Chapter 1: Some historical context
Flashback to about four years ago and the L.A. Clippers were a trendy title contender. They were newly built around Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, and Blake Griffin. The Clippers were seen by many to contend with the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs for a trip to the NBA Finals.
Meanwhile, the Golden State Warriors were a young up and coming team that was built around their back-court of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Draymond Green was a 23-year-old forward that was backing up David Lee.
The Clippers and Warriors faced off in a first round series during the 2014 playoffs as the three and six seed respectively. The Warriors were fresh off a surprise playoff run from the 2013 postseason and ready to make a deeper playoff push. They went toe to toe in a series that ended in seven with the Clippers claiming victory.
Blake Griffin finished the the 2013-2014 campaign third in the league MVP voting just behind Kevin Durant and LeBron James. Green was still a relatively unknown player.
Chapter 2: Oh how things have changed
This exchange by Green and Griffin is emblematic of how things have been since that playoff series. Green is running down the court taunting Griffin with his tongue out as Griffin stares away and tries to ignore him. Green has since established himself as a perennial defensive player of the year candidate and vaulted himself ahead of Griffin as one the best players in the NBA.
The Clippers were unable to get over the hump and past the second round of the NBA playoffs. This past season, they went through a complete overhaul by trading Paul to the Houston Rockets and letting J.J. Redick leave in free agency. The Clippers doubled down and signed Griffin to a five-year extension which re-established him as the main cornerstone of the franchise.
Chapter 3: The evolution of Blake Griffin
Now that Paul is gone, Griffin has control over the offense and should have room to finally evolve. During the Chris Paul era, Griffin was limited in his offensive role given Paul’s dominance over the ball. He was mainly restricted to playing off ball and playing in the low block. Slowly, Griffin evolved by implementing a mid range jumper.
Through the early part of this season, it’s become very evident he wants to extend his range. With a small sample size of five games, Griffin has converted on 41% of his attempts and is currently attempting three times more threes per game compared to last season.
Exhibit 1 - Taking more outside shots
On this play, he runs a pick and pop with Milos Teodosic for a wide open three. Not a normal sight for Warriors fans, but this is the new Blake Griffin. He’s averaging just under six three pointers per game. This is the new NBA where all big men who want to survive have integrated this into their arsenal.
Exhibit 2 - Playing on-ball and distributing the rock
On this play we see Griffin lead the fast break and draw the defense with him. He spins and kicks the ball out to Patrick Beverley on wing for a wide open three. Again, not something we saw enough from Griffin in past seasons as Paul would dictate the offense and lead the fast breaks. The “point-forward” is alive and well in the NBA and the Clippers are finally evolving.
This is reminiscent of Green as the Warriors like having him control the fast break and kick it out to the perimeter for a better look.
Here is a play from last season where Green grabs a loose ball and waits for Thompson to get to his spot in the corner before he kicks it out. He drew three defenders with him as he fakes as though he’s going to the rim.
Chapter 4: What can we expect in this matchup?
This is a new look Clippers team and though Chris Paul is a significant loss, the team still has play makers. The Warriors have struggled early this season against teams with skilled big men. With the combo of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin this already poses some issues for the Warriors coming into the second game of off a back to back home/road split.
We know Green can guard one through five in the lineup and has had the edge in this rivalry with Griffin the past few years. Now with this new look Blake Griffin, Green will have a lot more on his hand.
It will be interesting if this rivalry can somehow be rekindled with this new wrinkle in the Clippers offense. Blake Griffin’s emergence as a distributor and shooter will provide to be a challenge. The Warriors have struggled defending the three-point shot early this season and the Clippers are sixth in the league in three-point field goal percentage at 38%.
The key to this match-up will be how Green limits Griffin on his 3-point attempts as they try to exploit the Warriors’ weakness.