This is my Wednesday column on the Warriors-Clippers playoff series. WARNING: This is a basketball column. 49ers’ fans — feel free to skip this.
OAKLAND – Sure, the Warriors could beat the Clippers in this best-of-seven playoff series which is tied at one win apiece. Here’s the thing with that, though. The Warriors cannot guard the Clippers’ best player – Blake Griffin – one-on-one.
Otherwise, the Warriors are in great shape.
The Warriors’ center, Andrew Bogut, can guard Griffin one-on-one. Bogut frustrates and angers Griffin. We’ve seen that. But Bogut fractured his rib on April 10 and is out indefinitely. In the post, Griffin bulldozes the other Warriors big men – David Lee, Jermaine O’Neal, Marreese Speights and Draymond Green. Only Bogut has the size and strength to frustrate Griffin.
The Warriors and Clippers played each other four times during the regular season. Bogut played in all four games, and the Warriors outscored the Clippers by 16 points when he was on the court. That’s called having a “plus-minus” of plus-16.
Bogut has not played in this series, probably won’t play in the series, and in Game 1 Griffin’s plus-minus was plus-9 even though he played just 19 minutes. In Game 2, Griffin played 30 minutes and his plus-minus was plus-22.
So far, Mark Jackson has chosen not to double-team Griffin. So, Griffin has gotten everything he wants near the Warriors’ basket. Easy shots. Layups. Dunks.
Without Bogut, the Warriors cannot continue to guard Griffin one-on-one in the post. Well, they can if they want to lose.
“We will give (Griffin) different looks,” Jackson said at Wednesday morning’s workout in Oracle Arena. “We’ve got to be better individually defending him, offering resistance, and then collectively we’ve got to do a better job.”
Jackson’s first concept – being better at individually defending Griffin – makes you laugh. Go get him, David Lee!
The Warriors have no chance to stop Griffin one-on-one without Bogut. Not one Warrior is up to the task. If you disagree, name somebody.
Jackson’s second concept, the one about defending Griffin collectively, makes more sense, is something we can take seriously. Let’s focus on that one.
Does defending Griffin collectively mean double-teaming him? It should.
“I didn’t say anything about double-teaming him,” Jackson said sternly. “We will not get reckless and try to stop one guy.”
“Reckless” – interesting word. The Clippers are double and triple-teaming Stephen Curry most of the time. Does Jackson feel the Clippers’ strategy is reckless? It seems to be working – Curry is averaging just 19 points per game in this series, and his plus-minus is minus-22.
Maybe the Warriors need to try some recklessness and start double-teaming Griffin, if double-teaming even is enough. Maybe they should send in the National Guard. Jackson needs to rethink his position.
After shoot-around Wednesday morning, Klay Thompson sat courtside and considered the idea of double-teaming Griffin. “At times it can be a good option,” Thompson said. “But, at the same time they’ve got so many good perimeter shooters. You don’t want to give them too many good looks.”
There’s the catch. If the Warriors double-team Griffin, they will have to guard four Clippers with just three guys. That’s hard to do. And the Clippers have terrific shooters. And Griffin is a terrific passer.
So that’s checkmate, right?
Stephen Curry says no. He thinks double-teaming Griffin can work.
“It’s not ideal,” Curry admitted as he sat in a folding chair behind the south basket. “But when everybody is on the same page, we’re quick enough and smart enough defensively to make those reads, to make those plays and to force them to beat us from the outside.”
As he said that, Curry gazed at the paint as if he was having visions of Griffin muscling Lee at the block, shoving his elbow into Lee’s chest, backing Lee down, then sinking uncontested hook shot after uncontested hook shot over Curry’s helpless teammates.
“We’ve got to be aware of where he is in the post, and send help,” said Curry. “If you allow (Griffin) to take eight or nine dribbles in the post – he’s a pretty strong guy, he’s going to get to his spot and be able to make plays. We’ve got to play that cat-and-mouse game with him, and just be physical.”
The cat-and-mouse game is not necessarily a reckless, sell-out double team. The cat-and-mouse game works like this: Getting Griffin to catch the ball far away from the hoop. Sending a second defender at him once he has taken a couple of dribbles. Forcing him to pass or shoot a tough shot from a tough spot. And if he passes, rotating as quickly as possible to cover the open shooters.
The Warriors have to pull that off if they hope to beat the Clippers in this series.
Difficult? Sure. Doable? Yes.
Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for the Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.