The Golden State Warriors will face off this Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers in Game 1 of the first round of the 2014 NBA Playoffs, and I gotta say folks, this has the potential to be one of the most exciting matchups of the first round.
However, there’s also this small matter the Warriors have to deal with regarding the absence of their defensive anchor, as Andrew Bogut has a fractured rib and is out indefinitely. That means he’s out the rest of the year, as broken ribs supposedly make things like sitting up, coughing and lifting your arms above your head pretty painful, and I think when you play basketball you’re expected to do things that are more physically demanding than that.
So if anyone has any pipe dreams of the big man suiting up and coming in for five minute stretches a là David Lee against Denver last year, you can probably forget about that happening unless Golden State’s trainers channel their inner Mr. Miyagi, rub their hands together and find a way to massage Bogut’s abdomen until his pain subsides.
Chances are medical professionals have tried that in the broken rib treatment trial and error phases, though. Probably. So yeah, that thing I said about this series having the potential to be an exciting matchup that could go to seven games? That could just as easily turn into a quiet exit for the Dubs where they’re lucky to come away with a win to avoid a sweep.
Anyone that thinks Golden State can overcome the loss of Bogut is the ultimate optimist, as the center played over 25 minutes in each of the four regular season games against the Clippers, two of which they won. Those wins were at home, for whatever that’s worth, and it will be crucial for the Warriors chances in the series to come away with a split in the first two games in L.A.
Any Warriors win in these playoffs is going to come as a result of three things: excellent backcourt play, a herculean defensive effort by Jermaine O’Neal, Draymond Green and Marreese Speights in the post (good luck fellas), and someone not named Klay, Stephen or David stepping up to provide the extra offense they’re going to need if and when one of those guys goes cold. That player will probably be different from game to game, and it’s up to the likes of Andre Iguodala, Jordan Crawford, Harrison Barnes and Green to be assertive and look to be that fourth scoring option.
Oddly enough, the shift in focus from defense to offense that comes as a result of losing Bogut and could end up being the Warriors undoing is also precisely what will end up making this such a fun series to watch. Mark Jackson is likely going to be playing a healthy dose of small ball to give his team the best chance to win, and while every Warriors fan knows the shortcomings of an offense-first approach, it’s really the only card the team has left to play against a Clippers team that’s rolling out the most efficient offense in the entire league.
That is going to be awesome to watch if Curry, Thompson and Lee are firing on all cylinders, which in this case means hitting their shots. Golden State averaged 24.8 three-pointers per game this season, and I don’t think anyone would be uncomfortable to see that number be a little closer to 30 over the course of this series. And after last night’s two-man show starring Barnes and Crawford in the regular season finale against the Nuggets, I’m even kind of hopeful that the second unit can handle their business (emphasis on “kind of”).
Add to that Iguodala possibly looking to get more involved as a scorer, Draymond doing his oddly effective “bull in a china shop” routine, and maybe even another throwback performance by O’Neal if he hasn’t used up his line of credit with the practitioner of black magic that granted him new knees (just kidding Dr. Wehling), and I’d say the Dubs have a puncher’s chance to take this to six or seven games.
That’s about as good as it gets for this season, in my opinion. Anything past that and fans should be elated it even gets to that point. If nothing else the Bogut injury should ensure that Jackson sees another year as head coach of this group, since he can now fall back on not having his starting center for the playoffs, effectively alleviating the pressure to make a lengthy run this postseason. So take solace in that, Mark Jackson fans.
All in all, the team is in a weird state; you can’t say this season has been a failure, but you wouldn’t really label it as a success, either. So regardless of the outcome of this series, it’s pretty much a “wait till next year” scenario once again for Golden State. Another offseason for the front office to add a piece or two, another chance for the current players to add some elements to their game, and another year before we can overreact to whatever the team does or doesn’t do to our liking.
In the meantime, there’s at least four more games to play, and here’s to watching them with absolutely no expectation of anything other than to hopefully get some entertainment and a few moments of good feelings out of the deal. A familiar situation for fans of the Golden State Warriors.