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NBA 2018/19: Should the league be grateful to the Los Angeles Clippers?

CONTRIBUTOR
Feature
573   //    17 Apr 2019, 23:28 IST

Clipped the Champs
Clipped the Champs

The Los Angeles Clippers won a playoff game against the mighty Golden State Warriors. They might not win the series, they might not even win another game in the series. But they did prove something: the Warriors can be beaten.

The last time the Golden State Warriors lost a playoff series was in 2014 and team that they lost to were the Los Angeles Clippers. Those were the “Lob City” days with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin in the side. A lot has changed since then for both the teams.

The Warriors have become the juggernaut of the NBA while the Clippers have embarked on a massive rebuild. But there is one man who has been a constant in the Clippers' organization. The former Coach-of-the-Year who guided the Boston Celtics to the 2008 Championships; Clippers head coach, Doc Rivers.

The Clippers roster makes their win over the mighty Warriors much more significant. They do not have a single superstar in their ranks. They traded away their best player, Tobias Harris, to the Philadelphia 76ers.

The professional scorers on the team are the reigning sixth-man of the year Lou Williams and Danilo Gallinari. The rest of the roster is filled with players who were traded away by former teams, young players and rookies. But the Clippers play gritty basketball.

Doc Rivers showed the league a blueprint to dismantle the Warriors as his players eliminated a thirty-one point deficit and made a record playoff comeback. Some might even say the Clippers unintentionally mocked the Warriors when rookie Landry Shamet shot the dagger three-pointer after receiving a pass from fellow rookie Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Reducing the Warriors' All-Star count

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors - Game Two

The Warriors lost the 2016 NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers and the suspension of Draymond Green was a big reason for their defeat. The Warriors now have five All-Stars but they have two extremely temperamental players in Draymond Green and DeMarcus Cousins. They also have Kevin Durant who is quickly becoming the third hot-head in the team.

Doc Rivers was smart to put the smaller and tenacious Patrick Beverley on Kevin Durant. Beverley is shorter than Durant by ten inches and is miles away when it comes to skill level. But he was relentless and extremely successful in getting under Durant’s skin, eventually getting Durant thrown out of the game.

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This is not the first time that Durant has had such players on him. Coaches in the past have done what Doc is doing now, but KD always broke out of the shackles after a few games. This season is different though.

Durant has had arguments with the referees, player, fans and the media. He collected sixteen technical fouls in the regular season and has looked combustible throughout. If opposing teams in the playoffs are successful in pushing Durant’s buttons, they could get him suspended for a pivotal game in the post-season.

Forcing the old strategies

Steve Kerr and the Warriors have more strategic options with DeMarcus Cousins in the line-up. But with Cousins out due to injury, the Warriors have to revert to the “Hamptons Five”. With Durant out of the line-up, the Warriors have to go back to the “Death Lineup”. All these strategies have won Warriors championships in the past because the players involved in those line-ups were performing at the highest level.

It is not just that the Warriors’ strategies are stale and that they have been broken down and studied over the last few years. The fact is the players themselves have gotten older. Andre Iguodala, at thirty-five years of age, is four years older and more worn out when compared to the first time he was in the Death Lineup.

Whilst mounting the greatest comeback in playoff history, the Clippers forced the Warriors to fall back on their old strategies, thereby exposing their flaws.

The Game of Percentages

Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors - Game Two
Los Angeles Clippers v Golden State Warriors - Game Two

The Clippers also revealed another key aspect of the Warriors by playing the game of percentages. Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala are good defenders but are low percentage shooters. The Clippers identified this and put their defenders on the high percentage shooters, daring Iguodala and Green to take and consequently miss shots.

While running the offense, the Clippers went after the smallest person on the court, Steph Curry. Clippers switched to avoid players like Klay Thompson and Draymond Green who are good defenders. They instead targeted Curry and made sure he was on their big man whenever possible.

With the exception of Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, the Warriors have defensive players who are not great at offense and offensive players who struggle to defend. Doc Rivers was brilliant at playing to this theme.

Bad habits and the Bench

The Warriors were forgiven for many lapses during the regular season, with many analysts claiming they were bored and would turn on the switch in the post-season. But the Clippers just proved that the Warriors have not yet switched on and the bad habits they picked up from the regular season remain.

The Clippers also brought to light the lack of depth on the Warriors roster. The Warriors are the best example of a top-heavy team. But while gaining two superstars in Durant and Cousins, they lost quality bench players. When a player goes down, the team adjusts. Not having strong second options on the bench makes the adjustments quite difficult.

Coach Doc Rivers’s schemes and strategies might not carry his underdog team to a series victory over the champions, but whatever he does will be closely followed by coaches across the league. Other teams will try to replicate his game plans. Moreover, teams such as the Houston Rockets and the Boston Celtics will be extremely optimistic.

If some team does end up toppling the Warriors, in the end, they will have Doc Rivers and his Clippers side to thank for it.

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