All season long, we NBA acolytes have remained steadfast in our conviction that this year’s playoffs would demand a buckling of basketball seat belts.
Just make sure you have an extra spool of rope at the ready for when the Golden State Warriors meet the Los Angeles Clippers.
Not only do the two teams represent the only Western Conference pairing to split its season slate; not only do they boast a bevy of electric, switch-flipping talents; not only are state bragging rights at stake—with California, that of a country.
Not only can the two teams' respective point guards and coaches be seen as mirrors of one another—Stephen Curry the Chris Paul training protege, Mark Jackson the young coach devoid of experience, just like Doc Rivers once was.
After all of that, there was this.
And you'd better believe some of the Warriors have thoughts on Blake Griffin:
For the Warriors, more than much was expected of the team that took eventual Western Conference champion the San Antonio Spurs to six games in last year’s conference semifinals. At the very least, the offseason addition of Andre Iguodala to a core of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, David Lee and Andrew Bogut was treated as a next-step guarantor.
Instead, a combination of heightened expectations and a somewhat atrophied offense managed to turn an inevitable leap into a mere four-win improvement—in the eyes of one of the NBA’s most lovably loyal fanbases, nothing short of a disappointment.
Add to that the loss of Bogut—broken rib suffered in Sunday’s already-heartbreaking 119-117 overtime loss to the Portland Trail Blazers—the Warriors would seem the definition of walking-wounded, first-round chum for Chris Paul’s predacious designs.
Los Angeles enters the postseason in conspicuous contrast, having won 20 of its last 25. They’re one of only three teams—the others being the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder—to finish the season as a two-way top-10 team.
As if those weren’t bright enough bellwethers, L.A. is now marshaled by a master in head coach Doc Rivers—the team’s sideline-straddled answer to Golden State’s on-court coup.
Those looking for a succinct summation of the Clippers’ promising postseason prospects could do far worse than the preview USA Today’s Adi Joseph had to offer:
The Clippers arguably have two of the five best players in the NBA, making them a legitimate threat to beat anyone. And unlike last season, they have surrounded Griffin and Paul with sharpshooting, defensive-oriented role players who can get the job done. Also, Warriors center Andrew Bogut may be out for the series with a broken rib, so Griffin and center DeAndre Jordan can dominate the paint.
At this point it’s fair to ask: If the Clippers seem such clear-cut favorites, how is this the must-see series?
L.A. may have at its disposal the game’s most tenaciously tactful player-coach combo in Rivers and Paul—an advantage akin to high ground in a holy war.
What it doesn’t have is Golden State’s unrivaled aerial assault—the kamikaze chaos of Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry.
In four games against the Clippers, Curry put up an average of 22 points and 9.5 assists on 53 percent shooting, including a staggering 59 percent from downtown.
Though not quite as scintillating, Thompson was superbly effective as well: 18.8 points on 47 percent shooting, including 43 percent from beyond the arc.
All this against a defense that finished the season first in the NBA in three-point percentage allowed (33 percent), per NBA.com (account required).
A pair of deadeye studs does not make an upset, of course. But so long as they can keep the games close, the Warriors can at least rest easy knowing their core scorers are no strangers to late-game dramatics.
Will the loss of Bogut be too much to overcome for Golden State’s third-ranked defense, particularly in light of its foe’s richly refined attack?
Will the Clippers exert too much effort attempting to exploit the Warriors’ weakness down low, thereby putting their offensive flow in jeopardy?
How will the series’ superlative point-guard matchup—the prowess as well as the potential pitfalls—dictate the tone, tempo and tenor of the series?
Do the Dubs have an answer for Blake Griffin? Griffin for a sure-to-be-physical Jermaine O'Neal? A limited O'Neal for the fleet-footed Clippers frontcourt? The Clippers for Iguodala? Iguodala for L.A.’s distinct perimeter spacing? Will good basketball be undermined by bitter blood?
That the series surrenders this many questions might drive a feebler fan for the exit. Us? We’d just as soon keep the seat belts on and enjoy the ride.
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