They both lost key players to injury — although the circumstances were seemingly worse for the Clippers. They both finished as the eighth seed. And they both lost their play-in games and thereupon missed the playoffs.
In the Warriors’ subsequent season, however, Steph Curry and his crew found a way to turn their ship around. They finished the season with 53 wins and streamlined into the vast sea of playoff basketball.
And when all other ships and boats started sinking, it was just that Warrior ship that remained afloat; they won their fourth championship in eight years.
Now, much like last year’s Warriors, the Clippers will have their best weapons back in their arsenal to employ — the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, and Norman Powell. So it doesn't seem like too much of a long shot to expect big things from this team next season. Hence, even ESPN gave the Clippers the second-best chance of winning the west.
While injuries, standings, and grand expectations are some of the many points of similarities between the two organizations, there’s one final box left to be ticked. For the Clippers to continue following the trajectory of the 2020-21 Warriors, they need to conclude their 2022-23 campaign with a championship.
And coincidentally or not, it’s the mighty Warriors that stand in their way.
So, in the likely scenario that the Clippers do run into the Warriors in a high-stakes best-of-seven series, how well would the Clippers match up against the Warriors?
The reigning champions have retained their core group of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green over the last ten seasons. The team’s two best shooters — more famously known as the “Splash Brothers” — played alongside each other for 548 games (the Leonard-George duo played just 80 together).
Not only does that speak to the professionalism of the organization, but it also attests to the chemistry and friendship between these players. And this is evident on the floor.
They, and their teammates, move the ball around effortlessly, are unselfish with the ball, and find ways to score as a team — 65.3% of their field goals last season were assisted. As cliché as it might be, they know how to make each other better.
Offense isn’t the only thing the Warriors are good at, though. On the other end of the floor, the Warriors had the second-best defensive rating in the league, allowing just 106.6 points per 100 possessions. The defensive IQ of veterans Green, Thompson, and Andre Iguodala make up for some of their defensive liabilities on the floor.
But the Clippers, too, have something up their sleeve — someone, I should say.
The long-awaited return of Leonard means a lot of things for Los Angeles. The last time he played in the playoffs, the two-time Finals MVP logged 30.4 points on 57.3% shooting, 7.7 rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
The numbers, as good as they might be, don’t tell the entire story.
Leonard’s suffocating defensive presence, ability to score at will, and transmissible hustle make the Clippers that much harder to beat. Just as important, assuming that the opponent’s best defender matches up against Leonard, it will be their second-best defender on George, and third on other capable scorers like John Wall, Reggie Jackson, or Powell. And that doesn’t bode well for opposing defenses — not at all.
But it could be L.A.’s depth that might tip the scales towards the Clippers.
The former Portland Trail Blazers duo of Powell and Robert Covington offer versatility and depth for Tyronn Lue. Powell is an athletic guard that uses his athleticism to penetrate through the defense and finish emphatically. The cherry on top — Powell is one of the best shooters in the league: he sunk 41.9% of his 3-point attempts.
Covington, too, is a knock-down shooter who can also bring energy on defense. He’s a hard-fighting defender that makes stops when needed, whether they’d be through deflections, blocks, and steals.
The remaining two of the Clippers’ ‘L.I.T’ duo, Luke Kennard and Terance Mann, are also two players that can ignite a spark off the bench. Both have proven capable of dropping 20+ points on any given day in different ways. Kennard by knocking down jumper after jumper and Mann finishing off of cuts and outhustling players in the paint.
The veteran presence of forwards Nicholas Batum and Marcus Morris Sr. will be key for L.A. as well. Not only can they shoot, guard multiple positions, and play with composure in big games, but they also give Lue the flexibility of playing small-ball. Putting these players at the five, as we saw in their 2020-21 playoff campaign, can be a way to take advantage of offensive mismatches, improve spacing, and go on game-shifting runs.
As many words there are to be said about who the better team is, the millions of unpredictable variables in this sport make it impossible to foresee what will happen. But one thing is for sure: any time these two teams go head-to-head, it will be one grueling battle.
And know that the Clippers certainly can, and will, give it a run for their money.