While the faces of the franchise will make you think of Golden State as an offensive team, the truth is that, at their core, the Warriors are more like the Grizzlies than the Spurs. They are a team that wins because they have a tremendous defensive center and versatile wings up and down the roster that can defend multiple positions. Of course, Golden State is still a really fun team to watch offensively, but that's thanks to incredibly talented and creative players like Steph Curry, Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut. Those guys are the makeup that covers up for what is schematically a very rudimentary, and often redundant, offense.
Tonight we saw those schematic flaws exposed, and when the Clippers put their collective foot down defensively in the second half, the Warriors hit a wall offensively, and Golden State's defense wasn't able to make it through 48 minutes without succumbing to an 6-0 burst from the Clippers that pushed their lead up to 10 with four minutes left. At that point Mark Jackson pulled Bogut (five fouls) and Curry (seemingly hurt), all but ceding the game.
This game was decided during a 10 minute span during the second half when the Clippers turned things around with their defense. Mid-way through the third period, Thompson and Curry hit back-to-back threes to give the Warriors their largest lead of the game, but soon after, Golden State's bench was forced into action, and their second unit mustered just three points (on a Harrison Barnes AND-1) in the final five minutes of the quarter. Things didn't get much better to start the fourth, either, as the Warriors didn't make a field goal until the 7:39 mark.
The increase in defensive intensity was evident, and the Warriors' second unit simply couldn't handle it. Steve Blake has been great for the Warriors since coming over from the Lakers, but far too many times the ball found its way back into his hands at the tailend of a fruitless possession. The problem with the Warriors is that what little offensive fortune they do have all goes out the window when Curry heads to the bench because there is no system for the reserves to fall back on. If they face off against an athletic team like the Clippers that can handle the bland pick-and-rolls that the Warriors' back-ups will run, then you'll see Mark Jackson resort to things like Jermaine O'Neal post-ups, which aren't easy on the eyes. Of course, their bench won't always shoot this poorly, but there weren't a lot of times where I thought the Warriors got a great look as a result of their offense only to have it careen out.
That defensive intensity didn't go away when the Warriors put their starters back in, and I think Darren Collison did a tremendous job defending Curry in the fourth, pressuring him up top and not allowing him to get free for any three-point looks. Thompson provided trouble all night long through post-ups and pindowns but outside of that and David Lee putting together a nice offensive game, the Clippers did a really good job of shutting down the Warriors offense.
The Clippers had their ups and downs offensively in this one. There were times when the Warriors were able to bottle up LA's actions and force them into shots they normally don't want to take, and there were other times when Chris Paul was able to use secondary pick-and-rolls to find shooters wide open in the weakside corner. Paul was out of sync from the tip and needed a strong fourth quarter performance to salvage his night as a scorer, but he had 12 assists and did a good job orchestrating things against one of the league's best pick-and-roll defenses.
While Blake's 30 points and 15 boards were certainly huge, who knows how this game would have turned out were it not for the huge contributions from Willie Green (13 points and three threes) and Danny Granger. Granger's play is obviously the big storyline tonight because he scored 18 points in an efficient manner while putting the ball in the basket in a variety of ways. We saw Granger flourish as a spot-up shooter off some pick-and-roll action, even acting as the shooting guard alongside the starters for a couple of stretches, and we also saw Doc call a couple of mid-post isolations for Granger to work one-on-one about 16 feet from the basket on the baseline.
Granger looked pretty comfortable from that spot and was able to get his shot off in rhythm. Over time, those isolations can develop into pick-and-slips with Glen Davis and the Clippers can start running some of the weakside actions that they run while Blake posts-up to give the offense some more movement and continuity. You'd also like to see Doc pull out a few of his favorite
Ray Allen J.J. Redick plays for Granger since a large chunk of his points in Indiana came from him flying off screens and getting open looks on the wings.
All wins are big at this point of the season, but to beat the Warriors to make it nine wins in a row is damn impressive. What's more is that the Clippers weren't really clicking as a whole offensively until Paul got going, yet they were still able to win this game behind really good defense in that second half, and it's always nice to be able to win in many different ways come playoff time.
- Jared Dudley returned after missing a few games with back spasms, but he only played for 15 seconds at the end of the first half. I'm not sure if this was anything more than Doc not wanting to rush him back into the line-up, but it is something to watch for next game.
- I thought Blake played really, really well tonight, and I think his inflated shot total had to do with his five offensive rebounds and missed bunnies around the rim. He looked really confident shooting that bankshot over Andrew Bogut and was able to use his speed to get by David Lee and his strength to get deep position against Draymond Green. As strange as it sounds, Green may be the Warriors best weapon on Griffin since it would allow Bogut to protect the rim and Green to go for steals like the one he got in the first quarter. Solid all-around night from Griffin, who is starting to make these 30-15 games seem routine in a LeBron sort of way.
- If Granger can bring this consistently, where do we think he fits best in the rotation? I was thinking about what starting him would do, assuming Jamal Crawford will be healthy going forward but Redick will not. I suppose it would make for a Paul-Granger backcourt, which is a 180 compared to the two-point guard line-up the Clips are currently using, with Barnes at small forward. This would make the bench five Collison, Crawford, Dudley, Turkoglu and Davis, and if Granger is off Doc would have the freedom to promote any of those wings for crunchtime duty. It may be too early to project Granger as a starter, but there have been some positive signs in the early going. Or do you guys prefer to keep him on the bench, start Crawford and go with a primary bench five of Collison-Green-Granger-Dudley-Davis with Turkoglu getting minutes here and there?
- Mark Jackson's propensity to take advantage of "mismatches" is maddening. It's just an annoying way of masking inefficient shot distribution and a bit of a cop-out as opposed to establishing an actual offensive system. That said, posting Thompson on Collison worked out in their favor quite a few times.
- I like that the Warriors announcers called Chris Paul a "fire hydrant-type" point guard in terms of his body type. That's a good comparison.
- The Warriors should scare the Clippers a bit in this sense: they have two wing defenders to throw at Chris Paul all game long. And this winds up hurting Los Angeles on the other end, too. Not only does CP3 have to deal with two of the game's best perimeter defenders in Thompson and Iguodala, if Collison is on the floor with him, it opens the door for the Warriors to do what they did so often tonight and post him up with Thompson. On the flip side, Curry guarding Collison isn't a mismatch, and it may allow Curry to conserve energy by loafing off the ball. If the Warriors are going to guard your point guard with a wing player, you need to follow the Spurs' blueprint from last post-season: Make Curry chase someone around like mad all game. Curry was dead tired in those games after chasing Danny Green around.
That's it for tonight. I'll be back with you guys for the Nuggets game on Monday.