Welcome back, NBA basketball.
The Clippers and Warriors put on quite the show in L.A.’s season opener, as the two Pacific Division teams battled down to the wire. Despite 29 points from Paul George and double-digit efforts from every starter, the Clippers couldn’t quite break through, losing 115-113.
L.A. was the last team to open the NBA season on Thursday, and against a Warriors team that already played its opener two days ago, the difference was clear. Defensively, the Clippers weren’t rotating well and were a beat behind, and Stephen Curry only needs an inch of space to find his shot.
Thanks to poor defense, the Clippers found themselves down 17 after the opening frame. It didn’t have to be that bad, but Curry was on an absolute heater, dropping 25 points on perfect 9-of-9 shooting.
Ty Lue changed things up in the second quarter by going small and having the Clippers switch to slow down the Golden State offense. The Warriors’ pass-happy style slowed down as they could no longer exploit the help against the switching. Terance Mann was particularly effective defending on the perimeter, working hard to slow down both Jordan Poole and Curry.
Offensively, the Clippers turned to their own star to get things going. George acknowledged during the preseason that he would have step into a no. 1 role with Kawhi Leonard out, and he did just that after a slow first, picking up the baton where Curry left off.
George was too smooth for the Warriors defense, pulling up in transition, stepping back in the half court, and sometimes making something out of nothing on offense. He had 16 points in the second frame on 6-of-7 shooting, even as he was moonlighting as center (or at least a big) in some hilariously small units. The Clippers trailed by as many as 19 during the period, but went into halftime up one.
Paul George is smooth. Clips will need more of this, particularly the second possession – not being hesitant to pull up in semi-transition when the defender's feet are below the arc pic.twitter.com/W2OnCPUKLl— Shane Young (@YoungNBA) October 22, 2021
With George comfortable as the alpha, the question was who the Clippers could turn to as a second option. Reggie Jackson was that guy during the postseason but didn’t seem to have it early, slipping on the floor multiple times as he tried to find a rhythm. Fortunately, Eric Bledsoe was there to pick up the slack.
Bledsoe was just as effective as he was during the preseason, attacking the rim with abandon and using his screen-and-roll partnership with Ivica Zubac to great effect. He scored the first four points of the season, then added 11 in the pivotal second. Bledsoe’s activity was important in transition as he got the Clippers into quick offense; his penetration set up shooters, and he even threw in a weakside block on Poole for what would have been a sure lay-up.
Bledsoe was particular good in small-small pick-and-rolls, as the Clippers repeatedly tried to get Curry involved in screening actions as much as possible. L.A. took advantage of the Warriors sending two to the ball, and Bledsoe and Luke Kennard made plays out of the short roll, whether to score or distribute.
The Clippers had a 98-90 lead, but then didn’t score for six minutes. That meant the game came down to the wire, with Curry and the Clippers trading threes back and forth as the lead changed five times in the final period. George’s final three from the corner didn’t go in, and the Clippers ended up on the losing side of the ledger.
Nevertheless, it was an incredible effort from a shorthanded team, one that somehow lived up to the intensity of the last time this squad played. A fun start to the season, results be damned.