The Back Story: (Clippers lead series 1-0)
The Big Picture:
The Clippers have won a season-high five games in a row, but the last four of those wins came at home. They've got a very tough two game road trip today and tomorrow, with nationally televised road games against the Warriors and the Blazers. The Clippers and Warriors have played some wild games since last season, and the Clippers won in a shootout in L.A. on Halloween night in the second game of the season for both teams. The Clippers are a much better defensive team now than they were then -- but things haven't exactly gone well the last two times they've played in Oakland. The Clippers probably need Chris Paul to break out of his three game shooting slump and they'll need the rest of the team to play well also. Blake Griffin is coming off a "Player of the Week" award and has been great lately, so hopefully he'll be able to keep that rolling.
The Warriors were expected to be a solid playoff team in the West this season, but so far they're floating around with teams like Dallas and Denver and Minnesota and Phoenix and they'll probably have to share just two playoff spots with the rest of those teams. Andre Iguodala was hurt for three weeks and the team went 5-7 without him so that definitely didn't help them. But beyond Iggy's injury, the Warriors just don't seem to clicking like people expected they would, despite an unbelievable season from Stephen Curry so far. This is potentially one of the most talented starting lineups in the NBA if everyone fits together, so 16-13 is definitely a disappointment so far.
- The Questionable Blogger. You had a chance to ask questions of the bloggers at Golden State of Mind, and they came back with some great answers. I also answered questions from the GSOM community.
- Comparison of key metrics. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, you might expect the Warriors to be an offense-first team. However, it is their defense that is highly rated this season (6th in the NBA) while their offense is barely better than league average.
- Christmas Day NBA. Christmas Day is one of the big broadcast days for the NBA, with five nationally televised games, including the first ABC games of the season. The league likes to include marquee teams from big markets on the slate. But with New York, Brooklyn, Chicago and the Lakers are struggling, the lineup this Christmas is more than a little underwhelming. The Derrick Rose-less Bulls are one of the least entertaining teams in the entire league yet they are on constantly. Leading the Christmas lineup with Bulls-Nets is just brutal -- that game will be torture for casual fans. The next two games will be cruel blowouts, as the Thunder will crush the Knicks and the Heat will destroy the Lakers. It won't be until the evening, when the Spurs face the Rockets and finally the Clippers and Warriors that we'll have decent basketball on this "showcase" day for the NBA.
- Paul slumping. One of the more amazing aspects of the Clippers current five game winning streak is that the last three games have come with Chris Paul in a pretty nasty shooting slump. After having two of his best games of the season against Washington and San Antonio, Paul has made just 13-40 (and 1-10 from deep) since -- yet the Clippers continue to win. On the road against a highly motivated Warriors team I'm not sure the Clippers can win this on without a bigger contribution from Paul.
- Curry and the Clippers. In his last four games against the Clippers, Steph Curry has games of 38, 28 and 31. In those three games, he has posted effective field goal percentages of .804, .857 and .875. Curry's a great shooter, I get that, but those numbers are absolutely ridiculous. His eFG on the season and for his career is around 55% -- which is really good, but you can see how crazy multiple games shooting .800 is. I'm not sure how you stop Curry when he's in that zone -- you have to just hope he's not that guy tonight.
- A rivalry is born. We seem to say this about a lot of teams, but the Clippers and Warriors really don't like each other. There were quite a few blowouts in the season series last year, and emotions seem to run high. Whether it's Steph Curry doing his dance, Blake Griffin and David Lee going at it, or DeAndre Jordan and Andrew Bogut exchanging shoves under the basket, there's always something going on when these teams get together. I would assume that there will be at least one flagrant foul and one technical foul in this game.
- Mark Jackson. The Warriors sometimes bizarre head coach Mark Jackson definitely contributes to the bad blood between the teams, though I'm not real sure why he feels compelled to do so. Last season during a blowout in L.A. Jackson spent an entire timeout staring at the Clippers bench rather than, you know, trying to help his team play better. I can only surmise that he didn't like some celebrating that had been going on from the LAC bench, yet strangely I've never seen him tell Kent Bazemore do dial it back. Earlier this season Jackson accused Blake Griffin of intentionally stepping on him when Jackson got in the way on an inbounds play. Jackson can't seem to help inserting himself front and center in games.
- Jackson continued. One wonders how quickly the "preacher in the locker room" thing is going to get old for the Warriors. With Golden State coming up somewhat short of expectations this season (after advancing to the second round of the playoffs last season, they were supposed to be competing with the Clippers for a Pacific Division title yet find themselves squarely in third in the division behind the surprising Suns) it won't be long before Jackson is in the hot seat. They're already calling for him to be fired at GSOM.
- Blake Griffin. Griffin is coming off a monster week in which he was named the Western Conference player of the week. His newest trick is to grab a defensive rebound and take off on a one man fast break. He'll get the ball to Chris Paul if it's convenient, but if not, he'll just bust out himself. He's been coast to coast several times in the last week, and demonstrated a dazzling handle against Denver, going behind his back multiple times in one sequence. He can go overboard at times -- he's been known to go behind his back without realizing there's a defender back there -- but the very fact that he can do these things is impressive. He's been playing with an energy reminiscent of his rookie year lately.
- Closing out shooters. It goes without saying that you have to close out on Curry and Thompson. Actually, that's not correct, because closing out on them implies that you left them at some point, which you can't do. Curry set the all time NBA single-season record with 272 three pointers last season and he has the second highest career three point percentage in NBA history (.443). Thompson was third in the NBA last season in three pointers made with 211, and is .410 for his career. They are first and second in three point attempts and makes this season.
- Making shots. You can analyze matchups all day long, dissect strengths and weaknesses. There's little question in my mind that the Clippers are the better team between these two and would win more games than they would lose over time. But any individual game may come down to how the Warriors shoot. Curry and Thompson are the kinds of shooters who can make shots no matter how well you defend. Some nights they make everything -- other nights, the ball doesn't go in as much. If the Warriors are making shots, they're tough to beat, and the game may just come down to that simple fact.
- The Lee conundrum. David Lee puts up stats. He led the league in double-doubles last season, and is a darling of various advanced metrics like PER and Wins Produced. But when Lee was injured in Game 1 of the first round series against Denver last year, the Warriors went on to win four out of five games without him, after losing the game he started. Lee is a talented offensive player who can score around the basket, hit a face up jumper, and is a fine passer. But he's also a famously bad defender, who was embarrassingly singled out in a research paper at the Sloane conference last year. I'm not prepared to say that the Warriors are better without him on the floor -- but when you win your playoff series AFTER your team's only All Star selection is injured, it doesn't speak well of said All Star.
- Benches. Neither bench is great, but the Warriors have had major issues without their starters this season. Jermaine O'Neal and Festus Ezeli are hurt, leaving Marrese Speights as the primary big off the bench, and he's shooting 38% from the field on the season. The Clippers bench has been much better on the season, but with Matt Barnes back from injury and Darren Collison playing better, they have been better lately.
- Connections. Clippers super sub Jamal Crawford spent most of a season in Oakland between his stints in New York and Atlanta. Matt Barnes really solidified himself as a viable NBA player on the We Believe Warriors of the 2007 playoffs. Stephen Jackson was also on the We Believe Warriors. Newest Clipper Antawn Jamison began his career in Oakland 15 years ago. Warriors coach Mark Jackson was a Clipper back in the early 90s. The two coaches tonight were traded for each other back in 1992, with Rivers leaving and Jackson joining the Clippers. Harrison Barnes and Clippers rookie Reggie Bullock (who won't play tonight) were teammates for a season at North Carolina when they were both freshman. The Clippers can thank the Warriors for DeAndre Jordan's current contract, as he signed an offer sheet with Golden State in 2011 which the Clippers matched.
- Get the Warriors perspective at Golden State of Mind.
- Shakespearean reference:
Midsummer Night's Dream -- Act II, Scene 1 -- Titania
Then I must be thy lady: but I know
When thou hast stolen away from fairy land,
And in the shape of Corin sat all day,
Playing on pipes of corn and versing love
To amorous Phillida. Why art thou here,
Come from the farthest Steppe of India?
But that, forsooth, the bouncing Amazon,
Your buskin'd mistress and your warrior love,
To Theseus must be wedded, and you come
To give their bed joy and prosperity.