1. Which matchup are you most looking forward to?
I’m most looking forward to Clippers’ rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander going up against Steph Curry. I think back to that 2014 Clippers-Warriors series and seeing the young Splash Brothers facing off against Chris Paul and JJ Redick. Not only was it a ton of fun, but it was also probably a great “educational experience” for Steph and Klay. I want the same thing for Shai (and Landry Shamet) in this series.
Shai is playing against a top three point guard of all time in his prime. He’s going to struggle – but hopefully he learns from the experience. Steph has so many tricks in his bag, whether it’s his non-stop movement (and the insane conditioning that must go into it), his ability to finish inside, or his defense against bigger, stronger players. Seeing Steph up close and personal for four games (at least) and trying to defend a player who’s among the most unstoppable forces in NBA history is about as good of an opportunity as there is to pick up some new skills.
In terms of the actual matchup, I think that if Shai is aggressive, he could be an X-Factor in this series. He’s tall enough to shoot over Steph with ease, and his improved three-point shooting could burn the Warriors if they desert him out there (which they will). If he makes his threes and keeps his confidence high, look out for him to start driving more to the rim – considering he’s taken it right at Rudy Gobert and Myles Turner this year, he should not be cowed by DeMarcus Cousins. Defensively, he’s been a legitimate positive for the Clippers this year, which is incredible for a rookie. He’s smart, quick, and has arms that extend for miles. The question is whether he can navigate the hundreds of screens that will assuredly be set for Steph, and if he does, can he does so without closing too hard and fouling Steph or allowing him clean lanes the rim?
This could be a chance for Shai to stand out on a national stage on primetime television. If he’s able to have a couple big games against the Warriors, it would make this series worth it for Clippers’ fans.
2. Can you give us a quick breakdown of the Clippers’ post-trade team?
In some ways, there were two different iterations of the post-trade deadline Clippers’ team, the first running Ty Wallace with the reserve unit, and the second with Wilson Chandler. The first was undoubtedly better than the second, but the second is what has stuck around due to Chandler’s veteran gravitas and the potential of his shooting (which has been a mirage so far). Ultimately, it seems unlikely that Wallace will get many minutes against the Warriors due to his non-shooting (though Chandler’s ineffectiveness could also cut him out), so the two “different” teams can be analyzed similarly.
The Clippers have succeeded post-deadline because they removed two awful players – Avery Bradley and Marcin Gortat – with two much better ones in Pat Beverley and Ivica Zubac. That shift, even with the loss of Tobias Harris, turned one of the worst starting units in the NBA to a perfectly solid, even good five-man lineup. Danilo Gallinari has become the true hub of the Clippers’ offense, and has responded in flying colors, putting together the best stretch of his entire career the last couple months of the season. Pat Beverley is the heart and soul of the Clippers’ team, and is the captain defensively, always pointing out assignments and flying all over the court. Ivica Zubac has brought a true rim-protector to the Clippers backline, while Landry Shamet is a non-stop blur of movement offensively in his attempts to find space for an open three. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, as mentioned above, is the wild-card. When he’s on, as he has been down the stretch, he brings above-average defense, decent spot-up shooting, incredible finishing at the rim, and solid playmaking. There are games where he looks like a star, and it all depends on his confidence level.
The bench, as has been discussed all year, is one of the most potent units in recent NBA history. Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell have combined to average more points off the bench than any combo in the past 30 years, and their pick and roll is the lifeblood of the Clippers offense. Lou’s scoring, playmaking, and cool hand under fire have won the Clippers countless games this season, and they will need him to have a huge series in order to have any chance. Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green were huge additions at the deadline, especially since they were brought over in the addition-by-subtraction move of shipping out Avery Bradley’s overrated carcass. Temple has been great defensively, though his shot has been off, while Green’s rebounding and outside shooting have been a huge boon. If those guys are hitting shots, Lou and Trez have much more room to work, and they become far more dangerous offensively. Ty Wallace is my ideal 5th man for that unit due to his defense and ball-handling, but his lack of shooting is a risky proposition against the Warriors. I’d expect Doc to try Chandler, but eventually move to a 9 man rotation with just the players mentioned above.
3. Is there much to take away from the game post-roster moves because of all the players that were out for the Clippers?
Funnily enough, I’ve been wrestling with this question myself over the past few days. On one hand, as mentioned above, Gallo, Pat, and Green are all very important to this Clippers’ team (Gallo and Pat especially), and games without them can’t be taken all that seriously. On the other hand, the way that game went (Clippers competitive in the first half, stay attached for a bit, then fall away) is how I expect most of the games in the series to go, even with those guys healthy and active. The Clippers have a really good offense, but it’s nowhere near as strong as the Warriors’. And, while I think the Clippers can at least slow the Warriors at times, I believe that when push comes to shove, the Warriors will lock in and make it really tough for the Clips to score. I don’t see the reverse happening.
I do think that the Clippers’ path to a win in any game in this series does depend on Pat and Gallo, so in the end, I don’t think all that much can be taken away from that game. The Clippers without Beverley this season have just not had the same fight, energy, and spirit, and lose some shooting, playmaking, and defense as well. He’s also the best chance to get inside the heads of the Warriors, and a mental breakdown from key Warriors’ players is probably the only real chance the Clippers have of winning more than a single game. As for Gallo, the Clippers will need him to play 35+ minutes per game in this series, and handle the brunt of the scoring load. If he’s not up for the task, this will be a short, non-competitive series.
We’d like to extend our thanks to Rob Flom for taking the time to thoughtfully answer our questions. You can find the other side of the Q&A coin, where I answer a handful of his questions over at Clips Nation.
Five hours till game one tipoff!