As if rousing the ire of the entire sports world for his racially insensitive comments directed at the African-American population wasn’t enough, Clippers owner Donald Sterling might have single-handedly cost his team Game 4 of their first-round series of the NBA playoffs against the Golden State Warriors. After implicating in his comments that black people are racially inferior and that he did not want them attending his games, the reputation of the Clipper organization as a whole was tarnished. He clearly rubbed the Clippers’ players in the wrong way, as they shed their warmup jackets and turned their warmup shirts inside-out to hide the Clippers logo from view. As a result, the Clippers were distracted and completely unprepared to play a basketball game, let alone a playoff game in one of the loudest arenas in the country.
With all the attention the disgusting, brash statements made by Mr. Sterling have absorbed, what has gone glaringly unnoticed around the league is how brilliant the Golden State Warriors were in virtually every facet of the game. Defensively, they derailed the Clippers’ entire offensive plan by limiting Chris Paul on the drive and shutting down the Clipper three-point snipers – J.J. Redick, Danny Granger, and Hedo Turkoglu – all of whom had hurt the Dubs from beyond the arc earlier in the series.
Offensively, the Warriors finally busted out of the shooting slump they had been mired in for the first half of the series. Stephen Curry showed the Clippers why he is the best shooter in the world by going off for 33 points, seven threes, seven assists, and seven rebounds. Andre Iguodala, who I had “dubbed” as the Warriors’ X-factor going into the game, and Harrison Barnes combined for 37 points, proving how effective they can be as slashers and finishers when both are confident and aggressive. Klay Thompson and David Lee struggled with foul trouble, but they each pitched in 15 efficient points of their own.
With the win on Sunday, Mark Jackson learned two very important keys to beating the Clippers – more Draymond Green and less DeAndre Jordan. We all knew how important Draymond was to the Warriors’ defense, but with him in the starting lineup as a stretch-4, the entire Golden State offense opened up. With Jermaine O’Neal and David Lee both in the lineup, too much space was being occupied in the middle, so the Clippers were able to compress their defense and use a big to double Stephen Curry at the top of the key. However, with Green in the lineup, the Clipper defense was forced to spread out to accommodate for the additional perimeter player. Jordan and Blake Griffin could no longer come out to double Steph because they were forced to venture out to the perimeter to guard Green. Curry was afforded more single coverage, and he made the most of it.
The first quarter of the game was Curry’s and the whole Warrior team’s best offensive showing of the series. One of the most underrated parts of Draymond Green’s game is his exceptional screening ability which freed Curry, Thompson, and Iguodala from defenders at the three-point line on numerous occasion. This allowed the Warriors to attack the basket and dish out to their teammates on the three-point line.
The most impressive aspect of Golden State’s victory over Los Angeles on Sunday was how they were able to completely remove DeAndre Jordan from the game. For all the attention that Chris Paul and Blake Griffin receive, Jordan has a case for being the Clippers’ most important player. For the majority of this series, Jordan discouraged the Warriors from attacking the paint. David Lee struggled mightily against the size of Jordan, and most of his trademarked jumphooks were swatted away. Andre Iguodala and the rest of the Warrior wings were unable to play the drive-and-kick game because of his presence in the paint. On Sunday, with Draymond Green on the floor to start the game, the Warriors played freer. They moved the ball quickly and efficiently, spaced the floor well, and got out in transition. Because of the quickened pace the Warriors were playing at, Jordan could not establish himself on the defensive end where he is most dangerous.
Jordan also killed the Warriors earlier in the series on the offensive glass. On Sunday, the Warriors made a conscious effort to gang rebound and keep Jordan off the glass. He finished the game with one field goal attempt, zero points, and just six rebounds.
On Tuesday night in Los Angeles, the Warriors’ gameplan should remain the same. DeAndre Jordan is the lifeblood of the Clippers’ defense. If they can establish early offense in the game, Jordan’s impact will be lessened. Keep him away from the glass at all costs, and get out in transition where he cannot occupy space in the paint. Draymond Green needs to play 40+ minutes. No Warrior has as big of a two-way impact on the game, even if it doesn’t show up in the box score. His defense against Griffin, the floor spacing he provides, and the screens he sets are vital to the Dubs’ success.
The two biggest X-factors for the Warriors remain Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes. The two of them finally showed what they are capable of doing on a regular basis. Iguodala has proven in the past that he is a superb finisher and a solid offensive option. His defense will always be there, but for the Warriors to gain the edge, he needs to do what he did on Sunday at the offensive end – attack the basket, find open shooters, and finish in transition.
Harrison Barnes has had a very disappointing sophomore campaign; that is no secret. But his performance on Sunday reminded us what kind of player he is capable of being. Like Iggy, Harrison is at his best when he doesn’t take too many dribbles. Instead of thinking before acting, he should use his amazing physical gifts and get to the iron in two dribbles or less. Iguodala and Barnes provide the Warriors with an element every jumpshooting team lacks – athleticism and driving ability. If they can continue to provide that offensively, the Warriors should be returning home with a chance to clinch the series.