Andre Iguodala

Why Warriors' smothering defense is key to winning NBA championship

Why Warriors' smothering defense is key to winning NBA championship

“They kill you with their defense, and then they show you their offense” – Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

LOS ANGELES – 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.”

[RELATED: KD's message is his, not the media's, as free agency looms]

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.”

Warriors vs. Clippers Game 4 Watch Guide: Lineups, injuries, player usage

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USATSI

Warriors vs. Clippers Game 4 Watch Guide: Lineups, injuries, player usage

LOS ANGELES – With a 2-1 series lead, the Warriors take the court Sunday afternoon for Game 4 against the Clippers in which one matchup likely will dictate the direction of the game and the series.

It’s not necessarily Kevin Durant vs. Patrick Beverley. Durant hit the jets on Beverley in Game 3, putting an end to the myth they were waging a battle.

[RELATED: How to watch Warriors vs. Clippers Game 4 live online]

The more impactful matchup is that between Andre Iguodala and Los Angeles scoring whiz Lou Williams – and it surely will be a topic during pregame coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area beginning with Warriors Outsiders at 11 a.m., followed by SNC Playoff Central. Tipoff of the ABC telecast begins at 12:30 p.m.

For the Clippers to have a reasonable chance to win, Williams must produce. When he scored in 36 points on 59-percent shooting in Game 2, LA won by four. When he scored 16 on 36-percent shooting in Game 3, the Warriors won by 27.

For roughly 80 percent of Williams’ playing time in Game 3, he was shadowed by Iguodala – the two were teammates for seven seasons in Philadelphia – who occasionally got help. With Iguodala containing Williams and Draymond Green’s stifling No. 2 scorer Danilo Gallinari, the Clippers were limited on offense.

A repeat of that practically ensures a Warriors victory, giving them a 3-1 series lead going into Game 4 Wednesday in Oakland.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Warriors
F Kevin Durant
F Draymond Green
C Andrew Bogut
G Klay Thompson
G Stephen Curry

Clippers
F Patrick Beverley
F Danilo Gallinari
C Ivaca Zubac
G Landry Shamet
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

INJURY REPORT

Warriors: C DeMarcus Cousins (L quadriceps tear) and C Damian Jones (L pectoral surgery) are listed as out.

Clippers: No injuries listed.

ROTATION OUTLOOK

Warriors: Durant’s massive Game 3 performance raised the ceiling of the Warriors and could pay dividends for teammates Curry and Thompson in Game 4. More attention on Durant could mean space for the guards.

Kevon Looney and Iguodala have been very good off the bench, with Looney’s playing at high efficiency and Iguodala delivering at both ends. Looney’s success is a bit surprising in that he can’t match the athleticism of LA reserve big man Montrezl Harrell but still has become a problem for the Clippers.

The initial insertion of Bogut at starting center was something of an experiment, with the belief he could match up with Zubac and the hope he could counteract Harrell’s energy. It’s working, for the most part and is not likely to change.

Clippers: Harrell has been their most consistently effective player. He’s averaging 22 ppg (76.5 percent FG) and 6.3 rpg. The Williams-Harrell pick-and-roll had been an issue but was less effective in Game 3.

The Clippers have KD problem and there’s no easy answer for Clippers coach Doc Rivers. The strategy of using Beverley, who gives up at least eight inches in height, is designed to make Durant uncomfortable and limit his off-the-dribble action. Screens consistently freed Durant in Game 3, so it will be interesting to see what, if any, adjustment is made.

[RELATED: Kerr believes Iguodala can play as long as he wants, but will he?]

Gallinari’s 2-of-13 shooting in Game 3 puts him at 14-of-44 (31.8 percent). As the best scorer in LA’s starting lineup, it’s imperative he generate some offense. They’ll look to get more out of Shamet, their designated shooter. With Thompson and Curry doing most of the defensive work, Shamet is averaging 7.0 points (30 percent FG).

Officials: Tony Brothers (crew chief), Sean Wright, Brent Barnaky. Alternate: Tre Maddox.

Steve Kerr believes Andre Iguodala can play as long as he wants, but will he?

Steve Kerr believes Andre Iguodala can play as long as he wants, but will he?

LOS ANGELES -- Andre Iguodala has one more year left on his contract, but Warriors coach Steve Kerr believes the 16-year NBA veteran isn't close to being done.

"I think he can play beyond this contract if he really wants," Kerr said after practice Saturday morning. "He may not want to -- he may just go to the golf course and call it a career -- but he can keep playing if he wants."

Despite his NBA mileage, Iguodala, 34, continues to be a key contributor, averaging 10.7 points, 4.7 assists and 4.0 rebounds in the postseason, making good on the three-year, $48 million deal he signed with the Warriors in 2017.

"Not a lot of players who stay relevant deep into their careers, almost all of them have high basketball IQs," Kerr said. "He still has his athleticism. It takes him longer to warm up and longer to cool down, but it's still there."

In Game 3 of the first-round series against the Clippers, Iguodala finished with 15 points, three assists and two rebounds, helping the Warriors take a 2-1 series advantage, showing athleticism not normally seen from a player his age. 

"Some of those dunks the other night, plays he was making in the paint," Kerr said. "The guy is a remarkable athlete, and the combination of his athleticism, his work ethic and his brain is going to allow him to play." 

However, Iguodala might be out of the league sooner than his coach thinks. Last November, he told NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole that his NBA days could be numbered. 

“I’m going to be done soon,” he said. “I could probably play a legit five more years, but I’ll probably max out at three more after this year -- maybe three more.

[RELATED: Kerr jokes about trading spots with Iguodala]

“But if I’m not here, that will weigh heavily on what I will do. I possibly have another year here -- if we win. That’s it. I know that. I’m fine with it.”

Only Iguodala knows how long he can play, but however long he wants to stay with the Warriors, it seems his coach will welcome with open arms.