OAKLAND -- The Warriors-Clippers series turned into a human rights discussion and protest then back into playoff competition on Sunday.

Not quite smoothly. Not calmly. Certainly not successfully or comfortably for the Clippers players and coaches.

But the end result was something the Warriors, at least, could be proud of: A powerful and emotional 118-97 victory at thunderous Oracle Arena.

It was the Warriors' best game of the series, and it evened this series at 2-2, with Game 5 set for Los Angeles' Staples Center on Tuesday.

The eyes of the world will follow, but not because of anything the Warriors did or will do.

This is all about the controversy involving purported racist comments by Clippers owner Donald Sterling -- released late Friday -- and the presidential response and the international furor and demands for investigations and penalties. ...

After all that, well, who can say what will happen next?

In the locker room after Game 4, I asked Warriors veteran Jermaine O'Neal if he has any feel for this series yet.

"No, no, no," O'Neal said with a slow and weary head shake. "There's so many side things going on."

More things than are dreamt of in anybody's philosophy or playoff plans, I'd say.

The Warriors deserved to celebrate this performance because they played wonderfully and because the lineup adjustments made by coach Mark Jackson worked perfectly.


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With concurrence from O'Neal, Jackson took him out of the starting lineup in favor of Draymond Green.

Together, Green and David Lee kept the ball moving, ran the court and generally made the Clippers' big men look sludgy.

That finally opened space this series for Stephen Curry, who made his first five 3-pointers on Sunday, all in the first quarter, and the sprint was on.

"We played with a sense of urgency," Jackson said, "and I think our superstar basketball player was special."

Also: The Warriors deserved to celebrate this because the Warriors can't control what the opponent's owner thinks or says.

This matter will be decided by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the 29 other owners, possibly very swiftly, maybe even before the start of Game 5.

But the dark cloud hung over Game 4, over everybody involved, and there was no denying that.

"Feel bad for every single player in the NBA," Warriors forward Andre Iguodala said. "It's just not the Clippers."

After getting walloped by the Clippers' front line in Game 3, the Warriors did everything they had to Sunday.

They started fast and jumped to a 39-24 lead at the end of the first quarter, mostly thanks to Curry (and the Clippers' much slower defensive coverage).

They got a tremendous all-around game from Iguodala (22 points, nine assists, four rebounds), who had been mostly quiet previously in this series.

And the Warriors kept slugging at the Clippers through the Clippers' lulls and even when the Clippers narrowed the deficit to 96-87 early in the fourth quarter.

If they can take this momentum into the rest of the series, everything is changed. But with this series, and these outside events, who knows?

"I guarantee they were prepared to play -- guarantee you," O'Neal said of the Clippers.

"A lot has to do with what we did to them -- picking up the pace, flying around, playing defense, quick offense. ...

"We're not going to allow (anyone) to say that's the reason why we won and they lost. That's crazy."

Still, it's very, very, very, very possible that the Clippers, who looked so strong winning Games 2 and 3, were reeling as they started this game.

On Sunday, the Clippers players deliberately turned their warmup shirts inside out so the "Clippers" insignia wasn't visible, and they wore black arm bands and black socks.

Over the last few days, the players even discussed the possibility of boycotting this game before rejecting the idea.

Would the Clippers have succumbed to the Warriors' energy, speed and dead-eye shooting no matter what in Game 4? Maybe. Probably.

But the Clippers had no chance under this kind of scrutiny and while realizing their owner was probably that kind of man.

And they have Game 5 to deal with, then Game 6 at Oracle Arena, and an entire unknown future as Sterling's employees.

"I'm not going to deny that we had other stuff," Clippers coach Doc Rivers said afterward. "Listen, I just believe when the game starts, the game starts, and nobody cares anymore. Golden State surely didn't care. ...

"We're going home now. And usually that would mean we're going to our safe haven. And I don't even know if that's true, to be honest."

Nobody knows anything with this series, because this is unprecedented, and because you can't plot out guaranteed human responses to human repugnance.

There is no map or formula. The Warriors will just show up, the Clippers will too, and may the least distracted, most focused team win.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com.