To say Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors was pivotal would be an incredible understatement.
This was a bit of a put up or shut up game for Golden State. How would a team that was embarrassed by 40 points just three nights ago respond? Midway through the contest, it looked as if the Clippers were headed towards another dominant victory; but the Warriors, somehow, had an opportunity to win it at the end. However, a Stephen Curry air ball puts them squad down 2-1 headed into Game 4.
Games against the Clippers, playoffs or regular season, are always difficult to watch due to the extracurricular activity during after each play. People thought the playoffs would intensify the bad blood between these squads, but the attitude and emotion of the players seem to mirror the regular season. It doesn’t matter when these players see each other. They could cross paths at a Wendy’s in July and start throwing elbows. These teams simply do not like each other.
The Clippers have done a really good job trying to eliminate Curry from this series. Watching their game plan reminds me of watching Curry during his college career at Davidson. College teams watched him make shot after shot so they finally conceded to the idea of letting other players have wide open shots just so Curry would not torch them.
How are the Clippers doing it?
It is pretty simple actually. A lot of Curry’s damage comes from high pick-and-roll sets that result in a long shot, lane penetration, or a slick pass to the rolling big man. Los Angeles has decided to have both defenders involved in the pick-and-roll collapse on Curry immediately after the original pick, causing a miniature double team in the backcourt. This results in Curry never having an open shot and not being able to get into the lane. The only thing that leaves is dumping the ball off to a rolling big man. Unfortunately, no current big man on the Warriors is dangerous enough to worry the Clippers interior.
Even though the overall talent level for the Warriors is incredibly higher than any player on Davidson, the Clippers are scouting as if they are playing Curry’s Wildcat teams. Klay Thompson has been the only other Warrior who has contributed at a decently high level. But when J.J. Redick and Jamal Crawford are lighting it up from behind the arc, Thompson’s contributions become a wash. The contributions that are going to move the needle have to come from big men, and right now it’s hard to see where the production is going to come from. David Lee has looked soft this entire series. He cannot finish at the rim and has completely lost confidence in his outside shot. A previous article of mine stated the ceiling of the Warriors with Lee as their second best player. This theory still holds true. Lee stands around 6’ 10” but looks 5’ 10” when being destroyed by Blake Griffin.
I don’t know where this team is going to get post production if both Griffin and Jordan are able to stay on the floor. It’s unfortunate to say, but how the refs call fouls on both Clippers’ big men has a direct effect on the Warriors success. You hate to see such immense series value being placed on the referees, but it’s a legitimate theme.
Defensively, we all know Andrew Bogut’s impact, but we sometimes forget that Festus Ezeli is missing as well. I have to imagine the series would look different having those two giant resources to throw at the Clippers low post duo. Having Lee guard Griffin is a joke, but at this point they have no other choice. The combination of his strength, athleticism, flopping, and whining has turned Griffin into the most dominant player this series.
What was most difficult about watching this game, even when it was close, was the slow saddening realization that the Clippers may just be a better team. Not only do the Clippers possess a better one-two-punch, but they may also have the three best players (Paul, Griffin, Jordan) in the entire series when they scheme for Curry. Unless there is a radical shift in strategy made by Mark Jackson and the players, I don’t see how we as fans can think the punishment is not going to continue along the same lines as games two and three.
My tone is glum, and maybe a bit too glum. The Warriors could take Game 4 at home and this series would be completely even. Although, I curb my enthusiasm because I’m not sure if I have confidence in Jackson to outduel Doc Rivers, in terms of team strategy. Jackson’s offensive philosophy has allowed players to create plays and improvise. But if none of the individual players have the skills to beat their defensive assignment other than Curry, that thinking doesn’t hold up. It is still relatively early in the series. As pivotal as Game 3 was, Golden State is not in an awful position. However, it is extremely safe to assume that Game 4 is a must-win contest.