The feud between the Los Angeles Clippers (57-25) and Golden State Warriors (51-31) is well-known; the teams just don’t like each other. They’ve pushed and shoved all year long and it seems neither team can stay out of each other’s way. As the rivalry between both teams has increased tremendously within the last two seasons, it’s only fitting they square off in the first round of the 2014 NBA playoffs – making this rivalry official and seemingly lasting.
In four meetings during the regular season, both teams walked away with two wins and two losses. Each game was high on energy, entertainment and technical fouls. Both squads blew the other out in one meeting and the other two games were both decided by less than nine points. There’s definitely no clear-cut favorite in this series, however the following are ten keys to the Clippers defeating the Warriors and advancing into the second round of the NBA Western Conference playoffs.
1. Good shot selection
The Warriors are 22-6 when holding the opposition below 40 percent shooting. However they haven’t held the Clippers under 40 percent once in the regular season. As the league’s highest scoring team (107.9 ppg), the Clippers must be selective about their shots. J.J. Redick‘s return to the starting lineup makes the Clippers offense more balanced and less of a wildcard in the early stages of the game. The Warriors own the league’s fourth best defensive rating (102.6), so getting good looks won’t be easy and all shots taken need to be smart.
2. Score well over 100
Sounds easy for the league’s leading team in points per game. However, the Warriors are 35-6 when holding the opposition below 100 points. In accordance to this stat, the biggest Clippers loss against the Warriors this year was a 92-111 defeat at Oracle Arena. The Clippers will need huge contributions from Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford. Carrying the scoring load should be easy between these three as they account for 61 of the Clippers 107 points per game.
3. Get a lead, keep a lead
The Warriors won seven games when facing a 15-point deficit, and in historic Clipper fashion, there have been times where the team gains a lead, relaxes a bit and the opposition makes it a close game. The Clippers must focus on setting the tone early in each game, stepping on the Warriors necks from the outset (not literally) and never letting up. It will take a maximum effort from tip to finish, as the Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson can get hot very fast.
4. Focus on Curry
The Warriors are 34-7 when Stephen Curry has 20 points and 10 assists. Curry loves to run off screens, but is also exceptional at creating space off the dribble and firing a shot. The Clippers must have a mix of quickness to stay in Curry’s face and length to distract his shot. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Matt Barnes play a few minutes on Curry just to get a bothersome hand in his face, more so than Chris Paul and Darren Collison can. The Warriors are also 36-13 when Stephen Curry has four or fewer turnovers and 12-0 when he only turns it over once or not at all. In both regular season losses to the Clippers, Curry had a total of 15 turnovers (with 11 in one game). The Clippers must force the ball out of Curry’s hands through double teams, forcing him to make poor passes.
5. Keep Igoudala off the boards
When Andre Igoudala scores in double figures (points and rebounds) the Warriors are 16-8. He’s not going to hit many outside shots and certainly won’t kill you from the free-throw line — he’s shooting 65 percent on the year. The best defense against Andre Igoudala includes keeping him out on the perimeter and forcing him to shoot. Matt Barnes and Danny Granger must box him out when Golden State puts up a shot, preventing his use of athleticism to crash the boards. He’s capable of huge plays off the boards which will fire up his teammates, subsequently resulting in big runs by the Warriors.
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6. Keep O’Neal off the glass
With center Andrew Bogut out indefinitely to fractured ribs, the Warriors will turn to their aged veteran Jermaine O’Neal. The Warriors are 11-2 when Jermaine O’neal scores in double-figures. DeAndre Jordan must be very physical in his play against O’Neal, constantly pushing him out of the paint, and not allowing him to be comfortable.
7. Force Klay Thompson off the three-point line
The Warriors are 10-1 when Thompson scores 27 or more points and as the league’s best team defending the three-point line, the Clippers will have to force Thompson to score 20 or more points off dribble-penetration, interior shots and contested perimeter jump shots over the athletic Clippers frontline. Thompson heating up from deep can spell trouble.
8. Limit Igoudala’s athletic impact on the game
Igoudala averages 65 percent from the line and as much as Warriors head coach Mark Jackson will use the hack-a-DeAndre method, the Clippers need to take advantage of Igoudala’s poor shooting. There’s no need for Doc Rivers to implement a hack-a-Iggy scheme. However, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan and Glen “Big Baby” Davis must be on alert. No easy buckets in the paint for Igoudala and if he’s headed towards the rim, it’s best to take the extra foul and send him to the line.
9. Prevent the drive and kick to the corner or wings, don’t gamble on defense
Warriors shoot an average of 46 percent from both wings and 41 percent from both corners. In the regular season ranked seventh in assists. Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry are masters at beating defenders off the dribble and passing the ball out to open shooters. The Clippers have to play intelligent defense, with guards constantly staying in front of their man, limiting the defensive gamble. One of the Warriors’ major strengths is penetrating the core of a defense, and once that defense collapses to focus on the ball handler in the paint, they kick the ball out for an uncontested three, where they average 38 percent collectively.
10. Cooler heads will prevail
This series is going to be a powder keg and it’s primed with two teams that have enough distaste and hatred for each other to cause a major explosion. The Warriors have shown the tendency to lose their composure in games, committing silly fouls often to the detriment of their team and coach Mark Jackson’s rotation. The Clippers must avoid any chance to lose a player due to retaliation-which may lead to suspension.
It’s going to take discipline and extreme focus for the Clippers to come out on top against the Warriors, but I have them closing this series 4-games-to-1. Here’s to arguably the most exciting series of this year’s postseason.