Potentially one of the most entertaining series of the first round took a big hit in the competitiveness department when the Warriors’ Andrew Bogut suffered a rib injury that will keep him sidelined for this series. Without Bogut, Golden State is going to be hard-pressed to deal with the intimidating size and athleticism of the starting frontcourt duo of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.
David Lee will be pressed into service as a smallball center much more than usual, and Marreese Speights and Jermaine O’Neal will both have to see more time than Mark Jackson had in mind. Jackson would be wise in these circumstances to employ a David strategy – make high-risk, high-reward choices and hope the variance pendulum happens to swing in his favor.
He has one hell of a team for it. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson average 14.5 three point attempts per game between them, and there’s not a better high-reward strategy in the game than jacking up a ton of threes and hoping they fall. Adding an extra wing in place of Bogut will probably only increase the number of threes taken, though the two likely candidates for those minutes (Draymond Green and Harrison Barnes) haven’t exactly lit the world on fire from distance this season.
The biggest boost the Warriors can hope for is actually from Lee manning the middle. He is a talented offensive player in his own right, but his presence at center will force the Clippers to reconsider some of their core principles. When Doc Rivers arrived, he made it a point to build up Jordan’s confidence and make him a better defensive anchor. One of the main strategies he employed to make this happen was to have Jordan linger around the paint most of the time. While Jordan will dutifully jump out to trap a ballhandler in pick and roll coverage, most of his energy is spent protecting the rim and using his athleticism to frustrate opposing drives.
With Lee, an effective outside-in big, Jordan may have to leave his usual spot and venture out a bit more. That could disrupt the Clips enough for Curry to go nuts a couple of times, and that sort of thing can swing a series. The Warriors have actually had a lot of success shooting threes against L.A., a big surprise given that the Clippers led the league in opponent 3-point accuracy (on the season opponents only hit 33.2% from deep). The path to an upset in this series will be paved with the long ball if indeed Golden State can pull it off.
Now for the bad news for the Warriors: L.A. led the league in offensive efficiency, and they’re not about to get stopped by David Lee. The presence of Andre Iguodala on the perimeter is the only saving grace for this team now that Bogut is gone, and his talents may be a bit wasted in this series. He can’t keep up with Chris Paul for long stretches, and is too small to deal with Griffin. The Clips don’t rely on their wings to initiate their offense, so Iggy will only be able to focus on stopping his man from getting open threes while also trying to disrupt passing lanes.
More bad news: Paul is known for coasting through the regular season and cranking up his intensity in the playoffs, and Curry is hardly going to be able to stop him. Without Bogut to help clean up the mess after the perimeter is breached this could be a long series for the Warriors as they scramble to deal with Paul. Once that breach happens, one of J.J. Redick or Matt Barnes will come open on the perimeter, or someone will have to help off of Jordan or Griffin. Many a poster-worther dunk has resulted from that action.
Neither bench is likely to move the needle much, although spot appearances by Glen Davis and Danny Granger for L.A. or Steve Blake and O’Neal for the Warriors will provide some throw-back charm to the series. Ultimately this should be a flashy and fun battle between two teams who can’t stop each other, but the Clippers have the definite upper hand.