The Warriors played Game 6 at Oracle on two occasions a year ago. They clinched a first round victory over the Nuggets, and succumbed to the Spurs in the second round after the ankles of Stephen Curry and Andrew Bogut could go no further and a nasty spill meant losing Harrison Barnes to a concussion.
Tonight’s Game 6, also at Oracle, seems a little closer to what the Warriors faced against San Antonio. Curry and Barnes are healthy, but Bogut is unavailable. More to the point, the Clippers are deeper than the Warriors — just like the Spurs were in 2013.
Golden State and Los Angeles also find themselves in completely different places than they were leading up to the Warriors’ Game 4 win on Sunday. Adam Silver removed the considerable weight of Donald Sterling from the Clippers’ shoulders, and it showed in Game 5. The question now is whether the Clippers will breeze past the Warriors now that their ownership situation is (mostly) settled, or if Golden State can muster one last strong counterpunch to send the series back to Staples.
The “have to win” factor
The Warriors’ season was over if they lost Game 4, and they played their best first quarter of the season and ran the exhausted/depressed/confused/angry Clippers off the floor. The Clippers needed to win Game 5, and they made certain they achieved two goals: (1) get Draymond Green in foul trouble early and (2) put the clamps on Stephen Curry.
Unlike the Warriors, the Clippers really don’t need to win Game 6 to take this series. Of course, the Warriors needed to win Game 6 against San Antonio too, and the Spurs mercilessly squeezed the life out of Golden State like a boa constrictor that formed like Voltron (with Gregg Popovich as the head).
The Mark Jackson factor
Andre Iguodala backtracked slightly from comments he made after Game 1 about how the Warriors are “trying to save our coach,” saying that he was being sarcastic because all the questions about Jackson’s job security in the media are so ridiculous. Except they aren’t ridiculous; I’ve heard so many mentions of Jackson’s job being in jeopardy unless the Warriors make the Conference Finals that, at this point, it almost has to be true.
The Clippers dealt with a far more severe situation after Sterling’s comments hit the interwebs on Friday night, but the Warriors are at a crossroads. They get along really well as a team, and they seem to enjoy bantering with and playing for Jackson. But the Brian Scalabrine reassignment was odd, Darren Erman recording everything when he wasn’t in the room was beyond scandalous, and Jackson now has to fend off rumors that he doesn’t want Jerry West hanging around during practices and filling his players’ heads with crazy ideas.
Fair or not, if the Warriors’ performance tonight will be a statement of sorts on how much they want Jackson to remain. If they come out and lay an egg, Jackson’s agent could be calling Phil Jackson and Mitch Kupchak on Friday morning (if not after tonight’s game).
The Stephen Curry factor
The last 18 months have been fascinating for those watching Curry, as he’s developed a leader’s personality to go with his otherworldly range. If he’s the superstar everyone says he is, he needs to force his will upon the Clippers. How many times have we heard that good offense always beats good defense? That wasn’t the case on Tuesday, but Curry is intelligent enough to see how he committed all those turnovers and make the necessary adjustments.
This series has been blighted with too many conversations about intangibles, thanks mostly to the Sterling situation. But the Warriors get their cues from Curry, who (as I’ve written several times) thinks and talks a lot about his and the team’s body language and facial expressions. When Curry commits turnovers, his head drops as he and his teammates try in vain to get back in transition. Turnovers by themselves aren’t all that bad, but if the Warriors get into a scenario where the Clippers have a lead and Curry keeps getting his passes deflected or kicks his dribble into an oncoming defender, the Warriors will lose the crowd and find it that much harder to keep their season alive.
You know the rest. The Warriors can’t let DeAndre Jordan go for 20-and-20 with five blocks, Green can’t get into foul trouble, the Warriors need to do a better job of attacking Jamal Crawford/J.J. Redick, and Klay Thompson and/or Iguodala need to add some offense to the perimeter defense we can expect on a nightly basis. That’s not even mentioning how Blake Griffin can’t go off and how frightening it’ll be if Chris Paul starts nailing threes in the fourth quarter if the game is tight.
One last thing: if the Warriors want to keep their season going and continue playing for Jackson, they need to run for their lives. That’s the point of going small, isn’t it? Sure, spacing the floor makes it easier to facilitate better ball movement and get some open threes, but the Warriors need to run in order to get Iguodala going, get Curry and Thompson some threes in transition, and to fully take advantage of their home court. It’s up to the players, not the crowd (I think the crowd will be in “show us something” mode after the first four minutes anyway, waiting for any sign that the Warriors are going to shrivel up and call it a season).
If the Warriors can somehow force a Game 7 and win it, I can see them defeating the vulnerable Thunder or even the Grizzlies, since Golden State would have home court advantage against Memphis. But that’s a ways down the road. Saving their coach’s job starts and ends with tonight.
Prediction: Warriors 100, Clippers 93