In terms of competitiveness and venom, nothing comes close to matching what this series should bring.
These teams simply do not like one another, and their rivalry has been building over the course of two seasons in which the hatred between the teams has only grown with each encounter. If you had to pick one series and one series only to watch every minute of, this would be the winner among those who like their hoops with some histrionics.
If you had to pick a series Most Likely to Include a Brawl, this is where you would make your wager.
Memo to East Coast fans: Buy coffee. Buy Red Bull. Heck, buy straight caffeine pills if that is what it takes. The scheduling gods have done you a favor by putting two of the first four games in afternoon time slots. If they can pull some more of that magic for the as-of-yet unscheduled Games 5, 6 and 7, we can all count ourselves as lucky.
Things have been this way since last season when the Warriors became a relevant team in the Western Conference, and it continued into this season when Blake Griffin called the Warriors cowards. The two teams won’t even share a chapel together.
That’s true hate.
And it leads us to Factor #1:
1. How will the hatred between the teams manifest itself?
When the teams met earlier this season, the Warriors managed to prod Blake Griffin into getting ejected. What did the trick was Andrew Bogut locking arms with Griffin so that Griffin had to demonstrably break free. The fun police were all over it, quickly T-ing up Griffin with his second technical of the game. Chances are Griffin has learned his lesson, and both teams will go into this series trying to be on their best behavior while the referees will be calling it extra close. That dynamic usually lasts for two games before things really start getting heated, so the question becomes this: When the series moves to Oakland, who will keep their cool and who will lose their temper?
2. Will Bogut even get a chance to get under Griffin’s skin?
That is a good question, and right now it does not look that way. Bogut has a fractured rib, and doctors have told him the injury is so close to his lung that he risks puncturing that lung if the fractured rib gets dislodged even further.
Coach Mark Jackson said the team is proceeding as though Bogut will miss the entire postseason. But if you are thinking what I am thinking, it would not be a surprise for the big Australian to be fitted with a flak jacket for a Game 7 appearance. Backup center Jermaine O’Neal is limited in the amount of minutes he can play, Festus Ezeli is not the kind of center you want to have anchoring your defense — especially against a player as good as DeAndre Jordan. So it will be interesting to see what kind of lineup combinations Jackson comes up with to try to negate Bogut’s absence.
3. Can Golden State win this series from the 3-point line?
If they don’t, it won’t be for a lack of trying. That much is pretty safe to say. The Dubs are coming off a regular season in which they attempted 2,037 3-pointers. By comparison, the first season the 3-point line was added to the NBA rule book was 1979-80, when the Atlanta Hawks made only 13 3-pointers all season (on 79 attempts).
Stephen Curry went 261 for 613 from behind the arc, a percentage of .424, and Klay Thompson attempted 535 and made 223, a percentage of .417. That put both players in the Top 0 in terms of accuracy — quite an accomplishment considering the volume of shots they attempted. But as a team, the Warriors attempted fewer 3s per game (24.8) than the Knicks, Hawks and Rockets.
If there is a balance between what David Lee can produce in the low post, what Andre Iguodala can contribute from mid-range and what the Splash brothers do from behind the arc, we should have a formula for success for Golden State.
As for the Clippers, they attempted nearly as many 3s (24.0) but made them at a far lower clip, converting 35.2 percent.
4. Is Blake Griffin going to be able to continue his beastly ways?
Everyone’s favorite dunker was a model of consistency over the second half of the season, scoring between 20 and 43 points in 37 of his final 39 games and averaging an even 30.0 points in the month of March.
I voted him second on my MVP ballot, ahead of LeBron James, which moved James to Second Team All-NBA because there is only room for two forwards on the ballot, and Kevin Durant got my first-place MVP vote. I am catching some flak for listing James as Second Team, but that’s just too damn bad. The NBA requires voters to list one center (I went with Joakim Noah) and two forwards, and James got squeezed.
But back to Griffin. He has had the most efficient season of his career under coach Doc Rivers, reaching carer-highs in field goals made (9.0) free throw percentage (.715), blocks (51) and points (1,930).
Griffin did not even lead his own team in dunks, his 176 paling by comparison to Jordan’s 245. Keeping him somewhat contained is the most important thing Golden State can do on defense.
5. Will Doc Rivers be the same genius he was in Boston?
One of Rivers’ best attributes as a playoff coach is getting his team to focus on the game in front of them instead of the game they just played. Whether it was a win or a loss, the result ain’t changing. All the players can do, as Doc will tell them, is control how they act in the present.
Doc’s Celtics teams were famous for shaking of bad losses in the postseason. Rivers would always remind them that it takes four losses, not one, to be eliminated — and there are going to be a few losses along the way. The point is not to sweep every series; it is to survive and advance by playing one game at a time.
Recent Clippers seasons have come to emphatic ends. They dropped four straight against the Grizzlies last season after taking a 2-0 lead; and they were swept by the Spurs two seasons ago in the second round. It’s hard to see a Rivers-coached team losing four straight games, but it does happen to the best of them. Phil Jackson, you may recall, was swept 4-0 by the Mavericks in his final playoff series as a head coach.
MORE PLAYOFF PREVIEWS
CHRIS SHERIDAN – WARRIORS in 7
MARK HEISLER – CLIPPERS in 6
JAN HUBBARD – CLIPPERS in 6
DANNY SCHAYES – CLIPPERS in 5
CHRIS BERNUCCA – CLIPPERS in 5
PETER MAY – CLIPPERS in 7
BOBBY GONZALEZ – CLIPPERS in 7
SHLOMO SPRUNG – CLIPPERS in 7
JIM PARK – WARRIORS in 7
MIKE SCOTTO – CLIPPERS in 6
ANDY KAMENETZKY – THUNDER in 7
BRIAN KAMENETZKY – THUNDER in 6