Robert: I think the Clippers will have a speed advantage over the Warriors on the perimeter. Landry Shamet and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander are both young and fresh, and will be zipping all over the court (especially Shamet). For the Clippers to hang with the Warriors offensively, they will need Shamet to free himself from his defenders and make a high percentage of his open threes. He burned the Warriors early in the game last week, but they were able to shut him down by putting Kevin Durant on him, as Durant’s length prevented him from getting any clean looks. It’s unclear if Kerr will start with KD on Shamet from the jump, but if so, Shamet needs to move as much as possible, both to tire KD and to distract the Warriors’ defense as a whole. If Shai is guarded by Steph, he should have a height advantage. Shai loves driving into smaller players and raising up for jumpers in the midrange, and those looks should be available against Steph. If Klay or KD is on him, he needs to use his quick first step and twitchy change of directions skills to try to beat them to the basket off the dribble. Really, I think both Shai and Shamet will be able to get buckets on their Warriors’ defenders. The question marks come at the other end.
GSOM: Montrezl Harrell was a starter for a chunk of games during the season, but now he’s on the bench for Zubac, if I’m not mistaken. What does Zubac have over Harrell as far as matching up with Cousins is concerned?
Robert: I think the main advantage with Zu over Trez is sheer size. Trez is maybe, maybe 6’8, which means he’d be giving up several inches and quite a few pounds to Cousins. Zu is not quite as bulky as Cousins either, but he can match him in terms of height and length, and should be a much stouter presence against Cousins in the post and on the boards. That last bit is key. Allowing the Warriors to get offensive rebounds is death: it’s hard enough to stop them once, and giving them second chances, especially with a scrambled defense, is a recipe for disaster. Therefore, Zu’s ability to box out Cousins will be paramount. Trez has been great for the Clippers this season, and is a better overall player than Zu. But his size limits him on the glass, and the Clippers will need all of Zubac’s rebounding and rim protection against the Warriors.
GSOM: Which Clipper do you think will be the X factor in this series and why?
Robert: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Shai is in a tough spot as a rookie point guard matched up against Steph Curry in his first ever playoff series. However, in this past season, he’s proven himself as not just an NBA player, but a good one, contributing big minutes to a 48 win team throughout the season. Against the Warriors, Shai will play a very important role on both ends of the court. On defense, he will likely be matched up against Steph or Klay Thompson, and will obviously have a huge, uphill battle ahead of him. For Shai, it will all be about staying attached through screens and not committing bad fouls. If he can do those things, his quickness, long arms, and instincts could make him a good counter to either of the Splash Brothers. On offense, Shai is probably the only player on the Clippers’ roster outside Lou Williams (and maybe even including Lou) who can get downhill off the dribble into the teeth of the Warriors’ defense. If he can stay aggressive and hits open threes, he could have a big series.
GSOM: What do you believe are the keys to the series for the Clippers?
Robert: 1. Maintaining toughness and confidence:The hardest part about playing the Warriors is not getting washed away with each flurry of threes or transition dunks. When the Warriors get rolling, they look unstoppable, and it’s probably easy for guys to put their heads down and give up. This Clippers’ team has not given up on a game once this year, and they can’t start now. They need to fight, scratch, and claw at the Warriors from start to finish – it’s the only way they have a chance to win any games. They need to believe in themselves, even with the massive talent deficit and lack of homecourt. If they lose that, they lose the series, and any competitiveness they might have generated.
2. Getting back in transition:The Warriors have a very good halfcourt offense, but where they really kill teams is in transition. Their all-time great shooting combined with ballhandling and playmaking makes for a deadly combination in the open court, and both Curry and Durant thrive on mismatches set up in the scramble to find a man. If the Clippers can recover quickly to prevent many easy threes or shots at the rim, and don’t get mismatched too often in their recovery, they could keep the Warriors from running away with games. Easier said than done.
3. Gallo and Lou need to be at the top of their games:This is probably obvious, but the Clippers’ two best scorers will need to put up big points totals to match the Warriors. Lou has struggled against the Warriors this season, their combination of length and switchability bothering him on the perimeter and around the basket. Furthermore, they’re ruthless in hunting him defensively, and he needs to do enough to not get played off the court. On offense, instead of forcing his shot, he should probably try to get Trez and the bench shooters some good looks to open things up for himself. Gallo, from jump, will be responsible for getting buckets for the Clippers’ starting lineup. He’s the de-facto option when the shot clock is low due to his height and ability to draw fouls, and has been magnificent this season (he’d be on almost anyone’s All-NBA 4thteam, if there was such a thing). Additionally, while KD can match him size-wise, Gallo’s proclivity for drawing fouls could be huge for taking KD out of the game. Gallo will need to shoot well, he’s gonna need to march to the free throw line (also slowing the Warriors’ transition game), and he will have to pass when the eventual double-teams come. If these two guys don’t stand out, the Clippers will be annihilated.