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Clippers Learn Hard Lesson From Warriors, 141-113

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The Clippers still don’t measure up to the league’s champs.

NBA: Golden State Warriors at Los Angeles Clippers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not blasphemy to suggest that the Clippers’ early title as the league’s defensive aces was a slight oversell. The Golden State Warriors just showed them the extent of that exaggeration.

The Warriors’ offense — the purest distillation of NBA offense — disassembled the Clippers’ defense in smooth and delicate fashion, 141-113. League observers bemoaned that Steve Kerr’s charges have discovered the freedom of the dreaded on/off switch, but the switch was most assuredly flipped ON tonight.

Seriously, these guys make it look so easy. They never stop moving, but they’re never in a hurry. They shoot. (58/48/77 tonight.) They pass. EVERYONE passes. (First-year big man Jordan Bell, maybe the third- or fourth-string center, made the kind of sensuous touch pass that makes you want to pack up and go home. Deep bench rookies shouldn’t have that.) They recorded 37 assists, with eight players credited at least 3.

Their breezy manner has its downsides, namely turnovers, which is why the Clippers’ inability to force them made a nearly impossible task a more harrowing one. The Warriors entered the game averaging more than 18 turnovers per contest. They coughed it up 26 times against Detroit last night. They lost just 12 tonight.

Even when the Warriors have nothing they have something. When the playsets don’t work and the opponent’s defense rotates to its marks on time, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry conjure up one-on-one magic.

Curry entered the game in a shocking slump, averaging under 35% from three-point range on the season. Well, slump over. He nailed 7-of-11 from deep and dropped 31 points in 30 minutes. Durant ho-hummed his way to 19, shooting only when all else had failed and making them anyway.

Unfortunately for the Clippers, this game exposed more than their defensive blemishes. The offense took its turn in the light of Golden State’s scrutiny, although there is more success upon which the Clippers can rest at the attacking side of the floor.

The first half was marked by the kind of deliberate ball pounding that was supposed to head east with you-know-who. This roster isn’t built for that kind of play in that kind of volume. The early offense consisted of basic high pick and rolls (with no auxiliary movement), isolation plays against switches, and Blake Griffin post-ups that were snuffed out by a canopy of expertly positioned arms. Blake struggled to 10 first-half points, even if you wouldn’t know it from the relatively tidy box score. He finished with just 16 points and 4 assists, weighed against 4 turnovers.

Danilo Gallinari was the Clippers’ scoring star of the first half, although he remains far more comfortable in his ball-dominant role with the reserves than his off-ball spot-up job with the starters. He sized up mismatched defenders from above the arc, stepping back into threes and attacking with panache. He led all Clippers with 19 points for the game.

Perhaps galvanized by Doc Rivers’ halftime words or the dawning realization of the scope of their challenge, the Clippers played the third quarter with urgency and increased focus on movement, both with their bodies and with the ball. Led by the hot hot Patrick Beverley — this dude hit 4 of his 6 of his threes and is better than 50% for the year — the Clippers sliced through half of the mid-game lead. They held the Warriors to 33 points, their least prolific quarter. (Really.)

But save for a few minutes in that third, the Clippers were outclassed. Which, really, is to be expected. It’s game number six. There are three new starters and a reshaped bench. The kind of chemistry the Warriors wield requires time and shared success, both of which the Clippers have yet to earn or acquire.

The Clippers got a look at the team they want to be. They’re just a little farther off than they’d hoped.

Notables:

  • Nick Young and Omri Casspi, summer additions in Oakland and, you know, genuine NBA scorers, didn’t touch the floor until garbage time. Eleven Warriors appeared before they did. It’s spelled D-E-P-T-H.
  • Lou Williams dropped 17 points off the bench, with 10 coming from the free throw line. He also earned a team-worst minus-31 in 26 minutes. A lot of that chasm speaks to a Warrior bench that doesn’t share its starting unit’s defensive apathy.