The Clippers knew what was coming and couldn’t stop the Warriors; what now?
LOS ANGELES – The L.A. Clippers and Golden State Warriors each had two days off between Games 2 and 3. Patrick Beverley’s defensive effort on Kevin Durant the last few days led to a lot of talk about the 6-foot-11 Durant being stopped a 6-foot-1 Beverley. Durant let everyone know that he was Kevin Durant and can score whenever he want. In a sense, Game was over before it even started.
Durant scored a game-high 38 points on 14-of-23 shooting from the field Thursday night in just 30 minutes of action. He started the game a red-hot 6-of-6 from the field, which sparked the Warriors to a Game 3 victory and their second 130+ point performance in a row.
The Clippers unsurprisingly had no answer for Durant, and all the hype about Beverley’s defense quickly dissipated.
“Their shots were going in the whole game,” said Beverley following the loss. “I thought we played great defense up until that six-minute mark in the second quarter. We kind of blew it up from there. There were some things that we couldn’t control. [Kevin Durant] got hot and made some shots. We got in foul trouble. KD made a lot of shots.”
Lou Williams, who finished with 16 points and six assists on just 4-of-11 shooting, fully expected this type of response from Durant after the last several days. The whole team expected it. The only problem is that they had no answer or counter-punch to Durant.
“He’s a top 3 player in this league, he made those statements with confidence,” said Lou Williams. “We expected that. Only thing I’m disappointed about is that he announced himself before he even got here and we didn’t come prepared. We just didn’t do a good job. On the other side of that coin. He is Kevin Durant, he’s capable of making those shots. Tonight he did that.”
Aside from not preparing for Durant, the Clippers shot uncharacteristically bad in Game 3. According to NBA.com/stats, L.A. shot just 10-of-30 on open shots (defined as the closest defender being between four and six feet away). Even more surprising: Clippers shot 2-of-19 on wide open shots (defined as the closest defender being six or more feet away).
It isn’t as simple as missing open shots, as the Warriors made the Clippers work for open shots (and sometimes overpass). A number of those open looks were likely rushed, coming at the end of the shot clock, and on a fly-by shot fake that gets a player out of his catch-and-shoot rhythm.
It appeared to affect Danilo Gallinari the most, who shot 2-of-13 from the field and a combined 1-of-11 on those open or wide open looks (as defined by NBA.com/stats).
So where do the Clippers go from here, down 2-1 in the series, and once again looking outmatched on both ends?
It is a lot easier said than done, but to start, the Clippers might really need to consider a change to the starting lineup. Ivica Zubac has unfortunately been a non-factor for the Clippers outside of his garbage time dominance in Game 3 (He finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds in the fourth quarter). The obvious answer would be JaMychal Green, who can spread the floor and has been far better than Zubac this series. That, however, is how badly L.A.’s starting lineup has been outplayed by Golden State’s. (Shoutout to ‘The Athletic’s Jovan Buha for his in-depth piece on why the starting lineup should be mixed up).
This hasn’t been mentioned because it seems incredibly unlikely, but could the Clippers actually consider starting Williams and Harrell together in a must-win Game 4? Their best lineup since the trade deadline has been the Beverley-Williams-Shamet-Gallinari-Harrell five with a net rating of +20.1 in 68 minutes together across 19 games. The questions just pile on from there, however.
How much of a factor is rebounding? What do you do with the second unit? Would they actually bring their lottery pick off the bench after starting him most of the year? That just sounds like an issue the Clippers would like to avoid entirely. What’s even more unavoidable, however, is how badly L.A.’s starting lineup has been outplayed by Golden State’s.
“We got open looks, but I think it’s funny, some of those looks were not as open [as the stats show],” said Rivers Friday afternoon before the team took part in a film session at their practice facility. “They were rushed, guys were running at them, but the analytic numbers say they were open. We know that that is actually not true but we still missed a lot of open shots, there’s no doubt about that. We also missed a lot of layups at the basket or didn’t convert.
“To me watching it offensively, it felt a lot like game 1 where we had 5-on-4s, 4-on-2s and not only did we not come up with anything, we didn’t even get to the basket to shoot it. They were allowed to match back up and take us out of it and those things can’t happen.”
In addition to that, the Clippers as a team really need to get Gallinari in better positions on the floor. That includes Gallinari figuring out different ways to get easier looks. He had solid looks in Game 3, but the Warriors are content with everyone else in the starting unit beating them (and rightfully so).
Anytime Gallinari drives to the paint, he’s seeing two bodies as soon as he places the ball on the court. When he catches it inside the paint from the 10-15 feet zone, he sees a double-team. The Warriors are versatile enough to take Gallinari out of the offensive equation and defend the rest of the Clippers starters.
“We have to get Gall going,” Rivers added “Like, we’ve got to get Gall playing better, bottom line, on both ends, too. He’s got to rebound better, he’s got to be more assertive offensively. We have to put him in positions to do that and I have every confidence that he will because that’s what he’s done all year. But he’s a big key for us and so far other than that one quarter in Game 2 they’ve been very good at guarding him and we’ve not been very good at taking advantage of what he can do for us.”
Defensively, the Clippers have done absolutely nothing to stop the Warriors. Through three games, Golden State is averaging 128 points and 32.3 assists per game on 52.5 percent shooting.
According to NBA.com/stats, Golden State ranks third among playoff teams in transition points per game at 23.3 behind the Houston Rockets (28.0) and Milwaukee Bucks (30.5). They’re also highest in turnover frequency in those transition opportunities, giving the ball away nearly a quarter of the time (24.6 percent).
If they’re not going to limit their percentages, the Clippers need to at least force more turnovers where they can score in transition themselves. Taking the ball out from under the basket every time isn’t an ideal scenario to get playoff wins.
Again, a lot easier said than done.
Prior to Game 3, Rivers crushed a lot of the Game 2 celebrations with a reality check on the Clippers’ first couple of performances.
“Listen, we came back and what we did was historic but the reality tells a whole different story. The reality is that we were down 31 and the reality is we’re not going to win a lot of games against anybody doing that. The reality is they’re shooting over 50% and there’s a lot of realities in this series that don’t bode well unless we do something about it. I’m fully aware of that, all the backslapping and all that is nice but we need to get back to reality that we got to play better if we’re going to win.”
Those numbers didn’t improve after Game 3. Stephen Curry is averaging 29.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 4.7 assists on 57.8 percent shooting from the field and 58.6 percent from beyond the arc through three games. Durant isn’t too far behind, averaging 27.4 points, 4.3 rebounds, and 5.0 assists on 57.4 percent shooting from the field. The Warriors are putting up big numbers with the third Splash Brother Klay Thompson yet to break through, averaging just 13.7 points on 44 percent shooting.
Game 4 will be on Easter Sunday at 12:30 PM PST. The Warriors will have spent Friday and Saturday night in Los Angeles, and everyone knows about L.A.’s undefeated nightlife. Game 4 will likely be the Clippers’ lone opportunity to extend this series. If they go down 3-1 heading back to Oracle Arena, odds are the Warriors will go for the kill and some extra rest days.