And just like that, a series pulled into a race-related scandal took another twist.
Stephen Curry made a career playoff-high seven 3-pointers and scored 33 points, leading the Warriors past the Clippers 118-97 on Sunday to even their first-round series at two games apiece.
"We wanted to come out and focus on all the work we've put in over the summer, throughout the course of the season to get ready for this moment in the playoffs and just have fun and enjoy it — not let one person ruin it for everybody," Curry said.
The game almost became an afterthought — until tipoff anyway — after an audio recording was posted Saturday online by TMZ purportedly of Sterling making comments urging a woman to not bring black people to his team's games. The alleged comments, which are under investigation by the NBA, have set off reactions of anger and calls for action through the league.
Clippers players made a silent protest against Sterling by shedding their warm-up jerseys and going through the pregame routine with their red shirts on inside out. They also wore black bands on their wrists or arms and black socks in a show of solidarity.
Clippers coach Doc Rivers said he knew what his players had planned but didn't voice his opinion. He said he wasn't thrilled about the demonstration, though he didn't elaborate why.
Curry and company did a better job focusing from the start.
The All-Star guard made his first five 3s to give Golden State a 20-point lead in the first quarter that held up most of the way. Curry shot 10 for 20 from the floor, including 7 of 14 from beyond the arc, and had seven assists and seven rebounds to help the Warriors snap a two-game losing skid.
"I just thought they were the tougher team and it wasn't even close. Should have been a first round knockout," Rivers said.
Golden State outshot Los Angeles 55.4 to 42.9 per cent. The Clippers had 19 turnovers, while the Warriors had a series-low 15 turnovers.
Both coaches and players agreed that Sterling's purported comments affected their preparation, and neither side believed it was a determining factor in the outcome.
"I think both teams were somewhat bothered by what has taken place the last 24 hours," Warriors coach Mark Jackson said. "But my guys just played with great energy, great effort."
Rivers blamed himself for not getting his players ready.
"I'm not going to deny that we had other stuff," he said. "I just believe when the game starts, the game starts and nobody cares anymore. Golden State surely didn't care."
Game 5 is Tuesday night in Los Angeles.
Andre Iguodala added 22 points and nine assists, and David Lee, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes each scored 15 as the Warriors went to a smaller lineup to regain their shooting touch in front of a roaring, gold-shirt wearing sellout crowd of 19,596 that stood after every swish.
"It just all came together," said Iguodala, who also had nine assists and four rebounds.
Jamal Crawford scored 26 points, and Blake Griffin had 21 points and six rebounds for a Clippers team wrapped up in the most talked-about topic in sports.
"Maybe our focus wasn't in the right place would be the easiest way to say it," Clippers guard J.J. Redick said.
New NBA Commissioner Adam Silver attended the game and met privately with former All-Star guard and current Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who is advising the players union on the Sterling situation. Johnson even held a news conference during halftime that spilled well into the third quarter.
Silver has said he hopes for a quick resolution after the league investigates, and that Sterling has already agreed not to attend Game 5. Johnson said the players trust Silver and are hoping for a quick resolution — and the harshest penalty possible if the audio recording is authenticated.
Once the ball was thrown up and the crowd roared, the Warriors quickly put the Clippers in a hole they could never recover from.
Curry's five 3-pointers in the first quarter tied a franchise-playoff record for a quarter, matching a mark he and Thompson set last year. Golden State led by 20 in the first quarter, 23 in the second quarter and 66-48 at the half.
Jackson used a smaller lineup — with power forward David Lee playing centre for long stretches instead of Jermaine O'Neal, whom Jackson said requested the switch — to spread the floor more than he had at any point in the series, which big man Andrew Bogut has missed with a fractured right rib.
The Clippers never closed within single digits at any point in the second half.
Curry kept on shooting — and kept on hitting — to send the series back to Los Angeles tied. And with so many in an uproar over Sterling's purported comments, there's no telling what the scene will be like at Staples Center.
"We're going home now, and usually that would mean we're going to our safe haven," Rivers said. "And I don't even know if that's true."
NOTES: The Warriors have won 16 of their past 19 home games against the Clippers. ... Sterling's wife, Rochelle "Shelley" Sterling, sat in a courtside seat across from the Clippers' bench.