One of the best rivalries in the NBA right now hits off for the first time this season, as the Los Angeles Clippers attempt to challenge the perfect start the Golden State Warriors have had, relying mostly on the ability of their backcourt, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry, but it’s not just about them.
The two teams had plenty of hate about each other before their seven game series in the first round of the playoffs last season. Now? It’s even worse, and games tend to be about more than just basketball, involving dirty shots, ejections and benches taunting players on the floor but without the fun intent that might come with such banter when it happens most of the time around the league.
The Warriors are 3-0, coming with the 4th best offensive in the NBA (105.7 points per game) and the second best defense (giving up just 90.3 points a night). They’re doing all of this without David Lee, who’ll remain out of the roster with an injury, while Draymond Green fills in for him next to Andrew Bogut under the basket, with Harrison Barnes starting instead of Andre Iguodala, as Steve Kerr relies on his successful combination from last season when he and Green hit the floor together.
Curry is scoring 25.3 points per game to go with 7 assists and 6.7 rebounds per game. Klay Thompson has been the team’s ‘MVP’ so far, following a very strong showing with Team USA during the summer. Maybe he’s been the best player in the NBA since the season began, averaging 29.7 points per game while shooting 53.7% from the field. The Clippers are allowing teams to hit 47.9% of their shots, meaning this might be another excellent opportunity for the Warriors to put on very efficient numbers.
The Clippers have their own two stars they count on to carry them – Chris Paul, averaging 15.8 points, 10 assists and 5.3 rebounds per game through the first four games and Blake Griffin, undoubtedly and consistently one of the best players in the league at last, scoring 27.5 points a night to go with 7.8 rebounds, as he wanders more and more away from the basket, showing more of his passing ability and mid range shooting.
The role players? Jamal Crawford is the biggest X-Factor for the Clippers and often their most dangerous scorer. He isn’t very efficient (37.8% from the field) but he is scoring 19 points per game and was crucial for the Clippers in the final four games of their series with the Warriors, averaging 21.5 points to clinch the series. The Warriors don’t have that kind of scorer coming off the bench, but they do have Leandro Barbosa and Iguodala who can put up a lot of points and quickly if the opportunity presents itself.
Right now, the Warriors, barely making changes during the offseason with the personnel, look like the more glued-together team, while the Clippers, mostly changing things on the bench, need some time to figure things out. If Bogut and Green are on the floor, we’re likely to see things heat up between Griffin and them. If he doesn’t let it get to his head and the referees call it right, those provocations from the Warriors will probably backfire.