Clippers’ problem: Their ‘bigs’ get outplayed by Warriors’ ‘smalls’

The Golden State Warriors came from 23 points behind on Thursday night to beat the LA Clippers 124-117 at Staples Center. The win pushed the Warriors’ record to 13-0 overall, while the Clippers fell to 0-2 against the Warriors this year. Let’s face it, the Clippers’ overall record doesn’t matter anymore; just that they can’t beat the Warriors.

Right now anyway.

In the wake of their devastating loss last night, it’s easy to dismiss the Clippers as contenders and come to the conclusion: The Warriors have their number. Do that at your own peril. It’s still only November, the Clippers figure to get better as they get healthier and they’ll also do a better job assimilating their new players. A lot can happen.

Still, Blake Griffin and Austin Rivers both came clean after the game, indicating that this isn’t so much a rivalry as a big brother getting over on a little brother time and time again. Who knows? Perhaps the Clippers acknowledging they’re not where the Warriors are will work for them. Maybe it makes them hungrier. Maybe it makes them realize they have to reach a level of play they haven’t reached yet. In any event, admitting you have a problem is the first step toward solving the problem.

And when it comes to the Clippers, they’ve got one giant problem: They’re big players — supposedly the strength of their team — cannot consistently produce against the Warriors’ small-ball lineup. Let me repeat that: The Clippers’ big men can’t get anything done when the Warriors defend them with their smaller players.

 

That, my friends, is a dilemma, and it’s one the Clippers are going to have to figure out at some point if they ever want to get over the hump against Golden State. Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan are big, athletic and incredibly talented. The Warriors are also able to defend them with a small forward/power forward tweener and a small forward. As long as that continues, this series is over.

There were stretches last night when the Warriors defended Jordan with Harrison Barnes, including plenty of times in the last six minutes of the game. Did Jordan do anything noteworthy in that time? Not that I remember. In fact, Jordan and Griffin were both mainstays on the floor as the Warriors closed the game with a 25-8 run to put the game to bed.

Griffin was very solid for three quarters, but he had just one point in the fourth quarter, which, incredibly, was one more point than he had in the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ first win against the Clippers earlier this season at Oracle. Over the past couple of years, Griffin has become more effective in the low post, even against Draymond Green. But the fourth quarter remains Green’s time, and it was again on Thursday.

Griffin, though, is the smaller of the two issues when it comes to he and Jordan. If Jordan isn’t going to defend, rebound or score in the fourth quarter of games, how can coach Doc Rivers possibly keep him on the floor? Rivers will eventually have to bite the bullet against the Warriors and forget about Jordan — at least when the game is on the line — and go with Paul Pierce at power forward, Griffin at center and Chris Paul at point guard. Then pick from J.J. Redick (injured last night), Jamal Crawford, Josh Smith or Lance Stephenson to fill out the other two spots. Even Austin Rivers works better than Jordan at these times.

Jordan can be a very effective player, but those times are seldom against the Warriors and never late in the game. Doesn’t mean Jordan won’t get you a big rebound here or there, stumble onto an alley-oop dunk or block a shot. But play in and play out, Jordan doesn’t hurt Golden State. Just the way it is.

Jordan isn’t good enough or skilled on offense to hurt the Warriors when he’s at that end. And on the defensive end, supposedly Jordan’s strength, the Warriors take advantage of him by demanding he guard a perimeter-type player — which he can’t do. That Jordan even has to try to defend a smaller player, and one who spends time running around the perimeter, means he’s not going to be in good rebounding position.

We all know the Warriors thrive when taking 3-pointers — like last night. Golden State went 17-for-30 from beyond the arc, including 8-for-9 in the fourth quarter. But that’s what can happen when the Warriors have five shooters (and passers) on the floor — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Barnes and Green on the floor. Jordan and Griffin are being asked to defend outside the key area. They can’t do that.

It’s easy to write off the Clippers these days. The Warriors own the Clippers, and even the Clippers admit it. Still, if the Clippers take a step back, they can take solace in the fact that they had the Warriors in trouble in two games this year — at home and on the road. They still play the Warriors tougher than just about any other team in the NBA.

They’ve had long stretches where they’ve outplayed the Warriors, just not at the most critical time: the fourth quarter. That’s a problem, but it’s not one worth giving up on if you’re LA. But what the Clippers might want to give up on is the idea of playing DeAndre Jordan down the stretch.

***** Don’t forget to check out more Steinmetz talking Warriors & other sports on The Sal and Steiny Podcast. Some have gone so far as to say: “It’s not bad.”

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About Steinmetz

Matt Steinmetz is a veteran San Francisco Bay Area sports journalist. He covered the Golden State Warriors for Bay Area News Group for more than a decade before becoming a television analyst with Comcast SportsNet Bay Area. Steinmetz currently co-hosts the "Warriors WrapUp" show and "NBA This Week" on 95.7-FM The Game, the franchise's flagship station, in San Francisco. He also co-hosts the Sal and Steiny podcast.
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