The Los Angeles Clippers survived on Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors with a 126-121 win that allowed them to move on to the second round of the 2014 NBA playoffs to match up with the Oklahoma City Thunder in what should be a high scoring series.
Chris Paul and J.J. Redick had big games for Los Angeles, combining for 42 points in the win, but the difference in the game was the frontcourt.
The Warriors know how to generate points from their perimeter players Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, but their frontcourt relies heavily on the offensive play of David Lee to keep balance against the other big men in the league. Andrew Bogut is usually the Warriors’ defensive stopper inside, but Bogut was out in the playoffs due to injury, leaving the job of patrolling the paint to Jermaine O’Neal, who was injured in Game 6.
These injuries left Lee and backup Marreese Speights as the two main bigs for a majority of the game, combining for 23 points and 15 rebounds as a duo. Those numbers are alright for a frontcourt tandem, but they were no match for what the Clippers’ big men duo was able to put up.
Blake Griffin and Deandre Jordan had huge performances for the Clippers, combining for 39 points on 16-for-24 shooting and 23 rebounds. The two also managed to put up eight assists to add to the versatility that was brought to the table.
The pairing of Griffin and Jordan is a dangerous one that many teams cannot match. Both players do something well that the other player does not do, leaving each of them to focus on what they do best and not have to worry about compromising Los Angeles in a particular area on the floor.
Griffin is one of the best big men scorers in the NBA, gifted with the ability to put the ball on the floor and attack the rim, or play with his back to the basket and utilize a quick hook to generate offense for the Clippers. Griffin has also developed a mid-range jump shot that has proven useful in spreading the floor and drawing defensive attention to find another open player.
Jordan is not an offensive big man, but his talents are very important for what the Clippers are capable of doing. Jordan is a rim protector and a fierce rebounder. His ability to control the lane on defense and either block an opponent’s shot or change shots within striking distance from the rim gives the Clippers an athletic defensive anchor with strong rebounding skills, something that a lot of teams cannot compete with.
Going up against the Thunder, the Clippers will have to look to utilize their frontcourt in the matchup. Paul and Redick are great perimeter options, and backup point guard Darren Collison has been able to generate offense off the bench along with the great sixth man Jamal Crawford, but Oklahoma City has a perimeter duo that will be awfully hard to match point-for-point in the form of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
These two players have proven time and time again that they can neutralize any backcourt threat, and that should prove to be the same in the series ahead. Where the Thunder cannot compare to the Clippers is with their big men. Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams can play the game, but they are not capable of competing with Griffin and Jordan on a high level due to their lack of real physicality down low.
Griffin and Jordan can dominate opponents in the paint due to their size and strength, and they can do the same thing to the Thunder if they become a focus in the team’s game plan.
Clippers head coach Doc Rivers has been in playoff situations before, knowing how to utilize a certain part of his team where he has an advantage over another team. Griffin and Jordan will be a focus on both ends of the floor, and their involvement may be what sets the Clippers apart from the Thunder in the next round.