LOS ANGELES-Splash versus blue-collar. Grit or highlight reel. The youthful energy of the Golden State Warriors or the experience of the Los Angeles Clippers. Take your pick. Tuesday night’s finale at Staples Center which landed in Golden State’s favor with a 110-106 win could be a precursor to the two teams meeting up in the postseason. One thing is for sure is if they do hookup during the playoffs, it is going to be fun.
This time around, Golden State and their young studs of a backcourt better known as the “Splash Brothers,” hold all the cards in their backpockets. Spurred by MVP candidate Steph Curry and his hot-shooting mate Klay Thompson, the Warriors are all grown up right now. No more kid jokes, please. These cats are for real.
The Warriors are kicking butt and taking names this season to the tune of owning the best record in the NBA and winning the Western Conference Pacific Division for the first time in the franchise history. But does that automatically means an NBA crown for the Warriors? No, not necessarily. The only thing it means is that they are the regular season champs. At the end of the day, who cares?
Two years ago, Golden State, then led by coach Mark Jackson, introduced themselves to a national television audience as this fun-loving, energetic team with plenty of bounce in their step that everyone wanted to watch as they took out the Denver Nuggets in six games in the first round of the playoffs. They then put a scare into Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs by going down in six contests.
Last season, the Warriors unfortunate draw in the first round was the same Clippers that they spotted 17 points and came back to defeat the other night.
Golden State came within a couple of minutes of the seventh game in a seven-game series of moving to the next round and eliminating the Clippers. Curry, Thompson and the rest of the Warriors are now baby-faced assassins on the court as evident of their league’s best record with the strong potential of meeting up with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers like many predict will happen.
I’m just not so sure about that.
Being young and pretty to watch does not translate into a title. Remember the Oklahoma City Thunder team with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden? Remember all the hyperbole being fed around OKC? The Thunder trio had a lot of fanfare and hype surrounding them as they took on James and the Miami Heat only to come up small when it mattered, losing in the championship round in five games.
Today, OKC is a team that is basically a shell of itself with recurring injuries to Durant, the head-scratching move to let Harden go via free agency and a whole bunch of chaos and confusion. The Thunder are fighting for the last spot to get into the playoffs this season.
The same question could be posed about these same Clippers? These are the same Clippers with Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, all part of the “Lob City” highlight reel force for several years that re-engineered excitement and buzz around a once bottom tier team. “Lob City” has now been grounded into a more methodical machine that emphasizes shooting efficiency and defense rather than rallying around one spectacular play.
This just might be the recipe the Clippers need to extend themselves beyond the second round of the playoffs into the Western Conference Finals and beyond. If you judge the Clippers by what the Warriors have been able to do this season one might think that Los Angeles have been playing scrub basketball. That would be idiotic thinking. The Clippers have produced another great season with at least 50 wins under their belt.
Last season, the Clippers had to deal with the enormous burden of carrying around the whole Donald Sterling mess on their shoulders that had a direct impact on the team as they found themselves exiting the postseason once again in the second round after losing to Durant, Westbrook and the Thunder in six games.
This year may be different. Expect coach Doc Rivers offseason move of getting perimeter center Spencer Hawes to play huge dividends for the team. Jamal Crawford will be back. Jordan Hamilton will add depth to the small forward position. Besides that, Griffin has fresh legs to rock and roll after being out for an extended time with an injury. One other thing that plays in the Clippers’ favor to go the distance in the postseason is that the team is hungry.
The window of opportunity for the Clippers Big Three in Griffin, Paul and Jordan to win a title together closes with each passing season. There’s a lot of pressure on the Clippers to come up big (Western Conference Finals or NBA Finals) in the playoffs this year. Paul knows it. Griffin gets the big picture. Jordan has already received the memo. The need to win is now and it really doesn’t matter who stand in their way.
Too much emphasis is sometimes put on the regular season. The Warriors have been an exciting bunch to watch during the regular season. They’ll have success in the first round and play well in the second. But seeing the Warriors make it to the Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals is more like a feel-good ending of a good movie that moves you to tears. You know what’s coming but you still end up crying.
Whether it takes place this season or not, eventually it is going to happen. The Warriors are that good. The Clippers, on the other hand, has based their reality into the moment. And if they happen to meet up with their Northern California friends at some point in the playoffs, don’t be surprised if the Clippers’ past postseason woes and fire-in-the-belly determination is able to take them past the Warriors as they climb to another level.