Yesterday’s game didn’t really go as we expected. It wasn’t a high throttle scoring barrage coming from each side. Neither point guard really went off or played a spectacular game. The defense from each side was tough, physical and grueling. You’d be sure to come out of the game with a few more bruises and cuts than you had the day before if you played.
The Warriors topped the Clippers 100-99 and kept their playoff hopes alive. They’re now slated to contribute to a historic weekend in NBA history with three game 7’s on the same day for the first time in the league’s history. How’d they do that? They went back to their ultimate bread and butter–defense.
The face of the Golden State Warriors has been Stephen Curry and rightfully so. But their defense–which finished third in the league in terms of regular season efficiency–was apart of what carried them through the season. Last night, their defensive strategy mattered more than anything else. And, more specifically, the strategy imposed on Blake Griffin was executed very very well.
Griffin finished the night shooting just 33% from the field. He only shot 40% at the rim–a place where he’s normally automatic–and he shot plenty of tough outside jump shots. Take a look at his shot chart and where the shots are located.
The Warriors shadowed Griffin all night with tough double teams. The Warriors would send the doubles when Griffin had his back to the basket in post position.
The Warriors were able to do that to Griffin because the Clippers weren’t optimally spaced. Griffin was isolated on one side of the floor and everyone else was on the opposite side. Take a look.
Curry, who was guarding Barnes, was able to slide down to Griffin and force the turnover there because of all four Clipper’s players being on one side. Griffin, who is normally a good passer from the post position, had no open passing lane to move the ball.
That is largely because no one was cutting through the lane to give Griffin help. Once the entry passer clears out from the top, Griffin’s easiest option is taken away. But Griffin having no cutters on a play like this is no coincidence. Let’s take a look at this screenshot once more.
As you can see, Andre Iguodala rotates over to the middle. He’s leaving his man, J.J Redick, who is on the far right wing. Griffin is on the left mid-block. Because Barnes is standing on the far right wing right next to Redick, Iguodala is able to pick a spot on the floor where he can rotate to either one or he can even jump into the passing lane.
The Warriors aren’t just doubling Griffin because they want to get the ball out of his hands–they’re trying to make him turn the ball over or force up a bad shot. When you double team from smart places on the floor that are difficult to pass to you can make these things happen.
The same thing happens here in the video below. It doesn’t end up as a turnover, but it turns into a terrible fadeaway three point attempt from Griffin.
Griffin gets the ball in semi-transition and puts his back to the basket. He takes Green to the mid-block but Thompson instantly comes over to double. However, this time, he’s got options rotating over. Matt Barnes and J.J Redick both rotate toward the ball to provide an easy outlet.
However, the Warriors are still able to take away both of those passing lanes because of their strong rotation on the double team. They leave Chris Paul wide open on the weakside corner.
Andre Iguodala, who picked up Chris Paul in transition, ends up rotating with J.J Redick on the play to take away that weakside wing pass–an easier pass than the corner. Stephen Curry sticks with Matt Barnes, who rotates over to the strongside wing in order to provide Griffin with an easy outlet.
By now there are 17 seconds left on the shot clock and not enough to work with. Griffin ends up going out of control here and barely getting the ball to Chris Paul all the way in the corner. It was a difficult pass to make and it provided the Warriors with enough time to reset their defense and pick Paul up.
Paul tried to draw the defense through the middle of the floor, but because the previous play in blown up the Clippers didn’t have an opportunity to reset. They end up running an impromptu handoff between Griffin and Redick from which they drew nothing. Griffin gets the ball back and shoots and air-ball three.
Draymond Green was huge for the Warriors in this game. He did an excellent job of playing Griffin in the post with the help of these double teams. And once the Clippers figured the double team out it was too late. Griffin was forced to face up with the ball and hold it high so he could have a chance to make some of these difficult passes.
But facing up was all apart of the plan for the Warriors because of Green’s quickness on his feet. He isn’t as strong as Griffin and can’t hold his own against him with his back to the basket. But if he faces up and tries to drive by Green, he can stay in front of him and force him into jump shots or offensive fouls by gaining position quickly.
This was a genius plan from Mark Jackson who lost one big in Jermaine O’Neal to an injury and another in David Lee to foul trouble. Green was the killer for the Warriors last night on the defensive end of the floor. Without him, they lose that game. But now, they’ve given themselves a chance in a game 7 with one of the best offensive players in the world in Stephen Curry.