Danilo Gallinari was the Clippers’ best player for most of the 2018-2019 NBA season, and was good enough to earn consideration for 3rd Team All-NBA. He was efficient, consistent, and well-rounded, providing a lot of things to a Clippers’ team that was often less talented than its opposition. While this Clippers’ team famously doesn’t have a single All-Star on their roster, it does possess two players who play at that level in Gallinari and Lou Williams. So far, through the first three games of the Clippers-Warriors series, Williams has risen to the challenge posed by the two-time defending champions. Gallinari, unfortunately, has not. And that failure is the driving force behind the Clippers getting blown out in Games 1 and 3, and nearly suffering the same fate in Game 2.
After being the pinnacle of scoring efficiency in the regular season, Gallinari has been the reverse in the playoffs. His shooting splits read like a horror novel: 31.8% shooting from the field, 30% from three, and 93.3% from the free throw line. What gives?
Well, the Warriors are defending Gallinari in similar ways to how the Clippers have defended Kevin Durant. Recognizing the lack of shooting in the Clippers’ starting lineup, they’ve shaded defenders towards Gallinari, and have sent immediate help as soon as he begins to drive towards the paint.
This is a perfect example. Gallinari has a seeming mismatch against Steph Curry in the post, a player much smaller than he is who the Warriors don’t want to get in foul trouble. The Clippers clear out for him, and Gallo goes to work. Shai runs to the other side of the court, but Andre Iguodala, his defender, does not follow, knowing Gallinari would have to make an otherworldly pass to get it to him. Instead, he plants himself in the paint, presenting a presence in case Gallo decides to take it to the rim. Klay Thompson is able to help as well, stunting towards Gallinari, and forcing him away from the basket and into a turnaround jumper. The result? Gallo clanged a difficult shot, Iguodala got the rebound, and a leakout by Kevin Durant got the Warriors easy points on the other end.
The other issue is that Gallinari has sometimes forced looks instead of finding the open man. He’s not the greatest passer in the world, but he can certainly make plays for others, and his height gives him a unique advantage in passing over the top of the defense. In the series so far, he’s averaged 3.3 assists per game, above his season average, but considering how the Warriors have played him, he’s missed opportunities for more. For example, in this instance, Shaun Livingston is playing way off Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in the opposite corner, and Gallinari could have swung the ball over to him for the corner three, or to set up a drive to the lane off a closeout. Instead, with 15 seconds on the clock, he took a tough jumper over Kevon Looney, and missed.
Even when Gallinari has been able to spring himself free from the Warriors’ defense, he’s had trouble with their size and length. Here, at the start of Game 2, the Clippers run a nice play: Shamet runs a diversion off-ball, while Pat Beverley sets a down screen, blocking both his man (Curry) and Gallo’s man (KD), allowing Gallo to get open behind the arc. However, even a slight delay on the catch and release enables Durant to get back in the picture, and while this was a makeable shot for Gallo, it was tougher than it would have been against many teams.
Far too often, though, the Warriors’ defense hasn’t even come into play: Gallinari has just missed open shots. Take this one. Lou Williams does a little drive and kick to Gallo. Draymond Green goes to help on Lou’s drive, which gives Gallo just a bit of space. Draymond, recognizing the danger, closes out too hard, and a nice pumpfake from Gallo sends Green flying by. Gallinari steps into the three, completely in rhythm, and misses. Shots like this missed all of Game 3, as well (Gallinari was 0-8 from deep on mostly open looks), and Gallo simply needs to make these if the Clippers have any chance at taking another game from Golden State.
Finally, it’s not just Gallo’s shooting that’s struggled. He’s also uncharacteristically had some bad turnovers, largely a result of forcing drives or passes into the crowded paint. One of Gallinari’s strongest offensive traits is holding onto the ball: he had an extremely low 8.5% turnover rate during the regular season, and rarely made bad plays or got stripped. In the playoffs, his turnover rate has nearly jumped to 15.1%, which is particularly significant against the Warriors, who are so deadly in transition. Too often, he’s driven into traffic and tried making a difficult pass instead of resetting the possession or making easy reads. Here, he tries to pass over his shoulder to Pat Beverley (or possibly the rolling Montrezl Harrell) rather than the easy swing to Shai, who Iguodala was helping off of. Iggy got the steal, and an easy dunk the other way.
The Clippers’ problems go far beyond Danilo Gallinari. Everyone on the roster has struggled for most of the three games, except Lou, Harrell, and JaMychal Green. But Gallinari is the Clippers’ best overall player, and the one who helped carry the starting lineup’s offense down the stretch of the regular season. For the Clippers to compete in the series going forward, he will need to make more of his open shots and force the issue a little less. If he can hit his shots, it should open up the passing lanes further, creating easier reads and eliminating some of his turnovers.
Look for Doc to find new ways to get Gallinari involved, and for Gallo to step up to the challenge that the Warriors present. Additionally, while Doc Rivers said last night that Zubac will continue to start over JaMychal, it makes sense to put as much shooting around Gallo as possible, so that he has more space to operate and can punish the Warriors if they overhelp on him. Hopefully the Clippers and Gallinari can make the necessary adjustments, and he can get back on track: he was great all season, and it would be a shame for his career year to end this way.