We won a lot of games, we did a lot of things the franchise had never done, but we lost in the first round [last year]," Jamal Crawford said. "So it was like everybody forgot about it."
It's why you're seeing more emotion than normal from Griffin, whether it's yelling "Let's go!" to the home crowd in Game 2 or excitedly barking at his teammates all the way back to the bench after hitting a jumper that gave the Clippers a double-digit lead and forced the Warriors to call timeout in the third quarter of Game 3. It's why Griffin has elevated himself from regular-season star to playoff star, scoring 32 points Thursday to give him 30-plus in back-to-back games.
It's why DeAndre Jordan had single-handedly grabbed almost a third of the available rebounds through two-plus quarters and finished with 22 rebounds in the game, to go with five blocked shots, providing the defensive presence that Griffin called the difference in this game and the playoff road losses of the past.
It's why Matt Barnes checked back into the game after jamming a big toe that had to be painfully manipulated back into place by the team's athletic trainer.
It's why Paul is dragging with a strained right hamstring for 34 minutes even while Rivers seriously considered benching him for good, why Paul devoted his attention to defensively harassing Warriors guard Stephen Curry all night until it was the fourth quarter, when Paul made three of his five baskets on the night.