When the Golden State Warriors secured the sixth seed in the Western Conference, it was all but assured they’d be taking on their Pacific Division rivals in the first round. The Oklahoma City Thunder were one Brandon Jennings desperation shot away from potentially surrendering the No. 2 spot in the West last night, but OKC’s victory guaranteed NBA fans a delightful first-round grudge match between the Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Unfortunately, that Western throw down might not be as thrilling, hard-nosed or long without Andrew Bogut patrolling the paint for the Dubs. Three days ago, the Warriors announced Bogut would be out indefinitely with a fractured rib, ruling him out for start of the playoffs and possibly the entire postseason. With a rumored recovery time of six weeks in play for Bogut, the Dubs would really have to ride some hot shooting and Stephen Curry magic in general to last long enough for his return. So with no Andrew Bogut, what can we expect from a first round Warriors-Clippers clash?
I’ve been saying this for weeks now, but the Golden State Warriors, for all their improvements this season, aren’t a real threat in the loaded Western Conference. It’s not even their fault necessarily. Bringing in Andre Iguodala didn’t automatically transform Golden State into Western favorites like some predicted, but the Dubs improved from 47 wins last season to 51 this year in an even tougher conference. Normally a four-game improvement would’ve launched a team into home court advantage for at least the first round; instead, the West got so much better this year the Warriors are the exact same seed they were last season. Had the Dubs won 47 games this year, they might not have even made the playoffs.
In other words, this is an improved team from the group that took the San Antonio Spurs to six games in the second round last year, but they didn’t blow us away or differentiate themselves from the other fringe contenders this season either. Part of that is because of frequent injuries to Golden State’s starting unit: Andrew Bogut missed 15 games, David Lee missed 13, Andre Iguodala missed 19, and Harrison Barnes might as well have missed all 82 based on his development this season. It’s hard for “#FullSquad” to mean much when the Warriors won’t even have their formidable starting lineup available for the postseason.
Bogut’s defensive impact cannot be understated, especially against a Clippers team that leads the league in points per game (108.0) and offensive rating (112.1 points per 100 possessions). Bogut is not only a top three performer in total rebound percentage (20.7 percent) and defensive rating (96.2), but he’s also fifth in the league in block percentage (5.1 percent). Basically, if Bogut isn’t blocking your shot, he’s challenging it and grabbing the rebound one out of every five misses. Against a frontcourt that features the best power forward in the NBA in Blake Griffin and a walking alley-oop waiting to happen in DeAndre Jordan, Bogut’s presence in the paint will be sorely missed.
So how will Mark Jackson handle Bogut’s absence? There are a couple of ways. The most obvious one is inserting Jermaine O’Neal into the starting lineup alongside Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and David Lee. O’Neal has proven himself to be a capable defender, rebounder and even scorer at times, averaging 14.2 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per 36 minutes. But O’Neal’s not the quality interior passer that Bogut is, running the offense through him when Curry’s out there is a mistake and a half and simply put, he’s no Andrew Bogut. Just look at the strategy of getting Griffin thrown out on Christmas Day!
The Warriors’ best choice would be the same decision Jackson made in the 2013 NBA Playoffs when the Warriors upset the Denver Nuggets: go small. This is a bit different since last year it was David Lee that was absent and the Warriors still had Bogut patrolling the lane, but a defensive lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Draymond Green and Lee at center might be able to hold its own. Thompson and Iggy are versatile wing defenders who can defend either position and Green (fifth in the league in defensive rating) can defend positions one through four.Why not try drawing Griffin out of the paint and letting Lee work on Jordan inside? Green isn’t a great three-point shooter, but you at least have to guard him since he can knock down open perimeter looks.
In a physical series between two teams that despise each other, not having a guy like Andrew Bogut on the floor is huge (even if Jermaine O’Neal admittedly has a similar attitude problem at times). Bogut brought attitude, toughness and screens so hard they’d make Bill Laimbeer proud. Bogut or no Bogut, Golden State’s best chance of winning this series hinged on Curry putting up some ridiculous stat lines, Thompson catching fire, Lee putting up his normal numbers and the Warriors getting some perimeter shooting out of Iggy, Green and/or Harrison Barnes. So Bogut’s absence could prove to be a blessing if the Dubs can find the right small-ball lineup to dumbfound Doc Rivers and the Clips…but I severely doubt that will happen.
It’s not difficult to guess why. As we already mentioned, the Clippers have two monsters in the paint in Griffin and Jordan. Doc Rivers is also one of the elite coaches in the league, so it’s impossible to assume it’d take more than a simple look at a stat sheet for him to realize he has the depth to match Golden State’s small-ball lineups between J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley, Hedo Turkoglu and even Reggie Bullock and (a hopefully healthy) Danny Granger. Without their boldest warrior (HA!), the Warriors also surrender the physical and mental toughness aspects in this heated rivalry. The Dubs have a puncher’s chance without Andrew Bogut, but I wouldn’t put much faith in them advancing to the second round.