Where: Oracle Arena, Oakland, California
When: 5:00 PM PT
How to watch/listen: ABC, AM 570
Blog partner: Golden State of Mind
Projected Starting Lineups:
Clippers: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Pat Beverley – Landry Shamet – Danilo Gallinari – Ivica Zubac
Warriors: Steph Curry – Klay Thompson – Kevin Durant – Draymond Green – DeMarcus Cousins
Warriors: Damian Jones Out (Pectoral)
In any seven-game series, there will be numerous important matchups, strategies, and storylines that will shake the outcome. Sabreena went through individual matchups yesterday, and I touched on a couple big points in my preview on Thursday. The Warriors are coming into this series as the largest favorite in a series in a long time, so I’m not sure they really have many adjustments or tactics to pursue outside of their usual play that has won them three championships in the past four seasons. As the series goes along, they will assuredly have to shake things up at least a little depending on what the Clippers do, but this series hinges on the Clippers. The Warriors are a known commodity. This Clippers team, at least in the playoffs, is not. Here are three important things to watch for throughout the series, but especially in the first game tonight:
Montrezl Harrell against size and length
Montrezl Harrell has been a crux for the Clippers’ success all season long. While Pat Beverley is the heart of the team, Trez is the closest thing the Clippers have to a barometer. When he’s active, grabbing offensive rebounds, and dunking over and through the opposition, the Clippers can look like deadly force offensively. And when Trez gets going offensively, he gets into it defensively as well, swatting shots and presenting a menacing force around the rim.
Unfortunately, Trez has struggled against the Warriors this season. His toughest matchups this season have not been with athleticism or even skilled big men, but with massive bodies who he can’t power through. While Trez is skilled and has a soft touch, his go-to move is sheer strength and explosion through defenders. And DeMarcus Cousins and Andrew Bogut are two huge bodies who can stand tall against Trez at the rim. Kevon Looney is much smaller, and is someone Trez can dominate in the post, but he probably won’t see many minutes.
When Trez is out there against Cousins or Bogut, as he probably will be for almost all of his minutes, he can’t get frustrated with some more missed around shots around the rim than usual. Instead, he needs to try to utilize his speed and quickness to his advantage. He can get around both Warriors’ big men, and will be especially useful against Cousins in pick and roll coverages. However, if he doesn’t have open looks, and is facing Cousins or Bogut at the rim, Trez must be able to keep his head up and make passes out to the perimeter. He’s improved so greatly at playmaking over the course of this season, and can’t lose that ability in the playoffs in impotent takes at the rim. Most importantly, Trez can’t get down on himself, as he has at some points this season. The Clippers need him fully activated on both ends.
Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins: cold shooting, hot tempers
The Clippers’ best strategy defensively is to play off Draymond and Cousins and let them shoot. If they hit threes then they hit threes, but neither guy is good from out there, and Green in particular is a reluctant shooter. However, the issue with giving them space is it allows them to pick defenses apart with passing from the top of the key – both guys are excellent passers (albeit a bit turnover-prone), and will carve the Clippers up if too much room is given them. Even worse, Draymond is especially gifted at running hand-offs and ball screen actions with Steph and Klay, and if his defender is playing too far back, Steph or Klay’s defender will not have enough help to corral the set. Such is life when playing against the Warriors. The Clippers will therefore have to manage a tricky balancing act, where they play just far off enough to be able to help off-ball and play the passing lanes, but close enough to not make Cousins and Green comfortable (or give them lanes to the hoop).
Another thing both big men share outside of shaky outside shooting? A tendency to fly off the handle during basketball games. The Clippers’ best path towards victory is some kind of mental game with the Warriors, and their best hope of that is with these two guys. The Clippers need to do whatever they can to frustrate Cousins and Green, whether it’s letting them shoot as much as possible, and hoping a bunch of consecutive misses get in their heads, or playing really physical defense without fouling, which can cause either one of them to erupt at the nearest referee. If the Clippers can get a couple technical fouls drawn, they’ll not only get some free points, but also maybe push the Warriors towards battling the refs instead of the Clips. It will be very interesting to see how Cousins, in particular, handles Game 1, as it’s his first ever playoff appearance.
How the young guys hold up
It’s been talked about a lot, but the Clippers’ young guys will be put under the spotlight in this series. Each of them will have different pressure upon them. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will have a lot of playmaking and offensive responsibilities put on his shoulders. Will he stay aggressive in attacking the basket? Will he continue taking open threes even if he misses his first couple? Can he avoid foul trouble when guarding Steph or Klay? The Clippers desperately need his ability to get downhill and attack the basket, and if Shai is aggressive and looking for his shot, he could have a big series. There will be rough times too, but Shai can’t get down after KD blocks his shot, or Steph scores on him.
Landry Shamet hit 5 threes in the first half of the Clippers-Warriors game last week, and the Warriors swamped him in the 2nd half. They will be sure to focus in on him from the start of this series. The Clippers need to do their best to get him looks, but Shamet himself must keep up his perpetual motion and efforts to get open, and can’t get discouraged even if he doesn’t get a shot for quarters at a time. Similarly, even if he’s not getting a lot of shots, Landry must contribute in other ways, whether it’s defensively or as a passer. If he’s taken out of the game, the Clippers’ offense loses a lot of its punch.
Finally, Ivica Zubac will be matched up with a big, skilled player in Cousins. He did a great job against him last week, and has played well against the Warriors all season, but the playoffs are a different matter. Offensively, he needs to go up as strong as he can with his injured hands. The Warriors probably view him as the least-threatening Clipper in the starting five, and he needs to make them pay. But really, it all comes down to the other end of the court. The Warriors don’t run a lot of pick and roll action, but they do utilize many dribble hand-offs and other actions involving their big men at the top of the key. Zu will need to defend far from the basket, and if switched onto a Warriors’ perimeter player in space, has to just do his best. Most importantly, he will need to be a force on the glass – if the Warriors get offensive rebounds, it’s over. They’re too good offensively without second chances, especially since those tend to lead to threes. Hopefully Zu can successfully fight off Cousins on the offensive glass.
I think (hope, really) that the Clippers keep it close for most of the game, but that the Warriors run away with it in the 2nd half. Warriors 122, Clippers 108.