Let me set the scene for you.
The Clippers jumped out to an early lead, led 67-43 at halftime, and won the game by a final score of 130-95.
Then, the Warriors started the regular season with a best-ever 24-0, finished the regular season with a best-ever 73-9, and oh, yeah, swept the season series against the Clippers.
I’m not sure that there’s a better way to contextualize last night’s 45-point drubbing.
Of course, those examples don’t match up perfectly. Stephen Curry sat out the game in 2015, while the Clippers played their full rotation last night. On the other hand, both teams played their starters low minutes in both outings—though for the Clippers last night, it was largely due to the Warriors’ early, insurmountable lead. It’s also at least worth noting that last night was the Clippers’ first pre-season game to get their legs under them, while the Warriors had already played (and lost) their opener.
But last night’s game doesn’t have to hold parallel to October 21st, 2015 for the lesson to ring true. The Warriors lost that game by 35, and went on to be the best team ever. The Clippers lost this game by 45—and, news flash, they aren’t going to be the best team in NBA history this season. But one pre-season blowout doesn’t mean... well, anything.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that last night was meaningless in all capacities, but rather that we didn’t really get much new information. The Warriors are good—in fact, you’d be deluded to say that the best team of all time didn’t get substantially better this summer, adding Kevin Durant. The most prolific team of all time in terms of shooting and spacing added arguably the most skilled perimeter scorer in the game (if he’s not first, he might be second behind Stephen Curry).
The Clippers, and 28 other NBA teams, have been faced with a math problem for the last two years, and while, yes, a 3-1 lead may have been blown, nobody has found a way to change the nature of numbers yet. I believe that Stephen Curry is a historic talent due to the way that his unique skill set will change the way basketball is played forever—you team him with a generational talent in Kevin Durant and a uniquely versatile superstar in Draymond Green, and defenses have no choice but to pay a little extra attention in order to stop those stars from getting layups all day long.
Once you pay that extra attention to help defense, the threes start raining. Draymond Green (39%), Stephen Curry (44%), Kevin Durant (39%), and Klay Thompson (43%) aren’t just four good three-point shooters—they’re a 1-4 tandem of shooters that is unrivaled historically. Shawn Marion never made threes at that rate, at that quantity, for the 7 Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns. Hell, the Clippers couldn’t get a rotation player outside of Chris Paul and J.J. Redick to break 35% on a decent sample size last season.
The math problem is there, and we saw it on display last night—but we also knew that it was there long before the two teams took the court.
The 2016 Golden State Warriors lost a pre-season game by 35 to an eventual 53-win team, and they were the best team in NBA history. The 2017 Los Angeles Clippers lost a pre-season game by 45 to a squad that’s going to be even better than the 2016 Warriors—they’ll be fine too. They won’t be as good as the Warriors, but one pre-season loss doesn’t turn a group of All-Stars into a lottery team.
It will take some unexpected stroke of luck for the Clippers to overcome the Warriors this season, whether it’s something bad on Golden State’s side or something good on the Clippers’ side. But we knew that already.
That feeling of doom? If it didn’t hit you until last night, you haven’t been paying attention since July 4th.