10:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Golden State -3.5
A rematch of last year’s entertaining First Round Playoff Series is on tap tonight as the undefeated Golden State Warriors host the Los Angeles Clippers at ORACLE Arena. The Warriors (3-0) are now off to their best start in twenty years, winning their first two games by a total of 41 points, before traveling to Portland and earning a hard-fought 95-90 victory. After jumping out to a 30-22 lead in the First Quarter, the hosts rallied back over the next twenty-four minutes to tie the game up at 68-68 entering the final stanza. From there the visitors pulled away late, rendering Portland scoreless over the final two minutes, with Stephen Curry netting a quartet of crucial free-throws down the stretch. Speaking of Curry, he and fellow sharp-shooter Klay Thompson torched the Trail Blazers throughout the contest; The Splash Bros. combined for a total of 50 points on 17-of-40 shooting (.425), including 12-for-12 from the charity stripe, while the rest of the team accounted for 45 points. On the night, Steve Kerr’s charges were dominated on the glass (minus-15), but managed to outscore their opponent 42-36 in the paint, and enjoyed a significant advantage from the free-throw line, where they netted 17-of-21 attempts (.810), outscoring Portland by eight in that regard. Now to extend that flawless start even further, the Warriors must defeat the same team that eliminated them in seven games in the opening series of last year’s Western Conference Playoffs, which of course prompted a number of changes that have shown some very positive returns early in the campaign.
Many pundits shook their heads after Golden State swiftly relieved Mark Jackson of his duties after their premature postseason demise, for after all, the Head Coach had taken this team to a 51-31 record, the franchise’s best since the 1991-1992 season, when Tim Hardaway, Chris Mullin, and Mitch Richmond were scoring points wholesale. Jackson had molded the Warriors into a top-five unit on both ends of the court, but there were far too many times in which poor execution sloppy mistakes doomed the offense, particularly against the better teams int he Western Conference. Enter Steve Kerr, who has been charged with cleaning up the offensive side of things, and fine-tuning a group that possesses a wealth of talent. While owning zero coaching experience, Kerr learned at the feet of both Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich, who together have accounted for sixteen NBA Championships, and will look to incorporate bits and pieces of both of those esteemed coach’s systems to truly evolve his team into a forced to be reckoned with. And so far, so good in the Bay Area; thus far, the Warriors are averaging 105.7 points (4th overall) on an efficient 48.1% shooting from the field (5th overall), including 54.1% from inside the arc (3rd overall) and 33.3% from beyond it (14th overall), along with a healthy 24.3 assists (3rd overall). One of the biggest differences is Kerr’s instance of pushing the tempo to the maximum, for Golden State has averaged 100.5 possessions per 48 minutes, clocking in at the fastest pace in the league. Surprisingly, with the focus on the offensive end of the court, this team has not lost their edge on the defensive end; after years of defensive ineptitude, Kerr has carried on in Jackson’s steed, as his charges have allowed just 90.3 points (2nd overall) on a league-best 39.5% shooting from the field. Having a plethora of two-way players helps to enforce that, with the aforementioned Thompson proving to be the prime example; regarded as of the premier shooters in the league, the 24-year old is also an excellent defender on the perimeter, oftentimes checking the opposition’s top scorer on the wing. In fact, after averaging a career-best 29.7 points per game, Management wasted no time in inking the young star to a new four-year $68.97 million extension, keeping him in the fold for the foreseeable future.
Meanwhile, the Clippers (3-1) experienced quite a bit of change themselves this offseason, particularly in the Owner’s Box, where Donald Sterling’s long reign of incompetence as the franchise’s owner is finally over. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer took over the reigns and immediately reinvigorated his team, resigning Head Coach Doc Rivers to a new extension and basically making him the defacto General Manager. And with the specter of Sterling’s controversial remarks gone forever, Los Angeles’ other basketball team can finally play the game with a clear mind. With legitimate aspirations of an NBA Title, the Clippers have gotten off to a 3-1 start, most recently besting the Utah Jazz in a 107-101 victory at STAPLES Center Monday Night. Owning a sizable 56-43 lead at halftime, the hosts allowed the young Jazz to creep back into the game, as they were outscored 27-17 in the third stanza. However, Rivers’ charges were able to close the door in the Fourth Quarter on Chris Paul’s two-footer seven second left on the clock. Paul was tremendous in victory, posting the league’s first triple-double of the young season, with thirteen points on 5-of-12 shooting (.417), ten rebounds, and twelve assists, along with a pair of steals and even a block. Easily one of the toughest players in the NBA, the seven-time All-Star racked up his twelfth career regular season triple-double, and did so in spite of sprained left foot. Blake Griffin led the way for the Clippers with a game-high 31 points on an efficient 14-of-21 shooting from the field (.667), with nine rebounds, four assists, and a pair of blocks as well. Turnovers played a major part in the win, as Los Angeles harassed Utah into seventeen turnovers, en route to twenty-one points.
As was the case last season, the Clippers remain one of the most formidable offensive teams in the league. “Lob City” as they’ve been coined, is some of the most entertaining basketball in the game today, and with Rivers in charge they have been injected with much more substance than before. Through four games, Los Angeles has averaged 102.5 points (10th overall) on 43.4% shooting from the field (20th overall) including 42.4 from inside the arc (12th overall) and 32.5% from beyond it (19th overall). And while those percentages are far from elite, this team deals in volume, ranking eleventh in field goals attempted (81.8), second in three-point field goals attempted (29.3), and most prominently eighth in free-throws attempted (26.8), of which they do shoot a stellar 82.2% (5th overall). In addition to getting to the charity stripe, they do a solid job of to ring turnovers to creat extra possessions, producing a league-best 19.5 takeaways per game. However, you would think with the athleticism on hand and Rivers guiding them, that the Clippers would be a better defensive team, but they aren’t. In fact, they’ve regressed considerably from last season. After helming one of the staunchest defensive teams in the NBA during his time in Boston, Rivers can’t like what he sees on that end of the court; Los Angeles has allowed 100.0 points (21st overall) on 47.9% shooting from the field (23rd overall), including 53.3% from within the arc (27th overall) and 33.3% beyond it (15th overall). Curiously, they are a terrible rebounding team to boot. Granted, Rivers teams have never been good on the glass, and that’s by design, but with the likes of DeAndre Jordan and the aforementioned Griffin stalking the paint there is no excuse to get outrebounded by an average margin of 9.2 boards per game. And most frustrating of all is theirpenchant for committing fouls; opponents attempt a whopping 29.8 free-throws against them, fifth-most overall, which hampers their ability to get out in transition where Paul and Co. are so dangerous.