There were at least two instances last night when a Los Angeles Clipper defender opted to just outright hug Stephen Curry to stop the destruction. In a way, it’s the ultimate sign of respect, like tipping your king over in a game of chess. At one point, it occured during a one on five fast break - one where Curry had already dribbled through and around nearly all of them looking for a shot; one player just reached out and bearhugged Curry rather than let him continue his hunt.
On that play, you could almost here the defenders worrying about becoming a famous gif. Another in a long line of highlight plays that Curry has accumulated in his years of beating this Clippers team up. Curry was playing with the glee of my seven year-old boy yelling “get wrecked!” while destroying bots in his Plants versus Zombies Garden Warfare game. The stakes are higher, but the gleeful destruction of woefully underpowered opposition is comparable.
Checking in on the predicted strategies
The biggest and most important prediction (Dubs in four) is still alive and well, but what about some of the other subplots and strategies we’ve been discussing in the leadup to yesterday’s game?
The battle of offenses
One of the main factors we discussed in the series preview was the preponderance of offensive firepower that the Warriors bring to the table. In the playoffs, the Golden State offensive machine can drag a bit, but any shortfalls are more than covered by an increase in defensive intensity.
The shooting last night tells a familiar tale - it’s not so much that the Clippers were bad, the Warriors were just significantly better. Look at the rebounds and shooting percentages here from NBA.com:
The Clippers pick and rolll
While we still have no answers about the secret “L” hanging onto the end of Montrezl Harrell’s name, we did get some playoff-level feedback about how dangerous this matchup will be for Golden State in this series. As we discussed in our preview, there’s a dangerous confluence of risk here:
Did you know the Warriors were the third worst at covering the pick and roll this season? As per Positive Residual, the Clippers “scored 1.21 points per possession on P&R Roll Man plays (2nd highest in the NBA).” Taken together, you can see how this could be a problem.
Harrell was indeed a problem. A team high 26 points, on 11-15 shooting - along with five rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks. I wouldn’t put much weight on his -13 plus/minus value for this game (which is a result of some of the broader difficulties the Clippers had against Golden State), but rather point towards the fact that Harrell just had one foul.
This is a player that the Warriors may need to adjust for. Some of it will just be review of film and a “be better” message from the coaching staff, but watch for Kerr to roll out some alternative solutions if Harrell jumps out to a quick start early in game two.
Fouls and temperament; and Patrick Beverley’s “physicality”
The free throw disparity was extremely minor - 22 for the Clippers compared to 20 attempts for the Warriors team. But Kevin Durant did succumb to the taunting and earned an ejection. The game was already well beyond decided at that point, but I’m not at all buying the party line that Beverley’s defense didn’t ruffle Durant.
Coming into the playoffs on a string of some of the most efficient outings of his career, Durant turned in a bit of a stinker last night. 23 points on 16 shots, with just three assists to go along with three turnovers. As Anthony Slater pointed out on Twitter last night, this also ended up with Durant accumulating two technical fouls (of an allowable seven before a suspension). Nevermind that Beverley’s overall game was trash, this result counts as a “win” against the Warriors.
While most of us were looking like this guy below, I was audibly dubious about Durant’s professed ability to keep himself under control moving forward. In every Warriors playoff upset in recent memory, a missing player or two has sat at the center of it all. Durant staying out of trouble will need to be one of his highest priorities.
When the NBA postseason hits ... pic.twitter.com/5j5wLguayA— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) April 14, 2019
There’s a deeper problem here, for LA
The Los Angeles Clippers start three players that are ostensibly guards - two of whom are rookies. They opted to put Patrick Beverley, arguably their strongest defender on Kevin Durant. As we pointed out above, it mostly worked - for that one specific matchup - but it caused a cascade of defensive issues across the rest of the defense.
When Golden State added Durant, the immediate question for opponents was how to cover all three of our world class offensive contributors. Historically, teams would strongly overload on Curry, forcing Draymond Green to be the focal point of our creation on offense. With Durant, that option is pretty much off the board.
The Clippers defense didn’t work last night. But like Captain Kirk screaming for “more power” only to be told “that’s all she’s got, Captain”, I have a feeling Doc Rivers coaching staff is going to be doing a fair amount of blankly staring at their depth chart in their next planning meeting.