Clippers-Warriors: This clash of rivals goes beyond winning


Oct 20, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) posts up on Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (left) during the first quarter at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Wednesday night features what could be the best game of the 2015-16 NBA season so far. The Los Angeles Clippers are heading to Golden State to take on the defending champion Warriors and their reigning MVP Stephen Curry. For a team as new as the Clippers, it’s a formidable task to say the least. Not only are they defending champions, but they’ve started their new campaign with more momentum than most could have expected. They’ve just been unstoppable so far. Their defense is shutting opponents down and Curry is way past “on fire”.

And it’s down to the Clippers to stop them.

After the way the Warriors have played in their first four games, though, it looks like it’s going to take a special performance from the Clippers’ Big 3 to slow them down. Thanks to their MVP’s insane start and the collective efforts of their deep roster, Curry and Co. lead the league in offensive efficiency so far with 115.2 points per 100 possessions — no other team has a rating of more than 109.

They haven’t just relied on Curry’s 37 points per game on 59.5 percent shooting, though. That being said, his 148 points are the most any player has scored in the first four games of a season since Michael Jordan in 1991.

It’s ridiculous.

Even though it’s a very small sample size, he’s putting on a clinic and he’s barely even had time to heat up yet. But the Warriors are doing more than just letting him score for them.

They also rank first in assists per game with 28.3, which has helped create looks for everyone on the roster as their offense continues to play at lightning fast pace. With Draymond Green averaging 12.8 points, Klay Thompson at 13.3 points, and Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights all recording at least 8 points per game, the Warriors have plenty of guys joining in.

Yes, Thompson is currently way below his All-Star level average of 21.7 points from last season, but with Curry dominating, there’s only so many shots that can be taken. And when Curry shoots better than anyone else in the league, it makes sense to let him take over.

The Memphis Grizzlies have been surviving near the top of the Western conference for years now. Behind their underrated point guard Mike Conley and the powerful interior play of All-Star Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, they keep grinding out wins and playoff appearances. Despite that, the image of them as a contender took a major beating when they faced the Warriors on Monday night.

In fact, “major beating” is an understatement. They lost by 50 points (119-69). The Grizzlies couldn’t score, and they couldn’t stop the Warriors from doing so with ease.

A positive for the Clippers, though, is that they had the best offense in the league last year. Maybe they can actually keep up. The Warriors may be the best defensive team, but that’s what makes this matchup on Wednesday night so intriguing.

The Clippers’ elite offense meets the Warriors’ elite defense (and elite offense).

While Chris Paul’s performance in 2015-16 so far has still been sound, he’s not quite himself in regards to shooting efficiency (26.7 three point percentage) and protecting the ball (three turnovers per game). Partly, it’s due to the new teammates he’s adjusting to, although there’s no doubt that those numbers will improve and he’ll reiterate why he’s the best floor general in the game.

However, the real takeaway from this season so far is that it’s Blake Griffin who’s been taking control for the Clippers. He’s averaging 29.5 points per game on 62.2 percent shooting. From his ever-improving mid-range game to the effortlessness at which he can attack the rim, he’s managed to rank 4th in the league so far in both those areas. Add on his 9.3 rebounds and 3.5 assists, and he’s been the perfect player to help compensate for the bench’s performance during their early development stage.

That being said, the second unit are getting better. They need to increase the pace on offense and that will come as their ball movement improves when they adjust to playing with each other, but with 41 points against the Phoenix Suns on Monday night, they stepped up.

With a crucial 15-0 run in the third quarter they removed the Suns’ eight point lead, and with DeAndre Jordan supporting them at center, they were able to play with more energy than we’ve seen before.

November 2, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers forward Josh Smith (5) moves the ball against the defense of Phoenix Suns center Alex Len (21) during the first half at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

So, as for that new bench of the Clippers, a game against the Warriors is the ultimate test. As a team who often used a small ball lineup to help them win a championship last season, the possible small five that Doc Rivers can utilize (Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Josh Smith) will be under immense pressure.

They’re still trying to figure out their offensive rhythm, and the lack of quick passes and off-ball movement is an issue at times. Plus, they need to figure out once and for all that hero ball won’t work. Sitting back and watching Crawford dribble around to take a long, contested two is going to get them nowhere against the Warriors. And with the champs averaging 8.8 steals per game while coming off a ‘contest’ in which they held a top team like the Grizzlies to a mere 69 points on a pathetic 27.1 percent shooting, they’re causing as much defensive havoc as ever.

There’s plenty more to this game than just the matchup of two elite teams, though. What makes Clippers-Warriors games such good television isn’t just the talent, it’s the rivalry. Dating back to their seven game first round playoff series in 2013-14 (that the Clippers won), to fast-forwarding to this year when they won’t stop trash talking whenever they get the chance, the talent on the floor always seems to gain intensity because of it.

In recent weeks, that rivalry has been increasing.

Doc Rivers supposedly called the Warriors “lucky” to win a championship after his comments were misconstrued, and Klay Thompson quickly fired back by taking a jab at the Clippers’ loss to the Houston Rockets in the playoffs.

Remarks went back and forth and the only thing that seem to be confirmed was that these teams don’t like each other.

Griffin did his best to smooth things over by saying that the Warriors are “very good” and even adding that they’re “lethal”. Yet, despite his efforts, the aggression between them and the Clippers hasn’t gone anywhere.

Oct 31, 2015; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick (4), center DeAndre Jordan (6) and forward Blake Griffin (32) in the first quarter of the game against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Next: DeAndre Jordan is helping the Clippers' bench step up

“You’re both as good as your record. They’re undefeated, and we’re undefeated. No matter how many points you win by, the records are the same,” Doc Rivers said Monday. “But, we’ll see. They’re the champs … That swagger is hard to knock off” (per Dan Woike of the Orange County Register).

As Doc said, that swagger is hard to knock off. It’s incredibly hard to knock off when their league MVP is going off for 40 each night on 60 percent shooting while making five threes. It’s even harder to knock off when they’re playing at postseason form at both ends of the floor after just a few games — and that’s without their All-Defensive second team center Andrew Bogut as well.

This game will ultimately say a lot about both teams. Even though it’s an incredibly early stage of the season, this game carries far more importance. And while the Warriors look unstoppable right now, the Clippers will be the toughest opponent they’ve faced so far.

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If L.A. can capitalize on the aggression they can bring out in the Warriors, if they can raise their competitiveness to a level where they get out of rhythm and make mistakes, maybe they can upset the champs and move to 5-0.

As such a new team with so many new players, the Clippers aren’t going to reach their potential for a while yet. But if they can somehow rally behind the play of the Big 3 and they can at least slow down Curry in some kind of fashion, they have a chance at gaining a higher standing in this growing rivalry.

Wednesday night is a true clash of the NBA’s most talented rivalry. Whoever comes out on top will gain even more respect from the league, and more animosity from each other. It’s a chance to make a perfect statement at this early stage of the season.

What more could you ask for?