The Golden State Warriors may be known for their offense, but they win and lose on the defensive side of the ball.
Even without starting center Andrew Bogut, Golden State’s No. 3-ranked defense has used its trio of top-notch perimeter defenders (Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green) to thwart the Los Angeles Clippers’ offense, the league’s most efficient attack. Now they head home to Oracle Arena trailing 3-2 in their first-round NBA playoff series.
J.J. Redick essentially controls the Clippers’ playbook. When he missed 47 games with a variety of injuries, the Clippers had to simplify their schemes. The pin-downs, the “floppy” action and the off-ball movement drifted away.
But Iguodala is the perfect Redick defender. No wing, save Tony Allen, can run around screens like Iguodala, and when you deny passing lanes to one of the league’s best off-screen shooters, it completely changes the dynamic of Los Angeles’s offense. There’s a reason Redick had his hottest stretch of the series in the second quarter of Game 1, when Iguodala sat on the bench with foul trouble.
No one sticks to Redick like Iguodala, and because of that he either ends up completely denying him the ball, contesting every shot or, sometimes, even frustrating the Duke alum so much that he pushes off and turns it over:
In essence, containing the Clippers’ offense is about cutting off passing lanes. Iguodala turns himself into Elmer’s Glue as he guards a guy who ran off screens on a hefty 31 percent of his plays during the regular season, according to MySynergySports.
Golden State communicates as well as any other team defensively. Just look at how Green comes over to help baseline on that Redick turnover, only to recover back to Blake Griffin in time after J.J. makes the pass. It’s the key trait of every Iguodala defense. And Klay Thompson is part of that communication, too.
If Chris Paul has a weakness, it’s going up against long defenders like Thompson. Paul is laterally quick, but he’s not as explosive as he was back in his early New Orleans days. If a quick defender is able to stay in front of him and can range to his release on those step-back, 14-footers, it limits his game. For Paul, the threat of the shot opens up passing lanes, and when Thompson (and his 6-foot-9 wingspan) guards him, he’s not nearly as effective. That’s why we are seeing Paul’s out-of-character four turnovers per 36 minutes and 42 percent shooting in the first five games of this series.
So with the Warriors limiting Paul and taking away Redick, the Clippers’ best chance to score becomes Griffin. The Clippers averaged 112.1 points per 100 possessions (2.7 points per 100 better than their regular season total) in the 18 games Paul missed before the all-star break when Los Angeles ran its offense completely through its power forward. But in Games 4 and 5, the Warriors limited Griffin’s looks.
Blake attempted just five shots in the first half of Game 4, when the Warriors outscored the Clippers by 18, and plenty of that had to do with Draymond Green.
Green fronted Griffin throughout Sunday’s game and denied plenty of potential entry passes. If the Clippers are best when Blake, who has become an elite passer, has the ball in the high post, Green made sure that wasn’t so, denying passes to Griffin all first half:
In Game 5, Golden State exaggerated its Griffin strategy even more, aggressively bringing over a second defender whenever he went to the hoop, a way to keep the league’s points-in-the-paint leader away from the rim:
One of the reasons Blake is such a strong post-up player is because of his pre-catch positioning. If Griffin gets a pass with one — or even two — feet in the paint, he’s scoring. But look how far out Green pushes him. That’s why you see those off-balance moves when the doubles come his way.
At least for Game 5, when Griffin shot just 4 for 10 in the paint, it worked. The Warriors are making other Clippers beat them. Unfortunately, when DeAndre Jordan goes for 25 points, getting looks mainly after late rotations, that strategy doesn’t always pay off.
Sometimes, defense isn’t about playing the ball — it’s also about thwarting movement. That’s why the Warriors can be so effective at preventing points. If a defense can stop action and force an offense into uncomfortable shots, it’s going to be successful. That’s what the Warriors have done to the Clippers, and it’s how, even without their most important defensive player in Bogut, they’ve managed to keep this series alive against a more talented team.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at Bleacher Report or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.