The Los Angeles Clippers stunned the Golden State Warriors in Game 2 of their playoff series, clawing their way out of a 31-point hole. The largest comeback in playoff history shocked the defending champs, and announced to the NBA world that the Clippers might be for real.
They may not have the treasure trove of talent that the Warriors have, but the Clippers do have a gritty, never-quit attitude that has served them well this year. They’ve won nine games this season when trailing by 15 or more points. They even came back from down 28 against the Boston Celtics in February. Lou Williams, their leading scorer, is third in the NBA in fourth quarter points. And in the clutch, defined as being within five points with less than five minutes to play, Lou Williams has the highest net rating in the NBA.
So it’s no surprise that it was their grit, mixed with a lack of Warriors’ focus, that resulted in an unbelievable 72-37 run to close the game after the Warriors were up 31.
While the comeback was a result of numerous factors, there was one play that the Clippers kept going back to. With Lou Williams being the NBA leader in bench points scored in league history, the Clippers ran a lot of pick-and-rolls for him throughout the year. Williams was fourth in the NBA this season with his 11.1 possessions/game as the pick-and-roll ball handler. In the two playoff games he’s played, that number is up to 17 possessions a game in the pick-and-roll.
Montrezl Harrell, the Clippers’ backup center, is the main roll man in pick-and-roll situations. Harrell was eighth in the NBA in points scored as the pick-and-roll roll man, with 4.4 points per game. In his two playoff games though, Harrell is averaging an absurd 11.5 points a game as the roll man in pick-and-roll plays.
The Clippers’ best combination is the Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell pick-and-roll, and the Warriors couldn’t find a way to stop it on Monday night. Williams dropped 36 points in Game 2, but the pick-and-roll especially gave the Warriors fits.
Both Williams and Harrell come off the bench, but their chemistry has been great all year. And it was on full display as they dismantled the Warriors’ defense time and time again. Let’s dive in and see why that one play had so much success in their Game 2 upset.
In this play in the second quarter, the Clippers ran the Williams-Harrell pick-and-roll and got a dunk out of it.
Here, JaMychal Green came up to set a screen for Lou Williams. Klay Thompson started to “ice” it, which is a type of screening defense where the defender uses his body to force the ball handler away from the screen. But Green was merely a decoy, and Klay’s positioning left him completely out of the play for the real action, which was when Harrell came up for the pick-and-roll.
Williams drove to the basket, and Bogut was forced to step up and leave Harrell for a second. A nifty bounce pass to Harrell gave him the dunk.
Less than a minute later, the Clippers ran the same play.
Here, Quinn Cook got caught up on the Harrell screen and was a step behind Williams. Kevon Looney then had to guard both Williams and Harrell, and when Lou-Will elevated, Looney committed to contesting the shot. Then in mid-air, Williams made the easy pass to Harrell for the lay-in.
Late in the second quarter, the Warriors tried something different. They had Williams’ defender fight over the screen and try to recover, allowing the big man to “stay at home” and guard Harrell.
You can see the change in defense on this play, but Williams gets the bucket anyway.
On the initial screen action, Kevin Durant did a good job of using his body to fight over the screen. So Harrell screens again, this time slowing Durant down for a second. Williams had an open lane, and this time Looney stayed with Harrell, counting on Durant to recover in time to contes the shot. Now with some space, Lou knocked down the easy floater, even with KD contesting the shot a little late.
In the third quarter, the Warriors continued to struggle to defend the pick-and-roll. Several times, the Warriors’ defenders got caught trying to fight over the screen early, and Williams blew right past them.
On this play, Draymond Green was defending Lou Williams on a switch. When Harrell came up for the pick, Draymond took a step with his right foot to start to go around the screen. Lou read this and saw that Draymond gave him a lane. So he drove right by Green and was able to finish around Looney.
In the fourth quarter, mistakes by the Warriors continued to open up the lane for Williams. The Warriors were either trying to step around the Harrell screen early, or starting to get into “ice” defense way too early. One way or another, they were out of position trying to anticipate the pick, and were practically giving Lou Williams a driving lane.
On this play with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter, Andre Iguodala took a step too far to his right when Harrell came for the screen. Again, he could’ve been trying to step around the screen, or preparing to ice the pick-and-roll a little early. As a result, Lou went away from the screen, had a free lane, and drove right by Iguodala. Bogut helped off of Harrell and fully committed to Lou. And Lou’s nifty pass around Bogut to the open Harrell led to the dunk.
Two minutes later, almost the exact same defense by the Warriors yielded the exact same result.
Klay Thompson was a shade too far to his right as he prepared for the pick-and-roll. Williams drove right by him, leaving Bogut to, again, have to defend two men at once. Bogut didn’t fully commit to Williams this time, instead staying in the middle of the paint to try to contain both players. But a smart bounce pass to Harrell led to the layup over Bogut, who wasn’t in position to guard the rolling big man.
With the Warriors realizing throughout the game that no strategy was working against the Lou Williams-Montrezl Harrell pick-and-roll, they resorted to trapping the ball handler. They wanted to force someone other than Lou Williams to beat them. Which, once again, did not work out well for Golden State.
On this play early in the fourth quarter, the Warriors clearly changed up their strategy to defend the pick-and-roll. Off of the pick, both Iguodala and Bogut stayed with Williams, and Shaun Livingston was hovering as well. Livingston completely left his assignment, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, in the weak-side corner, and chose to help on the pick-and-roll coverage.
Williams eventually drew all three defenders–Bogut, Livingston, and Iguodala–to him, and craftily passed behind his back to Harrell, who nailed the push shot in the lane.
The Warriors tried defending the pick-and-roll in multiple ways, but nothing seemed to work. So it was no surprise that, with the game on the line, the Clippers had the ball in the hands of Lou Williams again.
With the clock winding down and the Clippers down one, Montrezl Harrell did come up to set a high screen, as if they were running their dangerous pick-and-roll. But Harrell then left to go down to the paint. Instead, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander came up to screen for Lou Williams. This was, no doubt, an attempt to get Stephen Curry to guard Lou Williams on the final possession.
To counter, Thompson and Curry double-team Williams, and he was forced to pass to Gilgeous-Alexander, who popped out to the top of the arc. The Clippers now have a four-on-three. When Gilgeous-Alexander drove, Andre Iguodala chose to help off of Landry Shamet one pass away.
Gilgeous-Alexander made the right play to pass it out to the open Shamet, and the rookie sank the biggest shot of his career.
It didn’t matter what the Warriors did on defense all night. They failed to contain Lou Williams, especially when he ran the pick-and-roll with Montrezl Harrell. The Williams-Harrell duo will continue to give the Warriors fits until Steve Kerr can figure out a way to stop them.
Give credit to the Clippers for never giving up and fighting to the end. And give credit to Lou Williams for constantly dicing up the Warriors’ shoddy defense, reading the defender, and making the right play off of screens to either score or find the open man.
The Warriors have more talent, more at stake, and may win the series when it’s all said and done. But Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are presenting an interesting problem for Kerr and the Warriors.
Every playoff series is a chess match between coaches–a back-and-forth of moves and counter-moves. Doc Rivers used that Williams-Harrell pick-and-roll constantly, and is a strong option for the Clippers to keep going back to in future games. Now, it’s Kerr’s move, and the Warriors will need an answer.
But if the defending champs don’t figure it out soon, this series against the upstart, gritty Clippers could be much more than they bargained for.