The playoff road to a three-peat begins here for Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors. As recently as a week or so ago, it looked like the Oklahoma City Thunder might end up as the number eight seed. The Warriors are likely relieved to instead be facing the Los Angeles Clippers.
The central storylines
We have heard plenty of speculation about Golden State’s regular season boredom but they have been able to dial up the intensity in big moments – for example, their recent beatdowns against the Denver Nuggets. There is nothing to suggest that they cannot flip the playoff switch, and we have seen flashes of the suffocating defense that supports the potent offense.
Kevin Durant’s looming free agency has seemingly been a source of tension in the Warriors’ locker room this season and there is a growing sense that this could be his last playoff run with the team. In fact, it was in the overtime loss to the Clippers back in November that Durant and Draymond Green had their infamous fallout which threatened to tear the team apart. Internal drama is the number one worry for Golden State – and the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley is just the type of opponent who could stir up trouble.
Doc Rivers has done an outstanding job with this Los Angeles roster, keeping the team on track even after the Tobias Harris trade. While the Warriors have the All-Star starting group, the Clippers can counter with their depth and flexibility. They will need to make some runs when Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell are on the court against some of the Golden State second unit. Rivers may also need to tweak his starting line-up to better match up with Golden State (more Beverley, more Harrell).
The key matchup – Curry vs. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
This matchup is about as daunting as it gets for a rookie making his playoff debut, but Gilgeous-Alexander has already taken so much in his stride this season. He will need to be on point on both ends against Curry, who shot 43.7% from behind the arc this year and is a threat to heat up at any moment. No doubt, Beverley will also take on the defensive assignment against Curry at times too. The downside is that the more attention Curry receives, the likelier it is that Thompson and Durant get great looks - pick your poison.
Regular season clashes
3-1 to the Warriors. There is evidence from this season that the Clippers can create some problems, having beaten Golden State in overtime and falling just short in another contest. Few teams can hang with the Warriors in a shootout, but Williams, Danilo Gallinari and company are more than capable of cracking the 120-point mark.
Warriors in 5. The smart money says that Golden State will jump out to a 2-0 lead but a sweep feels like a step too far. Either way, we should get some physical, high-scoring games which will tell us plenty about how ready the Warriors are to go all the way again.