The Warriors understand why they’re preparing for Game 5 against the Clippers on Wednesday rather than resting and awaiting the outcome of the Rockets-Jazz series, which could end in a Houston sweep Monday night.
The Warriors can’t advance any sooner than Wednesday because they gave away Game 2 last week at home. Sure, the Clippers went and got it, but largely because the Warriors sabotaged and neglected the essential element of their success in recent years.
Their killer defense that Rivers has become so familiar with over the past six seasons.
Doc saw it again as the Warriors won Games 3 and 4 in Los Angeles largely by limiting the Clippers to 37.2-percent shooting in Game 3 and 42.5 percent in Game 4.
Moreover, the Warriors locked down LA’s two most dangerous threats, with scoring savant Lou Williams shooting 28.6 percent (6-of-21) over the two games while No. 2 scorer Danilo Gallinari shot 21.2 percent (7-of-33).
“We're trying to take away guys coming off screens, and we know what a huge factor and key Gallinari is for them,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “So we're doing our best to try to pressure him, stay in front of him and challenge every shot because when he has big games, the Clippers generally win.”
The same is true of Williams, whose 36-point outburst (on 13-of-22 shooting) in Game 2 shoved the Warriors down the road to defeat. He started the avalanche, with big man Montrezl Harrell (25 points, 9-of-9 shooting) and Gallinari (24 on 8-of-17) joining in the frenzy.
After the Warriors took a 94-63 lead with 7:31 remaining in Game 2, their defense collapsed under a blizzard of turnovers and half-hearted efforts. With their percentage enhanced by easy buckets off live-ball giveaways, LA shot 68.4 percent (26-of-38) over the final 19:31 of Game 3.
Put more graphically, the Clippers scored 70 points in less than 20 minutes. Extrapolated over 48 minutes, it’s 162 points. It was the worse stretch of defense the Warriors played in any game this season.
They owed it to themselves to make amends, which they did in LA.
“When we focus in and keep the ball in front, make them shoot tough shots over us, then we're in solid shape,” Kevin Durant said. “I think we did a good job on the Lou Williams pick-and-roll, forcing him to his right and making him shoot the pull-up jump shot instead of getting to the paint and drawing guys, and him and Montrezl having a nice two-man game. We kind of eliminated that a little bit with our pick-and-roll coverage and guys were helping out on the backside, as well.”
After shooting 38.6 percent in the first half of Game 4 and going into the locker room with an eight-point deficit (62-54), the Clippers came out in the third quarter and made a spirited run (28-15) to take an 82-77 lead with 3:57 left in the third quarter.
That glimmer of hope dissipated when the Warriors turned savage, holding LA to 7-of-22 shooting (31.8 percent) and forcing six turnovers over the final 15.57.
The Clippers made just three field goals over the final eight minutes, with two coming in the final 79 seconds and the Warriors up by double digits.
“They're good. They're long. They're long, athletic and they're smart,” Rivers said. “They've been together forever. There's nothing you're going to run that they can't read. It's probably the most undervalued thing about their team.
“Their shooting is tremendous, but when they go with (Andre) Iguodala and KD . . . and Draymond, they're just so smart, long, athletic. But their defensive IQ to me is unbelievable, and Steve and (assistant coach) Ron Adams are responsible and part of that. Mark Jackson started that. He started it. But that’s what they do well.”
Go ahead and enjoy the offensive show, with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson raining triples and Kevin Durant carving up teams with his offensive arsenal. It’s fun to watch.
But know that the Warriors win championships because they smother opponents. If the humiliating Game 2 loss reminded them of anything, it is that to have a real chance of achieving the “three-peat” they’re chasing, they’ll have to do it again over the coming weeks.
“That's the game,” Durant said. “That's the game for us.”