People today are weird about what does and doesn’t constitute a rivalry. Personally, I put more stock into the chippiness, elevated intensity, and personal animosity than the actual basketball, meaning the Clippers have had rivalries with most of their fellow Western Conference teams in the last few years.
Still, your standards would have to be as ridiculous and asinine as LeBron James’s if you didn’t count Clippers-Warriors as a rivalry, especially as long as Austin Rivers is still involved. With two matchups this week, three in total in the next month, I’m sure we’ll be seeing a lot of heightened emotions and heated moments in these next few games.
Keeping that in mind, for this week’s Clip Chat I reached out to Warriors blogger and elite Twitter troll Andy Liu, who writes for Warriors World and co-hosts the #LightYears podcast. We talked about how the two teams match up and whether the Clippers can do anything that puts them closer to Golden State’s level.
Adithya: The Clippers had a really promising start to the year before injuries derailed them (27-9 with CP3 playing, which would've put them in the race for the 2 seed if not for a pair of fluky injuries against the Spurs and Thunder). But now they seem locked into a second round matchup with the Warriors, which would most likely end with another early playoff exit.
I thought the Clippers played the Warriors really well when healthy last year (better than anyone except the Raptors and Thunder, I'd say), but that couldn't be said about their first matchup this year, an ugly blowout in early December. Although the Warriors have owned them head-to-head for the past two seasons, the last game was probably the first time where I would say that Golden State had a clear mental advantage and were obviously in the Clippers' head.
What's your take? Do the Clippers have a better chance at pushing the Warriors than Houston or San Antonio, or are they doomed to a swift exit should they meet in the postseason?
Andy: The timeline of the Chris Paul injury does allow the Clippers a bit of a dark-horse candidate to upset either Houston or San Antonio if they face off in the first round. The second tier of the Western Conference is rather muddled, in my opinion, as fully healthy and functional Rockets, Spurs, Jazz, Grizzlies, and Clippers, are all rather equal.
While they are not doomed to an early exit, it is now unlikely they advance to the WCF, which was almost expected given the great start, home-court advantage, and their win in 7 games against the Spurs several years ago. At their best, the Clippers in a series are better than nearly all of these teams but even if they advance past the Spurs or Rockets, it's difficult to see them pose a true threat to a team they couldn't beat when they didn't add a Kevin Durant.
Per the mental edge, the rivalry seemed to tip when Stephen Curry started to own the PG battle. Back in 2014, Paul had success defending Steph in the 7-game series. It is unlikely that will happen again but it remains to be seen.
Adithya: At full strength, I think the 2017 Clippers could've given the 2016 Warriors a challenge in a playoff series. But their one advantage was that Golden State couldn't really take advantage of their lack of wing depth, which obviously goes out the window when you add Kevin Durant.
The rumors of a Carmelo Anthony trade could represent an opportunity to change that calculus, especially if the Clippers don't give up any of their Big 4 in the process. There's been a lot of discussion on what kind of package could get it done for Melo, but the Clippers have all of the leverage here due to Melo's NTC and the unlikelihood of any other team having the desire/desirability to get a deal done.
Could adding Melo in a Rivers/Crawford/1st/filler package change the Clippers' ceiling? Do you see that shifting the balance of power at all in a potential Warriors-Clippers matchup?
Andy: That would be a fascinating addition if the Clips could roll out a 4some of Melo, Paul, DAJ, and Blake. On pure talent and name power alone, it would make a series against GSW interesting. When you break it down, this is the case where an actualized criticism of "not enough balls to go around" would make sense.
Griffin and Paul dominate touches but adding Melo, a complete ball stopper, would throw the offense for a bit of a change, and still leave open the hole at defense on the wings. Unless Melo becomes a Klay Thompson (willing to just shoot and defend) or Draymond Green (pass-first forward) it's hard to see this create a higher ceiling for the Clippers.
Adithya: The other problem with a Carmelo Anthony trade is that he's not really the kind of player that gives the Warriors trouble or matches up particularly well with them (especially if he's playing small forward next to Blake in the frontcourt).
Against Golden State, the Clippers struggle with having enough players who thrive against that matchup. CP3 and Blake have turned in some of their finest performances in these rivalry games, but they've also seen some of their lowest moments: ending up on the wrong side of highlight plays (in CP3's case) or getting swallowed alive by the Warriors defense (Blake's).
In theory, they have the potential to simultaneously hit another level over the course of a seven-game series (à la LeBron and Kyrie last Finals). But in the more likely event that they don't catch that wave, the Clippers are hard-pressed to find enough from the other guys on the roster in a Warriors matchup.
The obvious difference-maker here is DeAndre Jordan. How much of a problem do you think he could pose for Golden State?
Andy: I think DAJ is pretty underrated at this point and could pose Tristan Thompson levels of annoyance for GSW. In a close enough series, he could be a difference maker on the offensive boards.
Adithya: Jamal Crawford is the one guy who's always given Golden State fits when he's on his game (like in the back half of their 2014 series), but you'd be insane to expect much from him at this point of his career. Looking at the Clippers' rotation, do you see any role player who could have a big series against Golden State?
Andy: Probably Austin Rivers, who is quietly, unbeknownst to outside observers, is having a solid season. Steph will get hidden on him and his defense has slipped a bit this season.