Golden State Warriors head coach Mark Jackson hasn't been shy about heaping praise on his first-round opponent, the Los Angeles Clippers. Ahead of Game 2, Jackson again told reporters, "They're an outstanding basketball team with, like I said, two of the top ten players in the world," ostensibly referencing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin (video below).
It wasn't the first time Jackson suggested as much. Per the San Jose Mercury News' Tim Kawakami, he shared the same sentiment prior to Game 1: "If I’m sitting in the other room with Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen, I’m picking the Clippers, they’re the 3 seed, they won a bunch of games, they’ve got two of the top 10 players in the world. They’ve got a future Hall of Fame coach."
Whatever the odds coming into the series, the Warriors got the best of the Clippers in Game 1, 109-105.
For all the bickering and back-and-forth that's characterized this matchup, Jackson seems intent to change the tone with a more complimentary approach.
Warriors guard Klay Thompson launched an opening salvo, invoking Blake Griffin's reputation for flopping on 95.7 The Game radio, per Arash Markazi: "He's kind of like a bull in a china shop, kind of out of control sometimes. And then you do just see him flop sometimes like how can a guy that big and strong flop that much."
The comments set off a firestorm of opinion on both sides.
NBCSports' Dan Feldman offered a pretty even-handed assessment:
Yes, Griffin flops, and he does so in maddening ways. There’s no question that grates. But I also believe there’s a little bit of jealousy at play. Even by professional-athlete standards, Griffin is a physical marvel. He makes so many things look easy, he could dominate without resorting to cheap tactics. He’s also in plenty of commercials, raising his profile and the envy factor.
Are we subconsciously envious of Griffin, prone to highlighting his faults in an effort to bring him back down to earth? If so, Jackson doesn't seem to be one of the culprits. He's been showing nothing but respect for the Clippers and their stars.
It's unclear if Jackson has had any conversations with his team in terms of messaging. For his part, Thompson suggested he had "no regrets" regarding the flopping comments. But David Lee paid Griffin some props after Game 1 according to Kawakami, saying, "he’s a very good player; he’s probably going to be a first team All-NBA guy this year and he’s the guy they go to a lot in a variety of ways."
With the series sure to remain chippy, it will be interesting to see how the war of words plays out—or whether it will be replaced by the more peaceful approach Jackson's taken. Many coaches take the high road when talking about the opposition, establishing a culture of mutual respect. You don't have to like the other team, but it's probably a good idea to stay focused on the task at hand rather than media-driven sideshows.
As for the Clippers being favorites, that status looks increasingly dubious after Game 1. Golden State will continue to answer Los Angeles' talent advantage with some of the league's most dangerous outside shooting, led by Thompson and point guard Stephen Curry.
While Golden State may not be able to compete with the Clippers when it comes to the MVP conversation, they have more than enough options to keep this series interesting. Less-heralded players like Lee (20 points, 13 rebounds in Game 1) could become X-factors as L.A. attempts to shut down Curry and Thompson with added defensive attention.
This isn't a series you'll want to miss—and not just because of the side-chatter.