In previewing the always-heated SoCal-NorCal rivalry between the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, I was tempted to simply post a picture of a grinning DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin grinning, contemplating what damage they were about to render upon an Andrew Bogut-less frontcourt. Alas, they told me I needed words and videos. So I broke down what different kinds of havoc the Warriors’ offense could pummel on opponents. Namely, the sneakily lethal transition game of every single player revolving around the abilities of bigs dribbling up and finding trailing shooters spacing the floor.
According to mySynergy Sports–this comes with a caveat that Synergy doesn’t always log the right plays, but upon review, much of this is accurate–the Warriors are merely 18th in transition scoring. With a dearth of above-the-rim finishers, this isn’t surprising. However, they do shoot 42 percent from distance in transition. Last season, the Warriors saw a David Lee injury force them into going small, creating an up-tempo four-out team that saw less isolation and more running. The Andrew Bogut injury may force Mark Jackson to do the same again this year.
The Warriors create open looks in transition through two different means: the bigs bringing up the ball without the defense expecting it (much like Blake Griffin) and Stephen Curry freewheeling things no one else can or should do.
Draymond Green will likely operate as a power forward in this series, guarding Griffin and switching onto various perimeter players. He’s also an intelligent passer and decent ball handler. For example, most bigs would look to pass to a guard right off the rebound. But Green sprints up court and right to Steve Blake’s side, sucking in the defense and dropping a backwards pass for an open three.
Rewatching the previous Clippers-Warriors meetings, the Clips struggled when the Golden State ran because they were busy worrying about picking up their man instead of simply stepping up into the open player. Notice Paul sinking down low and Willie Green wandering about doing Willie Green things. Meanwhile, Glen Davis is ambling downcourt instead of sprinting to the wing to contest an open shot.
Curry in Transition
If there’s one way for the heavily favored Clippers to lose four games, it’s the supernova ability of Curry to shoot the lights out within a ten-mile radius of an arena. His trademark play is the fastbreak three, one where he sizes up the guard behind him and the big man backtracking, all while knowing the ball is going to fly from three and nowhere else.
If the Warriors downsize and choose to play smallball, that’s generally good news for Blake and Co. But the downside results in Griffin having to switch out to the perimeter. Not having done so very often, he failed to realize it’s Curry on the fastbreak until it was too late. Notice Jordan is already in the paint, leaving another defender unavailable to guard the arc. You ask why Barnes doesn’t stay with Curry? Well, because Klay Thompson is lethal shooter in his own right.
It’s not an ideal shot for most players, but as far as shooters are concerned, Curry isn’t most players. Curry shoots 45 percent in transition (18.8 percent of total plays) and 41 percent in pick-and-roll situations (37.5 percent of total plays), according to Synergy Sports.
Synergy also suggests that the Clippers own the 3rd best transition defense, allowing just 36.4 percent shooting from behind the arc. But DeAndre Jordan’s defense would be minimized a bit in the event of Warriors smallball. Because of a big man’s instincts to retreat and protect the rim, Curry thrives against unset defenses.
This is as close to a play that they run on a fastbreak, with a big squeezing a drag screen at the last possible moment as Curry is dribbling up court and the defenders focused on him shooting. Bogut and Lee perfectly spot where they set the screen, timing it as Curry is about to let it fly. This causes the defender to run into the screen and leaves no recovery man on the other side.
Here is the Memphis Grizzlies running the same type of action. Zach Randolph runs down the lane functioning as the screen man. Barnes motions for Dudley to take his man but Dudley cheats down one step and leaves Mike Miller open for an open three on the wing.
But throughout the season, the Clippers’ transition defense has been excellent. Their disciplined stable of wings have been able to, even when a step late, contest all manners of shots.
Doc Rivers has no issues making the correct adjustments and here we see Blake functioning at the center position. And no one within a couple feet of the restricted area in transition–a good thing. Dudley picks up Curry early, forcing him left and into the paint. Uncomfortable with making a play at the rim, Curry kicks it to Iguodala, a hesitant offensive player who kicks it to Speights, the Warriors’ fifth option on offense. Going small allows the middle to open up but also shifts every Clipper defender onto the perimeter and allows their instincts to take over, stifling any attempt at the Warriors’ bread-and-butter fastbreak play.
The Clippers don’t necessarily need their defense to function at an elite level to win. They just need to slow down the helter-skelter level of a smallball Warriors team enough to dominate in their own fashion. Paul is a master tempo-setter and Griffin and Jordan will shoot enough free throws this series to allow the defense to set (be prepared for wave after wave of Mark Jackson intentional fouling).
The Warriors have a way of turning those little moments into something large. If Chris Paul and the Clippers shut that down, they’ll sail to the second round.