The Week That Was:
An absolute whirlwind, likely the biggest roller coaster week of the entire season so far.
It is crazy to think that the overtime loss to Portland was just eight days ago. In the intervening time, the Warriors locked up the sixth seed by beating Minnesota and then the backups won the final game of the season in Denver. Unfortunately, the Minnesota game was overshadowed by the news that Andrew Bogut has a fractured rib and will be out indefinitely. That incredibly deflating news seemed to doom the Warriors since other than Stephen Curry there may be no harder Warrior to replace than Bogut, especially with Festus Ezeli still on the injured list.
All that chaos and uncertainty flowed naturally into a legitimately strange Game One on Saturday. Golden State had their worst start of the season and trailed 12-1 just over four minutes in. A 16-5 run tied the game at 17 and the margin stayed reasonably tight from there. A bizarre and horribly officiated contest ended with Chris Paul missing two key free throws bookended by sophomores Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green each making one of two at the line. I will go into the significance of Game One in more detail below but it was a huge and important win.
The Soapbox: How Game One Changes the Series
Despite being someone who firmly advocated for the Clippers being the most beatable of the top four seeds in the Western Conference, I still felt the injury to Andrew Bogut took most of the air out of Golden State’s playoff chances. It weakened their frontcourt depth while taking away the player who cleaned up the defensive messes (different from Andre Iguodala who prevents some messes from being made in the first place). To be honest, I expected a fairly short series with the acknowledgement that the Warriors have better than a puncher’s chance in any series as long as they have a healthy Stephen Curry.
The real question now has to be how Game One changes that understanding. Beyond simply moving one game from the question mark column to the win column, it did teach us a few potentially important lessons about the early part of the series:
First, the Warriors may finally be ready to take advantage of tightly officiated games. I considered this reality an advantage for the Clippers going in because their players are predisposed to drawing shaky calls – you can call it flopping or whatever you like – and Dubs like Curry and Klay have consistently struggled to draw and exaggerate contact. While Curry has gotten to the line more this season, he will need to continue to be aggressive at the point of attack to draw calls as the officiating returns closer to normal.
The refs wanted to take some of the heat out of the series with players like Iguodala and Blake Griffin getting the short stick on some bad calls. Mark Jackson managed Andre’s minutes better and that helped make the difference. I suspect that Doc will not make the same mistake again should that situation present itself.
Second, Golden State will have to improve their offensive playcalling in order to win the series. This has been a problem all year and stands out with every iso and post-up called when Curry is out there. The ball moves incredibly well even without Bogut and each possession that bogs down hurts the Warriors and gives the Clippers a better chance to run. The Clippers have a slew of defenders with bad reactions and instincts on defense so keeping the ball moving and running tons of high pick and rolls that will snare their bigs into problems and open up quality shots have to be the focal point of the offense. If Mark Jackson gets it together before the end of Game Three, this could be a series.
Finally, Games Three and Four will decide the outcome of the series due to the 2-2-1-1-1 format. No matter what happens tonight, the Warriors will have an opportunity to have at worst a 3-1 series lead by winning these two games at Oracle. If they falter in either contest, the Clippers likely head back to LA with their own 3-1 series lead and two of the final three at home. The standard formula for series wins as the lower seed is to steal one of the first two and take care of business at home. The Warriors succeeded at the first part but will need to hold on for dear life to lock down the second.
The Week to Come:
Games Two, Three, and Four on Monday, Thursday, and Sunday. I do not expect the super tight reffing to continue unless and until we see some actual chippiness. We often see overcompensation after a game like that but Oracle may bring out some more emotion. I see the Clippers taking Game Two and then a split of the two Oakland games but it would be great to be wrong.