LOS ANGELES (AFP) - The Los Angeles Clippers, buoyed by the National Basketball Association's tough action against owner Donald Sterling, beat Golden State on Tuesday to grab the lead in their first-round play-off series.
Clippers coach Glenn "Doc" Rivers said the controversy that erupted over racially charged remarks by Sterling, which became public at the weekend, had left his players drained.
But with the rapturous support of home fans, they came through for a 113-103 triumph over the Warriors that gave them a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference series. "I was really proud of them," Rivers said. "I thought you could see them getting tired from all the emotional baggage over the last four days."
DeAndre Jordan scored 25 points and pulled down 18 rebounds for the Clippers. Blake Griffin added 18 points and seven rebounds, while Chris Paul finished with 20 points and seven assists.
The game came hours after commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling from all NBA participation for life, fined him US$2.5 million (S$3.14 million) and called on other NBA owners to vote to force him to sell the team.
"I think it put a lot of guys' minds at ease," Paul said of Silver's tough stance. But nothing prepared them for the welcome they received from their fans.
"When we ran out for warm-ups, it was one of the most emotional things I've ever been a part of," Paul said. "We have a tough locker room, all of us are tough. But it almost brought tears to your eyes ... to feel the support of our fans. I wasn't sure what we would come back to."
Clippers fans had also felt the weight of Sterling's transgressions, wondering how to back the team while knowing the owner would reap the most financial rewards from their support.
Clippers season-ticket holder Andy Mendoza said he "definitely would have" had second thoughts about attending Tuesday's game if Silver had not acted as he did.
The NBA sanctions give him confidence, Mendoza said, that Sterling "will get what he deserves towards the end."
Many fans at Staples Center carried signs alluding to the turmoil.
"Hate will never win," said one, another: "Rise above".
"Love the Players" one T-shirt slogan urged - the back of the shirt adding "Hate the Owner".
Prior to Silver's announcement on Tuesday, some civil-rights activists had urged fans to boycott Clippers games. A handful of picketers outside Staples Center said they were there to point out that Sterling was not out as owner yet.
Dexter McLeod of People for Community Improvement quietly carried a sign saying "End Racism".
He called Silver's action in banning Sterling "awesome" but said there was still action fans could take.
"Would you support a business that you know is racist? Why would you circulate your dollars that way?" he said. "If you want to go inside the arena that's fine, but do not purchase anything. There should be no bigot in this country that profits."
Rivers acknowledged that the ban of Sterling left him in an odd position, with no one to turn to about the needs of his team.
However, he said it was the "right decision" and he urged all to remain patient as the situation was resolved.
"We're going to let this whole thing run its course and then we'll all have better clarity," Rivers said.
In the meantime, his players will try to keep their focus on basketball, and their chance to wrap up the series in Game Six in Oakland on Thursday.
"It was amazing how the crowd was tonight," Clippers forward Blake Griffin said. "(But) all that means nothing really if we come out and lose. So I thought we did a good job of locking it in and doing what we're supposed to do."