Warriors vs. Clippers preview: Two teams missing a star, doing the best they can

Golden State's punchy new offense against gets another tough test

Much like the start of the previous season, the Golden State Warriors are starting off their 2021-2022 campaign against a couple of top tier teams. They knocked off the championship-focused Los Angeles Lakers in game one, and now turn their attention to the other L.A. team, as they open Chase Center to host the Clippers tonight.

No major updates since the previous game - it looks like Jordan Poole’s ankle tweak wasn’t anything to be worried about.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (1-0) vs Los Angeles Clippers (0-0)

WHEN: Thursday, October 21, 2021 // 7:00pm PST

WATCH: TNT; NBA TV

Blog Buddy: 213 Hoops


The best defense is a good offense

We are going to be spending a lot of time this season talking about the new look Warriors team. In replacing Kent Bazemore, Kelly Oubre, and Brad Wanamaker with Nemanja Bjelica, Otto Porter, and Andre Iguodala, Golden State has reinvented themselves.

The core identity remains the same. This is a squad that will go as far as the core of Curry, Thompson, and Green can take them. But much like a nice new outfit, hanging some new fabric around your old, tired frame can do wonders. The Warriors put away their previous defensive armor and instead picked up a really sharp sword. For a franchise that has been so vocal and persistent with their Strength in Numbers slogan / lifestyle brand, this is a return to the halcyon days or yore.

It was a weird night, that first win of the season.

Coming in, the narrative was all about seeing how well the small ball Warriors could survive against the towering frontcourt of a Lakers team that has more size than they know what to do with. Well, let me tell you, loyal reader, results were impressive.

Despite getting outscored from beyond the arc (by just three points, but still), the Warriors won by somehow dominating the paint. From Cleaning the Glass, take a look at the shooting frequency by location for each team.

If taking nearly half of your shot attempts at the rim seems like a lot, that’s because it is. For comparison: last season, the Warriors averaged around 32% of their shots at the rim.

And interestingly, the Warriors dominated the post in a number of other ways. Golden State won the rebounding battle 50 to 45 - including an impressive discrepancy on the offensive glass of 9 to 5. The Warriors are in attack mode.

This play below will look extremely familiar (with Curry dumping the ball into Looney after the defense over-commits) but I want you to not just watch the ball. As Looney takes possession, take a look at the action from Poole and Wiggins on the bottom of the screen.

The Warriors aren’t just getting good looks in the post (they are), but they’re setting an entire defense into scramble mode in a way that was simply not possible last season, given the roster.

As Anthony Slater points out, the Warriors were -168 when Steph Curry was on the bench last season. They were +3 last night without Curry, and though that sure doesn’t sound like a whole lot, it’s indicative of a tidal shift (assuming this tiny one-game sample holds up).

Poole features heavily in those minutes, and his scoring explosion to start the 4th quarter was a game changer, but I want to draw your attention to Bjelica here as well. Looking at Basketball reference, you can see the score changes for all the various lineups and players used. Take a look at the beginning of the 4th quarter, and note Bjelica’s impact.

His ability to help facilitate the offense off the dribble and nifty passing are a great fit in the Warriors universe.

All told, this newly focused supporting cast balances really well with the existing talent. This team is going to be a ton of fun to watch, and I know that Curry is going to have a little bit more joy watching the rest of the roster whenever he’s on the bench.

And the craziest part? The Warriors won their first game while both Curry and Poole had off shooting nights.

How good can the Clippers be without Kawhi?

The Los Angeles Clippers franchise is known as much for their struggle to succeed as anything. With the pairing of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, they had hoped to turn a corner… but no.

After a painfully visible flameout in the playoffs one year, the Clippers’ run last season ended when Leonard went down injured; a knee ligament tear that required surgery. He’s out now for most of this season. Serge Ibaka ended last season with surgery too, and though his back won’t keep him out for too much longer, it’s a setback that the Clipper can ill afford.

But much like the Warriors, this is a team hoping to be okay, and then take off once they get the band back together.

So the second team in L.A. is weakened, but still dangerous. If interested, I strongly recommend thumbing through the excellent team preview from Shane Young.

Paul George is probably one of the most under-rated player in the league these days. A prototypical modern NBA wing, he can dribble, pass, shoot, and defend at the highest levels. But can he carry a team?

There’s no doubt that this is his team now. Without Leonard, and with the departure of ball hawking pest, Patrick Beverley, this is a Clippers team that is going to be forced to lean heavily on George. With some assistance from speedy scoring threat Reggie Jackson at the point, the Clippers’ offense is going to be built to get George good looks.

This is a big year for the Clippers. With Leonard returning towards the end of the season, they have a chance to make noise - assuming they can position themselves for it to matter when the season winds to a close.

Predictions

I’m expecting Otto Porter to get a bit more run in this game. He had a couple of short stints early, and then again at the very end of the last game, but the Clippers wing-heavy roster will be a better fit for what Porter offers.

Also, the battle between Bjelica and Clippers center Ivaca Zubac could be a fun one. The Lakers really struggled to contain Bjelica’s offense, and his passing combined with the Warriors off-ball cuts and constant movement provide a target-rich environment for his astute passing. Golden State wants to force pace, so Zubac may struggle to stay on the court.