Although I have been a vociferous proponent of a more Nellieball approach for this Warriors team, I don’t for a second believe that the Warriors are actually better off without Andrew Bogut. Just want to state that up front for the benefit of those who are determined to misunderstand me.
There are several reasons, in fact, why the loss of Bogut will be particularly painful in this series against the Clippers. The first, quite obviously, having to do with Blake Griffin. Griffin is a player who demands a crossmatch. When he’s guarded by a center whom he cannot bully inside, he becomes a completely different player. The rookie Festus Ezeli’s defense of Griffin helped the Warriors to a 3-1 record against the Clips last season. And Bogut was particularly effective against Griffin this season as well. In fact, transformed him into a jump shooter, which is half the battle. The Warriors will miss Bogut badly in this matchup.
Another reason the Warriors will miss Bogut has to do simply with the number of warm bodies the Warriors have left on the front line. Jermaine O’Neal will no doubt start on Griffin — but how long can he go? And for how many games? And after JO, who? I wouldn’t be surprised if Mark Jackson kept David Lee away from him altogether, at least until the fourth quarter. Not because Lee can’t guard him — he actually guards him extremely well — but because he’s not fully healthy, and if Lee goes down as well, it’s all over.
I’m guessing that Mo Speights will take the second turn on Griffin. And how he fares will be a fascinating story in its own right. Speights doesn’t give up any size against Griffin. And I’m pretty sure he doesn’t give up any toughness.
Everyone’s favorite ballplayer Draymond Green will certainly get his turn, particularly in the fourth quarter when the Nellieball starts in earnest. But while Green is as tough as they come, he just gives up too much size to be able to handle Griffin for long. Griffin has literally steamrolled Green in the past, and relentlessly bullies him in the paint. Green will fight back, with flopping, steals and hard fouls, but the more minutes he’s forced onto Griffin the greater the risk of fouling out, and worse, injury.
A third reason why Bogut will be missed is that Nellieball is simply not as effective against the Clippers as it is against most big teams. DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin change ends as well as any big men in the game. Taking advantage of them in the running game is not easy, let alone running them off the court.
And Doc Rivers might not even prove adverse to matching up small with the Warriors. With Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu having been added to Matt Barnes and Jared Dudley, the Clips have all the smallball fours they need.
I will note, however, that the Warriors did beat the Clippers with fourth quarter Nellieball in one game this season. With David Lee at center, and Harrison Barnes at PF, and running Curry/Lee pick and roll with a spread floor.
The one positive that has been created by Bogut’s injury is that it will force Mark Jackson to become a better and more flexible coach. We can expect fourth quarter Nellieball to be a staple of the Warriors strategy in this series. And for that reason, I like the Warriors chances in any game in which their frontline weathers the assault well enough to keep the Warriors close through three quarters.
I don’t see many people getting right the way Mark Jackson will choose to guard the Clippers, so here’s my take:
As mentioned above, I think the Warriors will start big to begin the first and third quarters, and JO will start on Blake Griffin. Followed by Speights.
David Lee will be crossmatched on Jordan, and he generally does a fine job keeping him away from alley-oops and the offensive boards.
Curry might start on Chris Paul, but Klay Thompson will take over for him, because Klay does a superb job on Paul. His length and cleverness are very disruptive of the pick and roll, and Chris Paul’s in-between game.
If Klay guards Redick he will struggle, because it is tougher for him to stay glued to smaller and quicker three point shooters, than it is to pick and roll point guards. Redick has run circles around Klay in previous games.
Iggy should start on Redick, although Jackson might open the game conventionally, with Iggy on Barnes. But as the game progresses, expect Curry to spend considerable time guarding the small forward. If the Clips want to attack that matchup, fine. As Don Nelson said (as he beguiled teams into similar traps), “They can only exploit one matchup at a time.” Curry also happens to be one of the toughest low-post defenders of bigger players I’ve ever seen, and did a great job guarding Dudley in the low post in a previous game.
We can expect the Clippers to do some crossmatching as well when it comes to the Warriors backcourt. I expect to see a lot of Matt Barnes on Stephen Curry, the second best defender on Klay Thompson, and Iggy guarded frequently by the point guard.
The Second Unit: The Clippers have destroyed the Warriors second unit all season long, including the last game after the additions of Blake and Crawford. I think this has had a lot to do with poor coaching. Mark Jackson has forced the second unit into a deliberate, halfcourt, extremely iso-heavy style of play. A style of play that is in fact completely unsuited to their talents.
This is one area in which the loss of Bogut might actually prove a boon. With Jermaine O’Neal and David Lee logging heavy minutes with the first unit, Jackson will almost be forced to go small on the second unit. And his favorite second unit post-up player, JO, will no longer be available to him.
Will Jackson finally take the reins off his second unit, and let them RUN? Instead of running post-up after post-up, will he finally take the reins off Jordan Crawford, and let him TAKE OVER?
We will get a solid indication of whether Mark Jackson is going to give the Warriors a chance to win this series, as soon as the second unit takes the floor in Game 1.
Stephen Curry: Curry is one of the top 4 players in the league right now. He is the Warriors’ LeBron, KD, Harden. If the Warriors are going to win this series, Curry has to take over, and come up huge.
The Clippers know this. And we can expect them to try to take him out — to try to cut off the head of the Warriors’ snake. That means…
… Matt Barnes. He might not start on Curry, but he will almost assuredly finish on him. And as we’ve already seen this season, Barnes’ length and quickness give Curry problems.
… And blitzing. We can expect the Clips to try to take the ball out of Curry’s hands altogether. All of the Clips’ centers, Jordan, Griffin and Big Baby, are mobile enough to blitz the pick and roll.
But if there is an upside to Bogut’s injury, it is that Curry will now be playing exclusively with scoring centers. Centers who WANT to shoot, and WANT to roll, and WANT to catch the ball in traffic, and WANT to take the ball to the rack, and WANT to get to the line. Which means Curry and the Warriors have the means to bust the blitz.
Pick and roll, Mark Jackson. Not ISOs. Not post-ups. PICK AND ROLL.
Klay Thompson: The Clippers have a devilish dilemma. They start only one playoff quality defender on the wings, Matt Barnes. If they use him on Curry, they will be forced to guard Klay and Iggy with Chris Paul and JJ Redick. Can that work?
I’m not sure how the Clips will solve this problem. They could very well start Barnes on Klay, and try to hide a smaller defender on Iggy. But that allows Curry to go wild.
One thing is certain, regardless of the matchup, Doc Rivers will do everything he can to prevent Klay from getting open looks at threes. That means Klay will have to be relentless in driving the lane. The Clips will be crowding him, and the drive will be open.
Klay’s explosion of aggressiveness after the all-star break, and burgeoning finishing ability, have justifiably brought him a lot of recent attention. He’s now recognized at large as one of the best two-guards in the league, and a sure-fire All-Star.
You can throw all that out now. This is the playoffs, and it is in the playoffs that the real names are made. The Hall of Fame names.
In last year’s playoffs, Klay let himself get completely taken out of the Spurs series by Kawhi Leonard. Standing on the wings, waiting for open opportunities that never came.
He can’t afford to repeat that performance this time around. If the Warriors are going to beat the Clippers, Klay can’t wait for opportunities. He has to make them happen, and seize them by the throat.
He has to force JJ Redick off the court, and give Doc Rivers sleepless nights wondering about where to assign Matt Barnes.
Andre Iguodala: Iggy is going to have a HUGE series. You can make book on it. Why? Because Iggy is this year’s Harrison Barnes. You remember the Nuggets and the Spurs guarding Barnes with their point guards last year, don’t you? And the resultant explosion of offense that had the ignorati trading David Lee and penciling in Barnes at starting PF? Well, in this series, it is going to be Andre Iguodala who gets the Barnes treatment. Who gets guarded by the point guard.
And Mark Jackson is going to ISO him and post him up. A lot. There is evidence that Iggy is aware of this, and is ready: He’s been much more aggressive looking for his offense in the last few games of the season.
David Lee: It’s so ironic that he’s hobbled now that Bogut is out, and the Warriors need him most to play center. The sublime Curry/Lee pick and roll with a spread floor, buried for so much of the last three years, could be a game changer in this series.
If he somehow makes it to the end.
Draymond Green: He will be crucial to the Warriors’ Nellieball attack, and no one doubts he will play big.
I’m worried about his minutes on Blake Griffin, and whether he can stay healthy. He’s about to take a brutal amount of punishment.
So why am I looking forward to this confrontation so much?
Harrison Barnes: Is Barnes ready to step up and redeem his season? He finally seems to have turned his offensive slump around, and regained some aggressiveness.
If Mark Jackson resorts to Nellieball in earnest, the open floor and fast tempo could do wonders for Barnes’ game. So could giving him minutes at PF, and forcing the Clips to guard him with their point guards.
Mo Speights: There’s not an insignificant chance that Mokur could not only be the Warriors’ starting center, but also their last big man standing, by the time this series comes to a close.
But whether that calamitous occurrence arises or not, Mokur is going to get the opportunity of a lifetime in this series.
Which good or bad, will make for some fascinating viewing.
Go Mokur go!
Jordan Crawford: One of my keys to the series. That 40 point explosion in the last game showed you what he’s capable of when unleashed. But will Mark Jackson unleash him?
He should, for more than a few reasons. Crawford unleashed, with the ball in his hands, is the best version of Crawford. And Crawford simply taking over the second unit is the best version of the second unit. By far.
And the best winning strategy for an inferior team (if that’s what the Warriors are) to beat a superior team, is to RAISE THE VARIANCE. Up the tempo, scramble the game, get as many shots up as possible, and as many threes up as possible. Which also happens to be this Bogut-less Warriors team’s best and most authentic style.
Free Jordan Crawford, Mark Jackson. Raise the variance. Give the second unit a chance.
Give the Warriors a chance.
Jermaine O’Neal: In the back of his mind is the thought that if he can keep himself healthy, the Warriors can win a championship. You know it’s there.
He will start, and he will be matched up against Blake Griffin on defense.
On offense, JO will be guarded by DeAndre Jordan — the Clips won’t crossmatch. Mark Jackson must somehow restrain himself from posting JO up. It simply won’t work — Jordan ate JO alive in the post this season.
Pick and roll, Mark Jackson. Pick and pop, even. Pull Jordan out of the lane. Open the floor. Break the Curry blitz.
It’s going to be a battle of attrition for this old warrior going head to head against the monster that is Blake Griffin in his prime. He hasn’t had a great track record staying healthy in the last five years. But he’s going to be greatly aided by the significant time off between games in this series. (Three days off between games 2 and 3?) Can he weather the physical assault? Can he do it for 6 games? Because of his age, this will be the most demanding physical test of his career.
We’re about to find out whether this great warrior has enough left in the tank to become a Warrior great.
But if by some miracle he, and David Lee, and Draymond Green, are all still standing tall when crunch-time in Game 6 rolls around…
Well then, Believe.