Can Golden State Warriors Slow Down Dominant Blake Griffin?

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Can Golden State Warriors Slow Down Dominant Blake Griffin?
USA TODAY Sports

At the rate Blake Griffin and his Los Angeles Clippers are torching the undermanned Golden State Warriors, missing center Andrew Bogut is going to want to renegotiate his contract this summer.

That's how obvious Bogut's importance to Golden State's defense has become.

In Game 2, Griffin knocked down 13-of-17 shots for 35 points in an easy, breezy 30 minutes. He got whatever he wanted, finishing in transition, bulling his way into the lane and knocking down a few third-quarter jumpers after the game was decided—just for good measure.

We have to be clear on one thing before running down the potential ways Golden State can decelerate Griffin's high-velocity charge: Blake is a great player. Like, really great. He grew up as a leader when Chris Paul missed a chunk of the season with a shoulder injury, proved he could be the focal point of an elite offense and showed everyone that he was much more than a dunker.

Griffin will and should get MVP votes.

But he's not a superhero, despite the capes he sports in commercials and the gravity he defies in games. Golden State has a few options at its disposal.

 

The Best Defense

Danny Moloshok

Clearly, Bogut is the best man for the unenviable job of stopping Griffin.

He was the guy who matched up one-on-one in half-court sets, was happy to get physical and closed off the lane better than any combination of David Lee or Jermaine O'Neal. Bogut was the centerpiece of the NBA's third-best defense in the regular season, and we're seeing now that he was just as valuable as an ornery enforcer.

Unfortunately, Bogut's broken rib rules him out as a solution.

So, absent one big Aussie and lacking a suitable individual replacement, it seems the best way for the Warriors to defend Griffin is to attack him as a team.

We're seeing how useful an aggressive approach to an opposing superstar can be, thanks to the Clips' commitment to beating Stephen Curry to a pulp on both ends of the floor. That tactic limited him in Game 1 and all but erased his impact in Game 2 until long after the outcome was settled.

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Adopting such a plan will be a little different for the Warriors, as Griffin doesn't spend as much time with the ball as Curry does. But there are a handful of ways to get the job done.

For starters, Golden State must involve Grififn in as many pick-and-rolls as possible. The Clippers will continue to trap Curry beyond the arc on offense, so the Dubs need to make sure Griffin's man is involved in setting the high screen that gives rise to that action. Doing so will not only force Griffin to expend energy on defense, but it will also give Curry a chance to adopt a few of Chris Paul's head-tossing flop tactics in an effort to draw calls on the big man.

Danny Moloshok

Maybe that's an unsavory way to go, but if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

The Warriors could also try to work the ball into Lee more often. There's a built-in danger there, as the Dubs' offense has bogged down whenever Mark Jackson insists on running post-ups against weak defenders (which Griffin might not be in the first place). But if getting Griffin off the floor with foul trouble is the aim, Golden State must put him in a position where fouls are likely.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

He didn't draw a single whistle in Game 2. Look how that turned out for the Warriors.

If the post-up plan seems dangerous, the Warriors could make an effort to get more off-ball cutting action from the weak side. That way, they'd create situations where Griffin might be caught out of position as a help defender. Fouls tend to result when stationary bigs rotate to pick up on-the-move offensive players.

Unfortunately, Golden State isn't a team that cuts effectively. Instead, its wings space out and stand around on the weak side. That approach creates space, which is valuable in its own right. But it won't put pressure on Griffin specifically.

The added benefit of more weak-to-strong cuts is that it could keep Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala more involved in the offense. Both are grade-A athletes who excel when catching the ball on the move. So even if Griffin doesn't start hacking at everything that breathes, the Dubs could surprise the Clips with some unexpected off-ball action.

Finally, a more generally physical approach to Griffin is probably in order.

His free-throw shooting is much improved this year (up to 71 percent from 66 percent last year), but he's still someone who should probably be bumped, hit or grabbed whenever he gets into the lane. We know he can still get caught up in physicality to the detriment of his overall game, and Golden State would be foolish not to prod him to that end.

The Warriors must be the aggressors with Griffin. Nobody's suggesting anything dirty, but the Dubs need to let him know buckets won't always come as easily as they did in Game 2.

 

Heading Home

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The Warriors have a few anti-Griffin options at their disposal, but the fact remains they're all desperate ploys in the absence of Bogut. He's the only real remedy for Grififn and the Clips' interior play.

Maybe the Dubs will make adjustments. Then again, Jackson's tenure as coach has been marked by a reluctance to change. Adam Lauridsen of the San Jose Mercury News buried Jackson after Game 2 for failing to erase the problematic habits that plagued the Warriors during the regular season:

Mark Jackson had 82 games this season to figure out how to handle opponents rushing double teams at Stephen Curry.  He had night after night to evaluate the efficacy of isolation plays for David Lee and Harrison Barnes, and of hockey-substituting with 4 or 5 reserves on the court at the same time. ...

... You never would have guessed any of it by watching the Clippers’ 138-98 denaturation of Jackson’s Warriors team.

On the bright side, Golden State will play Game 3 with the added motivation that comes from a thorough beatdown. And going home to play in front of a rabid Oakland crowd will help, especially with Jermaine O'Neal adding fuel to the fire:

Game 1 proved the Warriors can beat L.A. even when they don't play their best. So it's still too early to say this series is a lost cause.

But Griffin looks nearly unstoppable, and it's getting harder to shake the feeling that Game 1 was the aberration, while Game 2 was a sign of things to come.

The Warriors took one on the chin on Monday. It's up to them to show it wasn't a knockout blow.

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