In the beginning of the season, Doc Rivers compared his athletic, talented, but unpolished center DeAndre Jordan to Bill Russell. It was hyperbole and obviously meant as a figure and idol to which Jordan can aspire towards. Russell he is not, but Thursday night at Oracle, and in all three games in the series, the Golden State Warriors have turned him into the eleven-time NBA champion. David Lee trudged into the lane, only to stare blankly at his shots bounce carelessly off the rim. Warrior after Warrior trekked into the paint, only to leave exasperated or attempt a shot so uncomfortable it looked like a son trying to shoot over his dad in the backyard.
"He got five blocks but that doesn't even begin to describe the amount of shots he affected" - Blake on DAJ defense
— Golden State of Mind (@unstoppablebaby) April 25, 2014
Then Chris Paul, self-proclaimed Tony Allen-esque stopper, chased Stephen Curry through and around screens all game long. He harassed Curry into a shooting performance so dreadful and sometimes not even a performance at all, fans were calling for Curry to simply hoist up a jumper the moment he stepped across halfcourt.
Aside: I don't think Curry had a bad game because, dammit, what else is he supposed to do? Shoot from halfcourt?
And on the last play, Paul did what every smart defensive player does in end-of-game possessions, contest as humanly close as possible without making it blatantly obvious it was a foul call. Sure, he stuck a forearm onto Curry's hip and came up under Curry's arm but Curry also pushed off a second earlier and I had no problem with the no-call. The game wasn't referee'd horribly for either team. As it is during the playoffs, everything is magnified 1000 percent and that goes for every ticky-tack foul.
Then on the other side of the court, Blake Griffin thoroughly worked the Warriors so good that Mark Jackson benched Lee for large portions of the second half. That's the luxury the Clippers can use that isn't inherently possible for the Warriors. The crowd was in shocked silence as Griffin shoulder-shoved one bucket after another. Twirls, dunks, jab steps, fadeaways, jumpers; it wasn't the aerial show we are used to from the power forward but lethal both in aggression and finesse. Paul harped on his ability to play lockdown defense on one end because Blake could carry the load on the other.
The Warriors found success by going small, running Draymond Green at the center position and having him body up against Griffin. Blake had the strength advantage but every time he attempted to swing through or out-quick the Michigan State product, Green would either rip the ball away or contest with Andre Iguodala-like efficiency. It wasn't until a back-breaking fadeaway baseline jumper could Blake say he had the upper hand on Green.
Klay Thompson backed up the small lineup because it allowed the defense to switch players. With Thompson, Green and Iguodala all excellent perimeter defenders, it allowed the Warriors much more breathing room and flexibility on the outside. We'll just conveniently forget the fact that Jordan wasn't in when the Warriors did succeed with this lineup. Mark Jackson had this to say about the small lineup. Even when he complimented Green on his defense against Blake, he hedged it by saying Blake hit a couple shots on him, which was weird. Green is by far the best defender against Blake and deserves to start, maybe even over Jermaine O'Neal especially when JO can't move on defense.
But at the end of the day, as Jackson puts it himself, the Clippers are much more talented, especially without Andrew Bogut (who wasn't at the game). The Warriors have to adjust and bend in 100 different ways to make a dent in the Clippers defensive and offensive scheme. The Clippers, on the other hand, don't have much to do except execute what they've been doing all season. In the NBA, talent usually wins out. It's just sad to see the Warriors combine personnel problems with questionable game decisions.
Curry's a great basketball player, best on the team and elite amongst the NBA, but Green is sometimes, almost all the time the heart of the team. The crowd roars on Curry 3s, but when it isn't falling or even attempted, they do so on Green steals, rim runs, and ferocious screaming all in between. Play him, Mark Jackson. And soon enough, pay him, Bob Myers.
1. Some notable quotes:
a. "Very. In some ways I had decided to and the way the game was going, JP our trainer said, 'He's good. You can put him back in,'that's what allowed me to put him back in." - Doc Rivers on how close he came to taking out Chris Paul.
And when Paul was asked about making shots and playing through injury he kept saying, "It's winning time." "When it comes to the playoffs, it's about winning. I don't care what the stats say."
b. "I thought Klay did a great job of attacking his body and finishing. Other than that, I think we're doing a bad job of forcing him to make plays." - Mark Jackson on whether the team is flinching offensively inside.
c. "Flagrant fouls is not being physical. Rebounding and grinding are." Doc Rivers waxing philosophical on the faux toughness act we've grown accustomed to in the playoffs.
d. "I thought the best close out of the night was the last shot." - Jackson
2. The Warriors started the beginning of both halves with a steady dose of flex action. They got the ball up top with a big, usually Lee or O'Neal, then shifted Curry to the side, as a decoy, and running a wing player into a downscreen on the baseline. It was open several times but the Warriors failed to capitalize either due to Jordan's ability to recover and contest or sloppy passing.
3. The Clippers were quite pleased with themselves after the game, especially in the media interview room when Jordan and Griffin got up to leave in the middle of Paul answering a question. Jordan then drank Paul's water bottle and left with a "we're teammates, I love you!" after Paul asked, "Did you put your lips on that?"
Several fans were yelling at Curry to shoot at points during the game. Curry says he heard them
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) April 25, 2014
There were fans all around us saying the same. We were situated in Section 119, meaning there's no way Curry can then from on the court, also implying that there were multiple legions of fans around the stadium pushing for Curry to shoot everything, anything, because nothing else will suffice. It was that bad an offensive performance, and a testament to the Warriors' ability to keep fighting (and the Clippers missing free throws) to have this a one-possession game at the buzzer.
The Warriors are going to lose this series, but Curry's reputation and ability to run an offense shouldn't be tarnished. Not this year. And perhaps for as long as Mark Jackson will be coaching.