Warriors ignore Russell Westbrook, execute another game plan in Clippers explosion

SAN FRANCISCO – Let’s go back a few weeks first. The Warriors faced the Clippers in Los Angeles in the final game before the All-Star break. It was the night they gave up 134 points and Steve Kerr and Draymond Green ripped their collective defensive effort all season.

Here’s a look at the end of the third quarter. Bones Hyland, the Clippers’ new sliding scorer, had Ty Jerome in an isolation setting. The Warriors’ biggest defensive problem has been at the point of attack. They’ve been blown for much of the season. Hyland gets right past Jerome and slips in for a lay-up before JaMychal Green can turn around to help.

Fast forward to Thursday night. Jerome is still at a disadvantage when trying to contain Hyland in space. Between the two, nothing has changed.

But watch that possession from the start of the fourth quarter. Hyland operates against Jerome on the right wing. He seems to have a step on him with a left-handed dribble. But Hyland abruptly stops driving. The defensive scheme has changed. Draymond Green sits behind the room, directly in the paint, waiting in the direct path to Hyland.

This forces Hyland to stop and pass it to Russell Westbrook, which Green ignores. Westbrook misses a 3. The Clippers get an offensive rebound. Westbrook is still missing 3.

On the Clippers front, this result – a commanding 115-91 Warriors victory – should only increase the level of concern over whether to sign Westbrook. He was the focal point of Golden State’s defensive strategy. They had Green lay it deep in the paint, play free safety and beg Westbrook to beat them with jumpers. He could not.

On the Warriors front, it’s the latest in an encouraging series of defensive performances. During that four-game winning streak without Steph Curry or Andrew Wiggins, they’ve held the Rockets, Timberwolves, Blazers and Clippers to 101, 104, 105 and 91 points, a miserly 100.0 defensive rating, easily the best of the league during this mini-stretch.

This includes two consecutive sets of Exotic Game Planning and Target Execution. Against the Blazers, they bombarded Damian Lillard on high screens and even rolled out a box-and-1. Against the Clippers, not only did they slump on Westbrook, but they also sailed well in the other priority areas.

“It wasn’t just a slump from Russ,” Green said. “Everyone was locked in their blanket. If there was a top lock with Paul George, Donte (DiVincenzo) was in the top lock. Klay (Thompson) was everywhere Kawhi (Leonard). (Jonathan Kuminga) came in and he was everywhere when he guarded each of these guys. It was total teamwork. »

This possession is a perfect example. Westbrook takes the ball downfield. The green has fallen back into the paint. Kevon Looney, guarding Mason Plumlee, another non-shooting threat, is also in position as a capable assist behind the play.

This allows DiVincenzo to lock in Paul George, clearing his way to the perimeter without worrying about getting beat on a pass over the top. Westbrook always tries and throws the ball into the crowd.

The Warriors also implemented effective zone defense and changed Westbrook’s mission. Thompson is his closest defender on this particular possession. He remains detached and finds himself a rebound.

It was one of Thompson’s 11 rebounds, the first time since 2017 he had double-digit rebounds in a game. Eleven is his career high in the regular season. But he was quick to point out after the game that he had 14 in a playoff game against Spurs in 2013. The rebound was an added accent on Thompson’s exit from the deadline. It’s another example of an increasingly focused Warriors team that is now three games above .500 for the first time this season.

But a big part of Thursday’s game plan was tied to the Greens. While watching the tape on Green’s charged defensive performance against the Blazers, Kerr texted Green to inform him of the Westbrook-related game plan they were rolling out against the Clippers.

“We went through it this morning during filming to try to get everyone to understand the concept,” Green said. “It’s very easy when a guy sags and (the open guy) grabs him, it’s easy to spin towards him. We didn’t want to do that.

“Draymond, as a central defender, I think is the best in the league,” Kerr said. “I mean, nobody can kind of mess up the lane like they can and just read what’s going on, help wherever it needs help, and then get in and bounce back.”

Here is a possession from the first quarter. Leonard uses a high screen to pass Thompson. Looney comes looking for him, but Green looms. This prompts Kawhi to switch to an open Westbrook in the corner instead of shooting the disputed layup. Westbrook is missing. Green bounces.

The win moved the Warriors into sole possession of the fifth seed. They are on par with the Clippers and Mavericks. They get the Pelicans on Friday night with a chance to complete a 5-0 homestand before Curry likely joins the lineup at the Lakers on Sunday. It is the high point of the season and it is done due to an increased level of concentration, effort and game planning on the defensive side.

“We’re starting to build momentum,” Kerr said.

(Photo of Jordan Poole celebrating in front of the Warriors bench on Thursday: Kelley L Cox/USA Today)

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