For the first three games of the series, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan camped in the lane on defense. They completely dominated the Golden State Warriors starting front line of David Lee and Jermaine O’Neal.
The Warriors duo looked intimidated and wary of putting up any shot in the lane and when they did, Griffin and Jordan were there to block or disrupt their shot. Los Angeles’ big men combined for 119 points, 62 rebounds and 17 blocks in the first three games, completely dominating the paint. Golden State needed to change its game plan to combat the Clippers big men dominance and their answer was to play “small ball.”
The Warriors achieved this by starting Draymond Green in place of O’Neal and moving Lee to the center position. This was a brilliant move by coach Mark Jackson because by doing this, Griffin and Jordan could not settle in the paint and wait for the Warriors to drive. Instead, the Warriors small ball brought the big men out of the key because of the shooting threats of Green and Lee from the outside. This allowed the Warriors to spread the court, making it easier for Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson to get open looks.
From the start of Game 4, the Warriors executed their small ball to perfection with Curry being the centerpiece. Curry hit his first five threes of the game, most of them coming off pick and rolls with Green and great ball movement, allowing Curry to get just enough daylight to get off quality looks from long range. Curry ended up with 17 points in the first quarter, pushing the Warriors lead to 20 late in the quarter and eventually closing it out, 39-24.
Not only did the small ball tactics work on offense, it improved the Warriors on the defensive end of the floor as well. Green, a much better defender than Lee, started on Griffin, and he made Griffin work for every shot he got in the quarter and the entire game. Griffin still ended up with 21 points and six rebounds on 8-of-14 from the floor, but it was a huge change from his 35 and 32 point efforts in Games 2 and 3. As for Jordan, Lee guarded him and he was a non factor the entire game. He was scoreless and only grabbed six rebounds in large part to Lee’s defense and the Warriors scintillating start.
The Warriors constantly doubled Griffin and Jordan, forcing them to commit multiple turnovers, which fueled Golden State’s transition game. The Warriors ended up 15 of 32 from three point range and outscored “Lob City” 27 to 8 in fast break points with everyone on the team contributing from Harrison Barnes to Hilton Armstrong to Andre Iguodala in the blowout victory, 118-97.
Iguodala had his best game as a Warrior, scoring 22 points, dishing out a game-high nine assists and shooting at an absurdly high percentage from the field and at the line. He shot 6-of-8 from the floor and 8-of-10 at the line. He showed everyone why the Warriors acquired him in the offseason, playing lockdown defense on the Clipper wings and showing his ridiculous athleticism in the open court.
For a good portion of the game, the Warriors were utilizing him as their point guard with Curry and Thompson, coming off multiple screens to get open looks. When the Clippers would pay too much attention to the Splash Brothers, Iguodala would find Green and Lee for uncontested dunks.
When Golden State can defend like it did in Game 4, which fuels its transition game, they are almost impossible to stop. The Clippers may have been thinking about their owner’s disgraceful comments throughout the game but even if they weren’t distracted, the Warriors found something they can use for the rest of the series and the Clippers may not have an answer for it.
The Warriors small ball tactics may fuel them to a series victory over the shocked Clippers. If Griffin and Jordan can no longer live in the paint, the Warriors will have free reign to penetrate, finish or find open shooters. It is not likely they will get off to such a great start in Game 5 but small ball should give them the edge and control of the series.