This loss was certainly easier to take than Wednesday's heartbreaker to Portland. After playing Golden State close in the 1st quarter, the Los Angeles Clippers couldn't keep up in the middle two frames, and fell behind by 19 before entering extended garbage time. Doogie Rivers and Draymond Green were the overall leading scorers today. It was a weird game, to say the least.
In what seems to be becoming a trend, the Clippers once again stifled an elite point guard on national TV. Mimicking his strategy from last year's playoffs, Doc Rivers again trapped Steph Curry at every opportunity possible, forcing the Warriors PG into 4 turnovers and a limited performance, at least compared to his usual meteoric brilliance.
Unfortunately, while Curry only came up with 12 points on the day, those were earned through sheer opulence. His first field goal came more than 18 minutes after the start of the game, juking a spinning Chris Paul into the air before casually draining a mid-range shot. Not coincidentally, that jumper gave the Warriors a lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the game. Just over two minutes later, Golden State led by ten after seven straight from Shaun Livingston (who seems to have broken out of a season-long slump that has also plagued his Clippers MLE counterpart, Spencer Hawes). After this point, the Clippers never again threatened, only managing to reach 7 on a few occasions.
Midway through the third, Curry submitted what will probably go down as one of the defining plays of the season. Darting around a screen and confronted by the looming presence of twin towers Hawes and DeAndre Jordan, he adjusted course by switching his dribble behind his back (avoiding the grab-happy hands of a doggedly trailing Chris Paul), and spotted up behind the arc for only the briefest of instants before launching himself upwards and back, swishing a ridiculous fadeaway three-pointer to complete a highlight I refuse to link to (you will find it in many other places).
Such was the day for the Clippers, who of course traveled into the den of their fiercest rival without two of their best, as Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford rested in Los Angeles while recuperating from elbow and calf injuries, respectively. Matt Barnes returned to play two games after injuring his hamstring against the Minnesota Timberwolves (who the Clippers will face again on a SEGABABA tomorrow, this time at home), but Crawford's presence would have been well-received, as he had scored an efficient 24 points in each of the Clippers' two previous meetings with Golden State this season. Warriors fans rejoiced over his absence even more than that of Griffin (foolishly thinking their purported DPOY candidate Draymond Green would have negated him).
Doc Rivers said he thinks Blake Griffin is "close" to returning but still no timetable. Said he thinks he'll be back before Jamal.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) March 8, 2015
The Warriors won today's game by dint of size, although not in the traditional sense. Andrew Bogut and David Lee combined for 19 minutes apiece (while Ezeli and Speights played 4 and 3, respectively), but Golden State's smallball lineups were devastatingly effective, forcing L.A. into sending out smaller units that were outmatched by the length and strength of the Warriors' wings. Despite Steph Curry's limited impact, three players still put up 20 for Golden State — Thompson, Green, and Livingston.
Shaun Livingston was the linchpin to Coach Steve Kerr's strategy today, scoring a season-high 21 points and reminding fans and onlookers of why he was signed this offseason to back up Curry. His performance was reminiscent of his time last year under Jason Kidd in Brooklyn, where he shined in the longball units that propelled the Nets to success in early 2014. The Warriors, of course, also rely heavily on wing-dominant lineups featuring only one big, but for most of the season Livingston was not a key cog in this scheme.
Today, his presence in a three-guard lineup alongside Steph Curry and Klay Thompson late in the second quarter was what spurred the Warriors to taking over this game. Despite smart cross-matching on defense by Doc Rivers for stretches of the game (in the second quarter, Rivers on Andre Iguodala and Turkoglu on Livingston), the Dubs went time and time again to Livingston on the block, letting him showcase his impressive repertoire, including a difficult-to-block turnaround jumper.
On the Clippers' side, J.J. Redick and Austin Rivers were the high scorers in today's games. Chris Paul played effectively, with a 14-11-5 statline (but with 5 turnovers), but he never looked right after banging knees with Curry in the first half. Reportedly, he had x-rays after the game as a precautionary measure (per the OC Register), but fortunately they came back negative.
Chris Paul had his left knee x-rayed after game. Results came back negative, he said he'll be fine.— Dan Woike (@DanWoikeSports) March 8, 2015
Meanwhile, DeAndre Jordan was up-and-down, but it was difficult for him to counter Golden State's slick interior passing without help protecting the rim. His streak of games with 15 rebounds fell today too; unfortunately, people don't seem to think of 14 as nearly as round or sexy of a figure as 15.
Redick was strong while he was in the game, and particularly lights out in the first quarter, but he was one of the only ones in a tough offensive outing for the Clippers. Austin Rivers led the team in scoring, including a very solid day in the lane (consistently knocking down runners, and in some cases drawing and-ones to boot; he finished 7-10 inside the arc), but he had a difficult day passing the ball against lanky Warriors defenders, and Livingston schooled him on the other end with size and veteran savvy. New addition Nate Robinson also saw time off the bench, but unsurprisingly looked rusty from the field. Interestingly, he spent a lot of time as the primary ballhandler over Doogie. His defense was expectedly underwhelming, and you have to hope Doc is smart enough to take him out of the rotation when Crawford returns.
Despite strong rotations for most of the first half, the Clippers eventually began to succumb as the game went on, although the Warriors' hot shooting certainly factored into the equation — making 10-22 behind the arc, 50% (9-18) after a sluggish start in the opening minutes; L.A. only mustered 8-25, mostly buoyed by Hedo Turkoglu's 4-7 mark (with more than 4 of 7 Turk-related tweets making smoking references, par for the course for our Hidayet).
Not a lot to be taken away from this game, played short-handed against perhaps the best team in the league in their own house. The Warriors' smallball wrinkle isn't foreign after last year's first-round playoff series, but their proficiency with Livingston lineups hasn't yet been seen by the Clippers, and even last postseason, the team rarely went with lineups sans any traditional bigs. But the return of Blake Griffin will probably affect the frequency of those units, giving the Clippers four credible bigs to throw at foes. Also of note, Jordan Hamilton was designated to remain in warmups for most of the afternoon, as Barnes' return pushed him out of the rotation (and behind Turkoglu, too) until garbage time struck.
The Clippers have now gone 9-9 in the Gauntlet, with 4 games remaining against a resurgent Minnesota, plus a trifecta of heartland contenders over the next week. We shouldn't be too disheartened by this loss, as the Clippers are still within striking distance of Portland and Houston, trailing closely in the race for the third seed. If they can continue to maintain their defensive effort and other rotation players continue to round into form in the absence of starters, their postseason prognosis is still a very positive one.
Notes and Tidbits:
— This is the Clippers' first division loss since the first week of November.
— We had some extracurricular activity at the end of this game (how could you not, in this rivalry?) as Dahntay Jones bumped Draymond Green on national TV. As unintentional as it may have been, Draymond is the last player on the Warriors to take that sort of incident with a level head and perspective.
I showed Dahntay Jones Draymond Green's reaction to him bumping him off the court and he laughed and shook his head.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) March 8, 2015
Dahntay Jones: "That's not how you bump somebody if you purposely want to bump them."— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) March 8, 2015
Jones said he was trying to walk off the court and accidentally bumped Green and looked back to see who he had bumped. Nothing more.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) March 8, 2015
Jones literally grazed Green's shoulder walking off the court. This rivalry has had too many good real incidents for this to be a thing.— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) March 8, 2015
— Speaking of which, Austin Rivers got his second technical in six days talking to a veteran who played in Brooklyn last year; today it was Livingston in the second half, resulting in another double technical that starts to make me wonder if "Refs coddling Doogie!" is a far more plausible narrative than "Last year racism, this year nepotism!"