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The Golden Breakdown: How the Warriors strangled the Clippers into submission

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Game 1 went pretty much as expected, with the Warriors turning on their defensive switch and their offense wreaking havoc upon an overmatched Clippers defense.

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Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors - Game One Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

It has been five long years since the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers last faced off against each other in the NBA Playoffs. As many Warriors fans remember, the 6-seed Warriors took the 3-seed Clippers to 7 games and lost a close but highly competitive series.

So competitive, in fact, that it flared emotions on both sides to all-time highs. When the likes of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Steve Blake, and Marreese Speights used the infamous secret tunnel in Staples Center to confront their Clippers adversaries in their locker room, that says something about how much the two teams absolutely despised each other.

The rematch long awaited by many between these two rivals has finally materialized five years later, but with the caveat that this isn’t the same rivalry that it once was. Lob City — a once promising tandem that eventually devolved into Flop City — is no more, with their big three of Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, and DeAndre Jordan having broken up and sent to different teams.

Meanwhile, the Warriors, who were once caterpillars under the tutelage of Mark Jackson, metamorphosed into the NBA’s version of Mothra, a giant behemoth that has taken the league by storm.

As the Warriors quickly rose to heights unreachable by any other team in the league, the Clippers rapidly transformed from being a perennial Western Conference contender to huge disappointments, forever considered a squad that wasted the potential and talent they possessed.

And just like that, the rivalry that, for all intents and purposes, became one sided after 2014 ceased to exist.

Credit to the Clippers, however, for bouncing back and building a young squad that has been well coached by Doc Rivers, who has gotten the most out of a team that weren’t expected to even make the playoffs, especially after trading Tobias Harris, who was considered their best player on the team. The Clippers managed to hang on to the 8-seed and squeeze their way towards a playoff berth — and right into the waiting arms of the 1-seed Warriors.

Make no mistake: The Warriors are highly favored. Most pundits and fans expect them to sweep the Clippers, or at worst, drop one game on their way to a 5-game gentleman’s sweep, with that one dropped game widely expected to occur at Staples Center, since apparently, Curry considers the popcorn there as the worst in the NBA — which will most assuredly get the blame should he drop another bad shooting night in Game 3 or 4.

But well within the comfy confines of Oracle Arena, Curry transformed into his Human Torch persona, racking up 38 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists, on an incredible 11-of-16 shooting clip (68.8 percent), an 8-of-12 clip from beyond the arc (66.7 percent), an out-of-this-world true shooting percentage (TS%) of 95.2 percent, and passing Ray Allen on the list of all-time three-point shots made in the NBA Playoffs (386 threes).

Coupled with Kevin Durant’s 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting, Draymond Green’s 17 points, and a team focused on both ends of the floor, the Warriors didn’t waste any time in establishing their superiority over the Clippers.

Let’s break down this intense first game of the NBA Playoffs.

The Warriors ramp up their defense

The prevailing notion that the long, 82-game grind of the regular season doesn’t matter does have some truth to it. For a championship team such as the Warriors, they are well aware of their own capabilities, and as a team that has the system, the talent, and the experience that is trumped by no other team in the league, the Warriors treat the regular season almost like a nuisance, something that they are in a hurry to get over with in order to proceed to the main event.

It showed in how they approached defense all season long — finishing 11th in the league with a 108.5 defensive rating, a relatively mediocre outcome for a team that is replete with excellent defenders.

In true main event fashion, however, there was a clear improvement in how the Warriors approached defense in this game against the Clippers. There was little to no miscommunication on the defensive end. Switches were seamless. There were rarely any defenders who failed to keep track of their assignments. Players were highly engaged, especially Durant, who has a tendency for lulls and losing focus on the defensive end.

The first possession of the game showed how much the Warriors wanted to set a tone defensively. Notice how Thompson denies Landry Shamet — a 42.2 percent shooter from beyond the arc — a chance at even touching the ball. Keep track of the seamless switching between Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, and how Durant keeps Ivica Zubac contained down low, eventually blocking his shot and living with a missed three from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, a mediocre three-point shooter (36.7 percent).

The Warriors held the Clippers to 40.4 percent shooting from the field, while limiting the number 2 team in three-point field goal percentage during the regular season to 36.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

A more telling statistic, however, is the Warriors’ defensive rating for this game — 95.4 — which signaled that the Clippers were incapable of completely breaking the Warriors’ defense.

The usual suspects excelled, as one would expect. Green was actively roaming the floor like a free safety, looking for passes to deflect and acting as a deterrent at the rim should brave souls choose the unfortunate option of trying to go straight at him. Thompson was an absolute rock who could not be moved in the post, as well as smothering a few drives to the rim. Andre Iguodala was as dependable as ever, with his trademark clean strips and steals that turned into buckets on the other end.

There is, however, one point of concern: The pick-and-roll tandem of Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell found gaping holes in the Warriors’ defense, especially against the duo of Quinn Cook — who had trouble containing Williams at the point of attack — and Cousins, who was exploited in the pick-and-roll and was too cumbersome to stop Williams from getting past him. Williams and Harrell combined for 51 of the Clippers’ 104 points, mostly through Williams linking up with his favorite pick-and-roll partner in Harrell.

As expected, Clippers cannot contain the Warriors’ offense

This much is clear: The Clippers have no hope in containing the Warriors’ juggernaut of an offense, unless Doc Rivers does something that completely throws the Warriors off from their comfort zone. But if Game 1 was any indication, the Clippers are more or less hapless on the defensive end.

Rivers did have one tangible approach to defending the Warriors, perhaps the only defensive tactic that he can employ in a series where his team is enormously disadvantaged in terms of talent and skill: leave Green and Cousins alone on the perimeter and dare them to shoot the ball. It’s a logically-sound tactic — more jump shots for Green and Cousins means less shots for Curry, Thompson, or Durant.

While that strategy largely worked for Cousins, who went 1-of-3 from beyond the arc and was mostly relegated to being a bystander when isolated up top, Green made the Clippers pay for leaving him alone, burying 2 of his 4 shot attempts from three-point range as well as driving inside and closing the distance whenever he was left alone on the perimeter, or stationing himself in the dunker’s spot just along the baseline and under the rim, especially when Durant was doubled in the post.

As mentioned above, Curry went nuclear on the Clippers, a favorite punching bag of his ever since the Warriors’ rise to the top of the NBA hierarchy. Based on his regular season numbers against the Clippers this year — 32.3 points on a shooting split of .541/.333/.950, as well as a TS% of 69.5 percent — Curry was bound to continue his personal tradition of running circles around a powerless Clippers defense.

The Clippers made it a habit to pick Curry up as quickly as possible, whether it was full court or just before he crossed the half-court line. The Warriors adjusted to this tactic by employing several high screens to allow Curry to break free of his defender. In some instances, the Clippers employed their bigs in a drop configuration, which hampered them from switching, hedging, or trapping Curry whenever he came off screens.

Perhaps the most eye-catching sequence of the night from Curry was his sublime display of ball-handling and finishing at the rim during this possession, where he managed to leave three defenders behind with his individual brilliance.

A big point of concern for the Clippers going into Game 1 was finding out a way to limit Durant, the one factor in the Warriors’ offense — aside from Curry — capable of completely picking apart the Clippers all by himself. The Clippers are bereft of any solid one-on-one defenders who possess the combination of length and defensive acumen to match up with Durant — but then again, such a player may not even exist on this world.

The Clippers settled with Patrick Beverley on Durant, a pesky defender who despite his pedigree as a stopper is at a huge height disadvantage. Hoping to bother Durant by smothering his base as well as infiltrating his psyche, Beverley was largely unsuccessful in doing so.

That is, until Beverley managed to lure Durant into being ejected alongside him, which is a small victory in and of itself. Beverley is expendable, and he is well aware of that fact. He is more than willing to garner a few technicals if it meant that Durant would be getting two himself, only five away from being suspended a game in the playoffs.

But in any case, Game 1 is now in the books, and those who were counting on surprises to happen — perhaps in the form of a monumental upset and a “We Believe” kind of effort from the Clippers — were surely disappointed. The game went largely as expected: a team counting on their highly-explosive bench duo for their source of buckets against a team well equipped to take advantage of their opponents’ lack of a defensive identity.

Adjustments are sure to be made — perhaps Rivers will abandon his gameplan of putting Beverley on Durant, putting him on Curry instead in an attempt to stifle the two-time MVP and preventing him from establishing a rhythm early on in Game 2. In turn, Rivers may be forced to put Shai Gilgeous-Alexander on Durant, which isn’t going be an upgrade over Beverley. Gilgeous-Alexander is taller and lengthier than Beverley, but he is a rookie, and someone like him who is inexperienced at defending an elite all-time great scorer like Durant in a high-pressure situation such as the playoffs could be a recipe for disaster.

All things considered, the Warriors may just be too much for the Clippers in the end. Instead of playing with their food and toying around, the Warriors immediately went for the take down at the onset, putting the Clippers in a choke hold and never letting go.

In the end, the Clippers were forced to submit to an adversary that they found extremely difficult to overcome.

One win down, 15 more to go.

Stay Golden, Dub Nation.

*All stats courtesy of NBA.com/stats and Basketball-Reference.com