Klay Thompson erupted for a career-high 60 points in only 29 minutes on Monday. How can the LA Clippers contain him in their Wednesday matchup against the Golden State Warriors?
The Golden State Warriors just recorded 45 assists on 54 baskets in their 142-106 win against the Indiana Pacers on Monday night, the same Pacers that have beaten the LA Clippers twice this season. In the Warriors’ historic offensive night, Klay Thompson added fuel to the scorching hot fire, dropping a career-high 60 points. As if that wasn’t breathtaking enough, it’s the speed he did it in that’s truly remarkable: it took him only three quarters and 29 minutes (!!) playing time. He shot 21-of-33 for the game and buried eight three-pointers, scoring a fraction over two points per minute as the guy who’s only meant to be the Warriors’ third option.
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That’s obviously the case, but the fact that he’s capable of these types of performances (do I need to remind you of his NBA record 37 points in a quarter from last season?) shows just how overwhelming the Warriors’ offense can be.
Even if you somehow manage to eradicate space around Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant, forcing them off the three-point line and hustling them into tougher, contested shots, you’ll likely leave Thompson in space to receive a pass from Draymond Green for three.
Essentially, Klay Thompson can’t be locked up for a full game. Doing so would come at the price of inevitably taking attention away from the MVP scoring talent of Curry and Durant, and that’s when the Warriors simply keep the ball moving. Plus, those are the primary scorers and creators, anyway.
This is the conundrum with the Warriors: how do you possibly cover everyone all game? The answer to that is you can’t. You can do your best by trying to force guys off the three-point line, trap Curry off pick-and-rolls when need be so he isn’t left open to shoot or drive by your big man, switch on time to stay as close to their shooters as possible, get physical, and simply play as hard as possible like your life depends on it.
Roughing the Warriors up and taking advantage of their limited size and depth — which these LA Clippers are well suited to do with Blake Griffin in the post and DeAndre Jordan on the boards and in the air — to get them out of their rhythm is the best strategy. Containing Curry and Durant as much as possible to leave the Warriors with catch-and-shoot attempts going to Thompson (ideally well contested ones) and slowing the pace of the game is the best bet.
Luc Mbah a Moute, who’s easily been having an All-Defensive season so far, could well play more than his usual 23.6 nightly minutes as he’ll be tasked with guarding Durant. Meanwhile, Chris Paul, Austin Rivers, Raymond Felton, and everyone Doc can throw at Curry will have to bother the reigning two-time MVP as much as possible. Running hard enough after him to limit his open looks off high screens will be essential.
So, if we get back to Thompson for a moment, who may be raring to go after another big game against the rival Clippers, how can he be stopped?
Well, the Clippers’ defense has had some recent lapses, but still leads the league by allowing only 99.5 points per 100 possessions. They’re noticeably better than the Pacers (ranked 18th, despite recent improvement) and it’s awfully hard to imagine them allowing 142 points.
Even still, Warriors sets like this will be used to get Thompson (or anyone) open. Thompson begins on the right side of the court and waits to create a mismatch of Monta Ellis on Draymond Green. After moving to the left as the slower center Myles Turner switches onto him, Thompson finds himself in more space at the arc, and receives an effective off-ball screen from Zaza Pachulia to slow down Turner and have even more room to shoot.
Having bigs like Griffin and Jordan, both faster and better at switching out than Turner, will help the Clippers in such scenarios.
This well executed double high screen got Thompson another three before the end of the half, which uses him first as a screener for Curry before Kevon Looney sets his second pick to free up Thompson at the top of the arc.
The Clippers we saw over the first few weeks, the team that locked in non stop, stayed in the right spots, and communicated well, should be built far better to handle such plays.
Constantly moving, being physical, and forcing guys to drive off the three-point line and funnelling them to Jordan is key for the Clippers. As well as hoping anyone left open misses their shot.
Of course, everything is easier said than done.
As Ros Gold-Onwude of CSN Bay Area spoke to Thompson after the game, Curry jumped up behind him to pour a bag of ice on his head. It’s something Warriors players should do more than any other team when joking around with teammates after a big scoring night, although the two-time MVP Curry is the usual victim.
On Monday, it was Thompson. “Did he cool you off?” Gold-Onwude asked. “Nah, I’m still hot,” Thompson replied, knowing full well he’d need hours to cool off from that level of historic heat.
No one would have anticipated something this big. Something so breathtaking. But that’s the nature of Klay Thompson’s shooting when he’s hot and the Warriors’ offense in general.
The LA Clippers have their biggest test of the season on Wednesday night as they try to defend Staples Center against their rival Warriors. The team keeping a check on Thompson, along with the rest of the Dub’s absurd firepower and two former MVPs, is going to be incredibly difficult.
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With bigs like Griffin to create foul trouble and mismatches in the post and Jordan to crash the offensive glass over smaller opponents, the Clippers’ will have to excel to their strengths offensively. Because stopping these Warriors is just too, too difficult, especially in their first regular season attempt.