The Warriors probably didn’t need a vintage Steph Curry shooting night to beat the Clippers—but they got one anyway. With Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers both missing the game, Doc Rivers’ only options defensively against Curry were rookies Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell, and two-way contract players C.J. Williams and Tyrone Wallace. It... didn’t go well. Curry had 45 points in just 30 minutes, hitting 11-21 from the field and 8-16 from deep.
Going into this match-up, the Clippers were the clear underdogs. The Warriors, after all, are the defending NBA Champions, and they boast the best record in the NBA this season. Whatever early hope the Clippers may have had was snuffed out when, late in the first quarter, Blake Griffin caught a nasty elbow from JaVale McGee while he was driving to the rim. Griffin spent several minutes on the floor before being helped to the locker room with a concussion, and did not return. He will most likely not play on Monday against the Atlanta Hawks as well.
The Clippers put up a decent fight in the first half, actually tying the game at 50-50 before a late second quarter spurt gave Golden State a 64-55 halftime lead. Lou Williams scored 19 of his 23 points in the first half, and as he slowed down in the third quarter, so did the rest of the team. The Warriors made six third-quarter threes and, led by Curry’s 16 points in the period, won the third quarter by a 39-21 margin, stretching the lead to 103-76 and ensuring garbage time in the fourth quarter.
In the final period, with the result of the game long decided, the Clippers’ bench crew put together a spunky performance, winning the period 29-18 and forcing 7 Warriors turnovers. Jawun Evans and Tyrone Wallace each had 7 points in the period, with Sam Dekker contributing 5 points and Sindarius Thornwell and Willie Reed each adding four.
Dekker at Small Forward: Doc Rivers switched up his starting lineup tonight, inserting Sam Dekker at small forward in place of Wesley Johnson. It... didn’t go well. Twice in the opening minutes, the Warriors double-teamed Blake Griffin, leaving Dekker, who is shooting just 14% from deep on the season. Both times, with a solid 10 feet of space between him and the nearest defender, Dekker passed up the open three, and drove into a congested lane for a tough miss. In the third quarter, Dekker took one—and airballed it. There’s just no way that Sam Dekker can play minutes at small forward if he isn’t able to shoot himself out of this slump, and he can’t do that if he’s too scared to even shoot wide-open threes.
Tyrone’s Debut: Tyrone Wallace, in his first-ever NBA game, came to play. The rookie guard, who was called up from the NBA G-League this morning, had 13 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals in 31 minutes of playing time. In the first half, he was somewhat timid, but encouragement from Doc Rivers led to a much more aggressive second-half showing. Wallace said post-game that “he just told me to be aggressive, he said he thought I was passive. I think he knows how I play and I play aggressive, so he just told me to go out there and play my game, and that’s what I tried to go from that point on.” As the game went on, he clearly got more comfortable. Doc also mentioned that Wallace knows some of the Clippers’ offense after being with the team in training camp, but doesn’t know any of the new stuff that they’ve added during the season. He said the coaching staff will work to simplify the offense going forward to make it easier for Tyrone to integrate with the lineup.
No Defensive Options: We knew all along that this Clippers squad would be a team without many individual defensive stalwarts—Doc Rivers spoke about the difference between having Chris Paul and Luc Mbah a Moute in years past, and focusing on team defense this season. Still, with Patrick Beverley and Austin Rivers both injured, the team doesn’t boast any above-average defensive options on the perimeter. Rookie guards Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell bring energy, but a lack of experience at the NBA level leads to lapses in focus and high foul rates. Lou Williams isn’t much of a defender, and while C.J. Williams is solid, a career D-League player can’t be expected to match up with NBA All-Stars. Tyrone Wallace even had to spend stretches of his first NBA game guarding Steph Curry. It isn’t much of a surprise that Curry had such a good performance.
Replacing Blake: When Blake Griffin missed a month due to a knee injury, a lot of different Clippers got opportunities to fill in at power forward. Ultimately, two-way contract player Jamil Wilson won the spot, starting 10 games. However, Wilson used almost his entire 45-day allowance on the NBA roster before the Clippers were forced to release him in order to sign Wallace. Doc Rivers, when asked about who would replace Wilson as the Blake replacement after the game, said that Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell are both capable options at power forward.
Never Back Down: The Clippers were big underdogs in this game, and everyone knew it. Doc Rivers said that his one message to the team after the game was that, against world-class teams like the Warriors, mental toughness is key: “I thought their offensive assault affected us and that’s the only thing I told them. You back up to no one, ever, and that was my message after the game. You know we got all these injuries, so you step in and don’t back up. If they’re better, let them be better, but make them be better.” He also said that all he’s looking for right now is a team of “fighters.” The Clippers have shown so far this season that they are capable of fighting shorthanded and stealing games, and Doc said he expects them to be back to that level for Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.