In one of the best games of the early NBA season, the Golden State Warriors unleashed their greatest weapon to beat the Clippers 124-117 in a rousing 23-point comeback.
Down the stretch of an intense back-and-forth affair, the Warriors went to their small-ball lineup, and the Clippers, like the rest of the NBA, couldn’t figure it out.
The key to this lineup is moving 6-foot-6 Draymond Green to center, sliding Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala at the forward spots, with a back-court of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.
While the Warriors certainly didn’t start the small-ball movement, nor do they solely rely on it, their version is by far the deadliest in the NBA. This is the same lineup that devastated the Cavaliers in the Finals, and it’s so potent the NBA still can’t figure out how to defend it.
As ESPN’s Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted, in the final six minutes, the Warriors’ small-ball lineup outscored the Clippers by 17.
It presents a pick-your-poison scenario for defences, and even the most sound of strategies can backfire. The court is spread with five shooters, and when the Warriors go to a Draymond Green-Stephen Curry pick-and-roll, defences are faced with a tough decision. They can give Stephen Curry room to breathe from beyond the arc — a dangerous proposition — or trap him. When they trap him, he slings the ball to Draymond Green, who then is facing a three-man defence as the other two players recover from trapping Curry. Green can attack the basket or fire it to any of the Warriors players spread around the court.
Thursday night, the Clippers chose to trap Curry and get the ball out of his hands. It’s probably the safest bet, and when faced with a 4-on-3 scenario, they chose to leave Iguodala open. It backfired:
As can be seen, Green is open after getting the pass from Curry. Paul Pierce is in the paint with his man, Harrison Barnes, Jamal Crawford is on the perimeter guarding Klay Thompson, and Griffin collapses off Iguodala to stop Green.
The Warriors went to the play again, and it got Iguodala another open three (note: gif starts mid-play because the original broadcast cut to the play late. It begins with a Curry-Green pick-and-roll):
Again, DeAndre Jordan and Chris Paul trap Stephen Curry in the pick-and-roll. Once Curry gets it to Green, Green has an open runway to the basket. Griffin collapses off Iguodala again and Green fires it to Iguodala — another open three.
This was by design for the Clippers. Doc Rivers acknowledged after the game that they paid the price for collapsing off of Iguodala, but that was the poison they picked.
“We picked our poison, and he made us pay,” Rivers said of Iguodala’s three-pointers. “He does shoot corner 3s extremely well, but we had to live with something, so we lived with that. That was my decision and they made them both.”
If it’s any consolation for Rivers and the Clippers, they’re far from the only team that has struggled to contain this Clippers lineup. According to NBA.com/Stats, this exact lineup has played 48 minutes this season — the third-most of any Warriors lineup — and has an offensive rating (points scored per 100 possessions) of 153.7 and a defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) of 92. They’re outscoring opponents by 57 points per 100 possessions!
And while 48 minutes is a full game, a fairly large sample size, if you’re still sceptical of how this lineup has fared without being pace-adjusted, they have outscored opponents by 60 points in those 48 minutes. No other lineup that’s played more than 30 minutes this season has outscored their opponents by more. It’s literally the single most potent five-man group in the NBA.
The Warriors are a perfect 13-0 on the season, and as they continue rolling, this is going to become the focal point of opponents’ scheming: how do you stop this lineup? Even when teams take Curry out of the play by trapping him, they’re faced with letting Green attack the basket or conceding an open three-pointer.
Unless some team magically finds a point guard capable of containing Curry one-on-one, or find a big man with Green’s versatility, who can trap Curry and recover quickly enough onto a rolling Green, this lineup will continue to devastate.
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