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Warriors’ ‘Death-Ball’ Lineup Too Much for Clippers, Everyone

Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Sports

I’m pretty sure, like 56.7 percent positive, that at some point the Golden State Warriors will lose a game this season. But man, it doesn’t look like it’s going to be the Los Angeles Clippers. The Dubs just dislike them too much.

How else do you explain Thursday night’s game?

The Clips got off to a red-hot start at home and got off to a 23-point lead early in the second quarter. Chris Paul, who was listed as “doubtful” to play in the lead-up to the game with a sore groin, couldn’t miss and was embarrassing Stephen Curry on both ends of the floor, raining jumpers on him from all over the floor and forcing him into turnovers and dumb fouls on the other end. Blake Griffin was hitting corkscrew bank shots from 20 feet and making plays for others. Even Austin Rivers was playing well in relief of Paul.

Golden State chipped away, as they do, and got it down to one after a Harrison Barnes wing three with 9:48 to go. But they again got sloppy with turnovers and another disastrous Marreese Speights showing and found themselves quickly down 10.

And then they just decided to stop missing.

No matter what haymakers were thrown at them, whether it was a soaring alley-oop from DeAndre Jordan, a corner three from Paul after another pilfering of Curry or a bomb from Paul Pierce following an offensive rebound, the Warriors always had an answer. It was the same one they’ve used often this season: the micro-ball lineup of Curry-Klay Thompson-Andre Iguodala-Barnes-Draymond Green. The Clippers had no counter for it except to go into the fetal position.

“Micro-ball” or “small-ball” doesn’t do the lineup enough justice. It’s more like “death-ball.”

Barnes was sensational early in the fourth quarter, as good as he’s ever been and perhaps better, with eight huge points while the other starters were getting a blow. Iguodala was unfairly clutch, nailing a pair of threes and dishing a pair of assists. Thompson had the go-ahead triple from the right wing — the Warriors’ first lead since 3-2 — with 2:43 to go and was the Warriors’ best player in the first half, keeping them within shouting distance when everyone else was disappointing. Green remains the linchpin of the whole operation. He was able to nullify Griffin inside and keep forcing him into worse and worse shots, despite his size disadvantage. The Clippers weren’t able to counter by going to Jordan because he’s not a post-up threat and too unreliable at the line to risk the Warriors fouling him, despite an uncharacteristically solid performance from the stripe.

Then finally there’s Curry, who may be the devil and is at the least weaponized nonsense. He scored 13 of his 40 in the fourth quarter, including the final lead-changer of the game, a 25-footer to counter a three from Jamal Crawford the trip before. And then he made all the free throws to ice it. Of course he did.

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

As well as the Clippers played, shooting well above their heads and making 13-of-29 (44.8 percent) threes, they just couldn’t keep up with the quality of the Warriors, especially without their best marksman in J.J. Redick, who was out injured. It also didn’t help them that Paul was clearly laboring and limited to just 32 minutes, when usually a game of this significance would have him playing over 40. Without those two the Clips just don’t have enough shooting, and the disparity in the quality of shots they were getting versus what the Warriors were getting — almost every three-point attempt from the visitors outside of a handful from Curry was wide open — kept becoming more and more glaring as the night went on. Once Griffin stopped making his long twos, Crawford turned back into Crawford and they didn’t get to the free throw line as much as they normally do, it was over. The Clips normally live at the line, and the Warriors’ scrambling defense was too fast and too active.

Steve Kerr was conservative and judicious with the death-ball lineup last year, using it in just 37 games last regular season and for 102 minutes overall, per NBA.com. It produced a 21.8 net rating, which is excellent. He ramped it up for the playoffs, using it in 16 of 21 games for 111 minutes, and they finished with a 15.7 net rating, obviously against much better competition. With Kerr sidelined, substitute teacher Luke Walton has been far more willing to use it, implementing it in 10 of 12 games (remember, Thompson missed one with a sore back) for 48 minutes already. The fellas merely have a 61.8 net rating in those 48 minutes.

No one in the league may be able to keep up with that lineup. All five guys can shoot threes, three of the five can drive to the cup, three of the five can create for others and they can all switch effortlessly on defense. Even when opponents rotate and scramble like madmen to try to contest outside shots, Green or Barnes find themselves in excellent position to come down with offensive rebounds for easy layups or open second chances. The Clippers couldn’t hide old man Pierce or the defensively-challenged Crawford on anyone. Doc Rivers didn’t play Lance Stephenson, who would’ve been helpful defensively, because it would’ve meant having Lance Stephenson on the floor when they had the ball.

Once the death-ball lineup was united, Voltron-style with 5:40 to go, the Warriors closed with a 22-3 run. They scored on their final 10 possessions of the game, racking up an obscene 25 points in that stretch. They made 8-of-9 threes in all in that fourth quarter and shot 73 percent overall in the period.

Are there concerns, even at 13-0? Of course there are. Curry is being stretched too far right now, at 38.8 minutes a night over his last five games, and averaging five turnovers a night in that stretch, with seven giveaways apiece in his last two outings. Speights and Jason Thompson are both giving them little or less and it looks like a nine-man team.

Still, they can seemingly turn it on at will. Everyone throws everything they have at the Warriors and it doesn’t seem to matter. They’re going to drive Rivers, Griffin and Paul to the looney bin at this rate. You almost pity the Clips. Almost.

One day somebody is gonna beat these guys. But not when they shoot 56.7 percent from three.

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