The Warriors won the first game of their opening round series against the Clippers on Saturday afternoon, but the folks in L.A. shouldn’t be too concerned. After all, it’s not every day that their bench combines for 26 points on 8-for-30 shooting from the floor, or that Chris Paul misses two clutch free throws with 11.9 seconds remaining in regulation, or that the most comfortable Jamal Crawford looks all game long is launching a half-court heave at the end of the first quarter, or that Marreese Speights gives the Warriors quality minutes off the bench, or that Glen Davis is forced to log 21 minutes in year 2014 because nobody can keep their hands to themselves. The list goes on, and on, and on, but the biggest factor was that Blake Griffin watched most of the game from the sidelines because of foul trouble. In the 19 minutes he did play, he made some things happen, and had he not racked up six fouls, perhaps the complexion of the game would’ve changed entirely and the Clippers wouldn’t have given up home court advantage as a result.
The reason Griffin is so important in this series (other than the fact that he is a freak of nature and was the Clippers’ leading scorer this season) is simple: without Andrew Bogut in the lineup, who fractured his rib last week, the Warriors are left with an old, creaky Jermaine O’Neal and the always porous David Lee as their back line of defense. One would expect the dynamic front-line of DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin to manhandle those two, and at times, they did. With Griffin on the court, the Clippers made a conservative effort to feed him the ball in the low post so that he could advantage of Lee’s poor post defense. While he didn’t play much, in the few minutes he was out there on the court, that plan of attack worked, and Griffin finished the game tied with Chris Paul for the best plus/minus on the team (+9).
It’s no secret that the Clippers will look to focus on that matchup moving forward, and to avoid the inevitable double-team that Mark Jackson will throw Griffin’s way, they’ll have to get creative to put him in good, scoring positions. Below is an example of one of the plays they ran yesterday to do just that.
Step One: Driving To The Store
The formation in this play is pretty simple: J.J. Redick takes the ball out out of bounds, Chris Paul makes himself open by popping out to the three-point line, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan set up at either elbow, and Matt Barnes parks himself on the low block, far, far away on the weak side. Redick passes the ball to Paul, steps back on the court, and we’re off.
Step Two: Buying The Bait
Paul unloads the ball to Jordan and makes his way to the basket. Barnes saunters into the paint, too, while Griffin turns his shoulder and looks completely disinterested because he’s such a good actor. Redick makes a strong cut to Jordan for a hand off.
Step Three: Casting The Reel
Redick curls off of Jordan’s screen, forcing Jermaine O’Neal to play some help defense. (It also helps that Iguodala has to go over the screen because of Redick’s ability to shoot threes). As soon as he sets the pick, Jordan rolls towards the paint where there is a myriad of people. Griffin hasn’t moved much since the last time we saw him, but Paul and Barnes are both close to him, setting screens on David Lee — one behind him and one on his side. The only way Lee can stick with Griffin, who begins to move towards the basket, is if he trails him or goes over Paul’s screen. Either way, he’s in a bad position, and needs help from either Steph Curry or Klay Thompson, which he doesn’t get.
Step Four: Catching A Fish
Griffin rolls to the basket and to no surprise, he’s wide open. The Warriors get confused thanks in large part to what else is going on in the play: Paul manages to manoeuvre himself in a position where it looks like he’s setting a screen on Curry to help Barnes free himself up before using Jordan’s wide frame to get an open look at the top of the key. Redick also does a good job of dribbling the ball down to the baseline to give himself a passing angle or set himself up for a good look at the basket if the defense sags off.
Here’s a video of the play:
The Clippers missed Blake Griffin in a big way yesterday. His ability to score on the low block, stretch the floor on pick-and-pops, bulldoze his way to the rim in transition and find open teammates out of double teams puts tremendous pressure on a defense; the type that Jermaine O’Neal nor David Lee can cope with. For the Clippers to put themselves back in the drivers seat, they’ll need him playing his usual 36 minutes, and if that’s the case, they should be fine. We’ve seen what he is capable of plenty of times before, and you can expect Doc Rivers to build the Clippers’ game plan around his matchup with David Lee.