It’s the series fans and pundits alike wanted to see—one that many believe could be the best opening-round series of the 2014 NBA playoffs. As is the case with any NBA playoff series, it's all about matchups.
Of all the individual matchups in the postseason, this is right up there with any of them. Curry and Paul are the best players on their respective teams, and their individual successes and failures will likely go a long way toward determining the winner of the series.
Curry and Paul know each other well and have worked out together in the offseason in years past. The two went back and forth in a big way in the teams’ first meeting this year, a Clippers win in L.A. Curry went for 38 points, while Paul had 42 points and 15 assists.
Curry, however, also turned over the ball 11 times in that game, with plenty those miscues leading directly to easy buckets at the other end. Over the course of the season, Curry has very much cleaned up his game, though.
Consider that Curry had six or more turnovers in 12 of the Warriors’ first 35 games, but he’s only had four games with six or more turnovers in the final 35 games of the season. If that trend continues, it’s possible the Warriors could win this matchup and the series.
Klay Thompson vs. J.J. Redick
In some ways, Thompson has become the barometer for Golden State. When he scores, the Warriors usually win. They’re 14-3 when Thompson scores 18 or more points in games since early February.
When you factor in that Thompson will spend a good chunk of the series defending Paul, it’s clear how important he is to the Warriors’ chances. Redick won’t be asked to do nearly as much as Thompson, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a steadying influence on the sometimes volatile Clippers.
If Redick can consistently knock down three-pointers and be good enough defensively on Thompson to not need any kind of double-team, it should bode well for the Clippers.
Andre Iguodala vs. Matt Barnes
This is less about a matchup than it is about which player helps his team in the most ways. Or hurts his team in the most ways. Iguodala is considered one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, but how valuable will that be in this series?
After all, Iguodala doesn’t figure to defend Paul or Blake Griffin, the Clippers’ top two scorers. Logic would suggest that the Warriors would have a better chance of knocking off the Clippers if Iguodala interjected himself positively into the offense.
Iguodala averaged just a little over seven shots and nine points this season. What a bonus it would be if he could give the Warriors a little more scoring?
As for Barnes, he’s going to get his fair share of three-pointers, and he’s going to make about one out of three (he's a career .333 three-point shooter).
The question with Barnes is whether he’s going to do more good things (rebound, defend, set good screens) or bad things (questionable fouls, turnovers in transition, suspect shot selection).
David Lee vs. Blake Griffin
If there’s one thing you can count on when the Warriors and Clippers play, it’s that both Lee and Griffin will get numbers. Neither is an elite defender, so what you’ve got is a pair of power forwards operating in their comfort zones.
Lee averaged 22 points per game on 58 percent shooting from the field in four games against the Clippers this year; Griffin averaged 25 points per game on 52 percent shooting in that stretch.
But in this series, at least, Griffin would seem to have a significant advantage. Whereas Lee must worry about DeAndre Jordan lurking in help defense, Griffin doesn’t have to do the same with center Andrew Bogut, who is expected to be out for Golden State.
Jermaine O’Neal vs. DeAndre Jordan
It is no foregone conclusion that Warriors head coach Mark Jackson will simply start O’Neal in place of Bogut, who has a broken right rib.
Jackson could start either Harrison Barnes or Draymond Green and start Lee at center, going with a small lineup to start games. You never know with Jackson, who was accused of excessive gamesmanship by George Karl in last year’s first-round series against Denver.
Nevertheless, O’Neal is going to get playing time in this series, and if he can give the Warriors a legitimate low-post option against Jordan and the Clippers it would be gravy.
The problem for the Warriors is Jordan is taller and more athletic than any of their bigs. And he averaged 10.3 points, 15.3 rebounds and 3.5 blocks per game against the Warriors in the regular season.
And that was with Bogut playing for the Warriors.
Jamal Crawford, Darren Collison and Jared Dudley vs.
Harrison Barnes, Draymond Green and Steve Blake
Crawford, who finished the season averaging more than 18 points per game, is the perfect sixth man, capable of coming in and providing big-time offensive spark.
But the Warriors have had impact off their bench at times, too, this season. Barnes, who started every game as a rookie, has been generally thought of as a disappointment in his second season. But it was during the postseason that Barnes shined in 2012-13, scoring 19 or more points in half of the Warriors’ 12 postseason games.
Green’s role has been growing over the course of the season, and it’s not outside the realm of possibility he could get a start or two during the series. Although undersized, he’ll certainly get plenty of cracks at defending Griffin, and the better Green does, the more he’ll play.
Mark Jackson vs. Doc Rivers
In the battle of ex-point guard coaches, how can you not give the advantage to Rivers? He’s coached for 15 seasons and won a title with the Boston Celtics. Jackson is completing his third year as coach.
Perception seems to be that Rivers is a better tactician than Jackson, while Jackson’s strength is motivation. We’ll see. Jackson will certainly have an opportunity to change the perception this offseason.