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Clippings: The Clippers benefited from excellent center play against the Warriors

Serge Ibaka and Ivica Zubac stood out against a team that usually protects the paint.

Golden State Warriors v LA Clippers Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

In their recent era of contention, the Golden State Warriors have become known as the team that plays centers off the court. It’s a fate that befell the Clippers two postseasons ago, when Ivica Zubac couldn’t hang and the team had to start small with JaMychal Green at the 5.

This isn’t the same Warriors team, but it’s still a group that spaces the floor on offense and has the looming threat of Stephen Curry, who has become deadly increasingly further from the basket as the years have passed. The combination of those threats makes it hard for centers to navigate that space and remain effective.

But on Thursday, the Clippers had not just one, but two, centers who thrived against Golden State in the blowout win. Serge Ibaka’s stat line stood out, as he posted just his fifth double-double of the season with 16 points and a season-high 14 rebounds.

“He can play inside and out, I think that’s what’s very dynamic about him,” Reggie Jackson said about Ibaka. “We all know that he’s a rim protector, he does a great job defensively communicating for us. But on offense, he can stretch the floor, second-chance points, rebounding, has great touch inside the paint.... We were fortunate to get that type of game from him, we’re going to continue to try to ask him to bring that same effort and energy each and every night.”

Golden State Warriors v LA Clippers
Serge Ibaka set the tone for the Clippers against Golden State.
Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Ibaka’s versatility as a center who can attack the basket and pop out to the perimeter, as well as defensively considering he played forward for the first part of his career, makes him an easier fit against the Warriors. Zubac’s success, on the other hand, was less likely. But he manned the paint on both ends, dunked on the Warriors twice, led the Clippers with six free-throw attempts, and had a great help block on Kent Bazemore early in the game.

The Clippers found ways for Zubac to be more effective defensively by going to a zone. That allowed him to stay closer to the basket rather than having to chase Golden State’s shooters on the perimeter.

“Last time we played, (Eric) Paschall had a pretty good game against Zu, it was a tough guard for Zu,” Ty Lue said postgame. “So we knew going into the game that, once Steph stepped off the floor, they brought Paschall in, we wanted to play a lot of zone and kind of keep Zu in the paint, let him protect, keep in the hole, and it was good for us tonight.”

The Clippers have gone to their small lineup frequently down the stretch, but there was no need to Thursday, not just because the centers played so well, but because their performance eliminated the need for crunch time altogether. As the season progresses, it will be interesting to see if Ibaka and Zubac force Lue to keep them on the court with their play despite the coach’s preference to go small.

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