The Back Story (The season series is tie 1-1):
|Clippers 126, Warriors 115
|Warriors 105, Clippers 103
The Big Picture:
The Clippers are now 11-3 without Chris Paul this season, 10-3 since he separated his shoulder. That's really good, but the simple fact is that the best win in that stretch was over the Mavs -- and it took a miracle comeback to pull that one off. On the other hand, two of the three losses were on the road against the Spurs and the Pacers in the second game of a back-to-back, games most teams are going to lose regardless. The Warriors are 27-19 and the Clippers are again on a road back-to-back: this would definitely be their best Paul-less win of the season if they can pull it off. I don't have to remind you what happened the last time the teams played. The officiating crew gave Blake Griffin a technical foul for jawing with Draymond Green after Green gave him a cheap shot elbow at the end of the third quarter; and then they gave Griffin a second technical early in the fourth when he tried to get out of Andrew Bogut's headlock. The NBA said the next day that Griffin should not have been given the second technical, but it was too late -- the Clippers played the final 10 minutes without Griffin and lost by two points, after missing several opportunities to tie or win the game down the stretch. There was no question in Griffin's mind that the Warriors specifically targeted him in a successful effort to get him tossed (he called it "cowardly basketball") and looking at what happened (two off-the-ball cheap shots in a matter of a few minutes of game time) it's hard to disagree. Griffin's been on a tear lately -- and he'll be loaded for bear tonight.
The Warriors won ten straight in December and January after getting Andre Iguodala back from a hamstring injury and everyone was penciling them into the Western Conference Finals. They've now lost six of their last nine (still with Iguodala it must be noted) and they're all of two games ahead of ninth place Memphis. As of now, the Warriors are closer to missing the playoffs than they are to winning the Pacific Division. The Warriors have some incredible weapons, there's no question about that. Stephen Curry is an unstoppable scorer and the purest shooter I've ever seen. Klay Thompson might be the purest shooter I've ever seen, had I never seen Curry. Iguodala is a versatile player and one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. David Lee is a skilled scoring big, and Andrew Bogut is a defensive force in the paint. And Harrison Barnes off the bench is a major talent as well. But the Warriors most effective unit last season had the departed Jarrett Jack playing point and Curry and Thompson playing off the ball, and coach Mark Jackson seems to have forgotten that. Lately it seems like the Warriors are all Curry, all the time, and that's not a bad plan, but teams are learning to cope with it. They scare me more when Iggy is handling with the Splash Brothers running off screens. The Warriors are an incredibly dangerous team and I don't think anyone is going to want to face them in the playoffs knowing that if they get hot from deep they can beat anyone. But right now the Warriors need to worry about just making the playoffs.
- 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 (4th in the NBA) while their offense is barely better than league average. The Clippers offense is back up to third in the league with their recent offensive binge.
- The prediction. Back in December when the Clippers lost road games to the Warriors on Christmas Day by two points and then to the Blazers in overtime, I had this to say: "the Clippers will win by double digits the next time they face either of these two teams." Now, long time readers know that I'm not usually in the guarantee business. Weird stuff happens, you just never know. But obviously I felt pretty strongly about the relative strengths of these teams and about the motivation of the Clippers heading into a rematch at the time. Now, I didn't know that Chris Paul was going to be hurt of course. Playing without their star point guard, on the road, on a back-to-back, a lot of things are stacked against the Clippers tonight. But I still think they're going to win this game. Citizen Zhiv has his "hungrier team" theory: the Clippers are hungry for revenge.
- Second is in play. When Chris Paul was first hurt, the conventional wisdom was that the the Clippers were bound to drop in the standings, and the questions were (a) how far and (b) could they make up that ground after Paul's return. As it happens, the Clippers are gaining significant ground on everyone in the conference except for the red-hot OKC Thunder. The Clippers are now tied for the third most wins in the NBA with 33, and are just one game behind the Blazers and the Spurs -- with key home games upcoming against those two teams on either side of the All Star Break. With the greatest point guard in the planet due to return to the lineup in about two weeks, the fact that the Clippers are closing in on second place in the Western Conference even without him is remarkable.
- Conspiracy theory. By my math, this is the Clippers sixthTNT appearance this season. It is also the fifth in a row on the road, on the second game of a back-to-back. The Warriors played the Clippers on TNT on a road back-to-back way back in Halloween -- and lost -- and haven't been on a B2B for a TNT game since. It's not news that NBA teams -- all NBA teams -- perform poorly in the second game of a road back-to-back. If you had a studio team that liked to criticize a particular team, and if for some reason you enjoyed that criticism (say for instance if the criticism goosed the ratings a bit) and wanted that team to look bad on your network, you'd schedule that team for a whole lot of road back-to-backs. Now, I don't believe this crazy theory of mine, but five road B2Bs in a row on TNT is getting pretty ridiculous. For what it's worth, this is the last TNT road B2B for the team. Of their three remaining appearances after tonight, two are at home and one is rested at the Lakers.
- Warriors hot and cold. The Warriors had won seven straight games when Chris Paul was injured. In the first week of January they caught the Clippers in the standings, and with the Clippers hurting and the Warriors streaking, it seemed inevitable that Golden State would take over first place in the Pacific. Instead, Since the teams were last even in the standings on January 7, the Clippers are 9-2 and the Warriors are 3-6 and LA has a five game lead in the division. In fact, it is the Warriors who have been caught in the standings, as the Suns are now in second and the Dubs in third. The conventional wisdom during the GSW winning streak was that the return of Andre Iguodala had made the Warriors a truly elite team, among the very best in the league (#fullsquad). It looks now like they were who we thought they were -- a dangerous team, capable of getting hot and beating anyone, but nonetheless flawed. They got on a roll against some bad teams, but have come back to earth.
- Bogut: Austrailian for douche. Andrew Bogut has gotten into altercations with a few people this season, including DeAndre Jordan in the first meeting between these two teams and of course Blake Griffin in the second. Was Bogut targeting Griffin when Griffin was assessed a second technical foul and ejected? Call it what you will, he was clearly being physical (he's a physical player) and it was not an isolated incident. Most replays of the tangle between Bogut and Griffin start with the high elbow that led directly to the incident. But watch below for Bogut's arms at the start of this replay; he made contact with Griffin's head during a 'box out' before Griffin's offensive rebound (around the 10:49 mark on the game clock). Basically, Bogut got his arms up above Griffin's shoulders and made contract twice in the course of about six seconds. This is not how you box out, FYI. This is how you pick a fight.
- Curry and the Clippers. In his last five 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 is .534 (a career low, but volume will do that to a guy) and for his career is around .546% -- 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. When Curry is mortal, the Warriors are vulnerable.
- 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 -- and that was BEFORE the Christmas Day shenanigans. 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, DeAndre Jordan and Andrew Bogut exchanging shoves under the basket, or random Warriors picking random fights with Griffin, 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. I would also assume that the officiating crew will have everyone, especially the Warriors, on a very short leash after what happened last time.
- Mark Jackson. The Warriors sometimes bizarre head coach Mark Jackson definitely contributes to the bad blood between the teams, though of course he says there is no bad blood, no rivalry, that it's just two teams competing. Yeah, right. 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. And if indeed the Warriors targeted Griffin on Christmas to try to get him tossed as it certainly appears on the surface, it certainly came from the top down. Jackson can't seem to help inserting himself front and center in games.
- JCrawfords. The Clippers are facing Jordan Crawford for the third time this season, but the first time since he's been with the Warriors. Of course, the Clippers have a JCrawford of their own, and theirs is on a roll right now. Jamal Crawford has averaged close to 25 points on about 58% effective field goal shooting while handing out over four assists in the Clippers last eight games, since the start of the Grammy trip.
- Multiple go to options. When the Wizards game got close a couple of times last night, different players stepped up to right the Clipper ship. Blake Griffin had 28 points through three quarters, and while his time on the bench at the start of the fourth, cooled him off, he had been carrying the team to that point. Crawford didn't have his best game, but his ability to hit crazy shots (not one but two bombs at the end of clocks) and get to the line helped the Clippers through some rough patches. Finally, after the Wizards closed to within one in the fourth, it was J.J. Redick who to on the role of go-to-guy. We hear about the various potential long term benefits of playing without Chris Paul during this stretch -- perhaps none is more important that finding out that Paul doesn't have to take every shot down the stretch, that the Clippers have a lot of great options even late in close games.
- 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 fourth highest career three point percentage in NBA history (.436). 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 teams 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 same can be said for the Clippers this season. They've had games when the three balls are falling and they are unbeatable -- and they've had games when they can't make a thing.
- 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. Hedo Turkoglu, against all odds, seems to have been a good addition for the Clippers. The second unit still has issues, but it's been much better since Hedo joined the team eight games ago, and at times the reserves have played very well.
- 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. 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 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.