This article was originally published on Golden Gate Sports.
It all comes down to this. The Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Clippers are heading to Game 7 of their first round playoff series. This series has been filled with drama, physical play, controversy, injuries, and the highest level of competition.
Many NBA analysts expected the Warriors to fall early and easily to the third-seeded Clippers, but the Warriors are doing what they did on many occasions in the regular season. They fight. They play with that underdog mentality, and they find ways to win games when the odds are against them.
Going into Game 7, the Warriors, yet again, have the odds against them. They’re the underdog in many ways. They’re the road team, they’re banged up, and they’re exhausted.
However, they shouldn’t be counted out. How can they win Game 7 and pull off the upset of the Clippers?
First of all, the Splash Brothers need to shoot efficiently. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are yet to both have big shooting nights in the same game, and based on the confidence of these two shooters, they’re bound to have breakout performances in Game 7. Neither Curry or Thompson are afraid of the big moment, and they’ve both come up in clutch situations before. Look for them to carry the offense.
Second, the Warriors need to stay aggressive on defense and on fast breaks. In Game 6, the Warriors forced Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to shoot a combined 11-for-34 from the field. They also forced J.J. Redick to shoot just 2-for-10 from three, and they held DeAndre Jordan to just nine points, after he scored 25 in Game 5. If they can play lockdown defense, especially on Paul and Griffin, they could pull off the upset.
Small-ball lineups are most successful when they score in transition and let their defense create their offense. In Game 4, the Warriors’ best game in the series so far, they scored 27 fast break points. In Game 6, the Warriors had just 14, but that game was more about physicality than fast breaks.
Curry, Thompson, and Andre Iguodala need to stay aggressive on fast breaks and on offense in general. Paul has been dealing with an injured right hamstring and left thumb, so Curry needs to be aggressive from the start to test Paul. In Game 6, Paul seemed to have trouble moving around the court and chasing after Curry, so Curry should exploit this.
Iguodala has been much more aggressive recently, and it’s led to him scoring 55 points in the last three games. In Game 6, Iguodala was the Warriors’ second leading scorer with 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting, and he scored 11 of those 15 points in the second half.
Iguodala is great in the fast break, he’s decisive, and he’s quick, so he can help the Warriors get easy transition buckets.
Iguodala is also incredibly clutch, which is a huge reason why the Warriors acquired him in the offseason. He hit a huge three late in the fourth quarter in Game 6, which caused Griffin to pick up his sixth foul. Iguodala needs to step up again in Game 7.
Third, the Warriors need to do the little things and stick to the fundamentals in Game 7. There will be lots of excitement and energy around Game 7, so the Warriors will need to calm down and play fundamentally-sound basketball. Game 7 is a new experience for this group of Warriors, so they need to focus on boxing out, committing hard fouls when needed, being active on defense and on the boards, and, most importantly, limiting their turnovers.
The Warriors have struggled all season with limiting the careless, avoidable turnovers, especially Curry. In Game 6, the Warriors had just eight turnovers to the Clippers’ 12. Curry, by himself, had eight turnovers in Game 5. The Warriors need to take care of the ball and value each possession.
Lastly, in Game 7, the Warriors need to bring that same physicality that they had in Game 6. Game 6 wasn’t pretty for either team, but the Warriors were able to earn a grind-it-out type of win. The Warriors will most likely have to play this type of style again in Game 7.
The Clippers have more talent on their roster than the Warriors do, but the Warriors can’t control that. What they can control though is their effort level. They’ll have to play that gritty style of basketball and match the Clippers’ physical play.
The Clippers are a team of floppers, so they’re bound to get more foul calls. The Warriors can’t shy away from giving hard fouls and absorbing hard fouls though. In Game 6, the Warriors shot 37 free throws to the Clippers’ 33. The Warriors also won the points in the paint battle 42-24 in Game 6, so they need to be aggressive.
In Game 6, the Warriors and the Clippers combined for 52 total fouls and 70 free throws, and Griffin, Redick, and David Lee all fouled out. The Warriors need to embrace playing a physical game.
Both teams looked exhausted in Game 6, and the Warriors’ starters are probably going to have to play extended minutes in Game 7. The Warriors’ bench might struggle on the road, since it’s unlikely that Marreese Speights will have two good games in a row, Jermaine O’Neal’s injury status is unclear, and Steve Blake didn’t play in Game 6. The starters have to be ready to give it their all in this must-win situation.
Game 7 could very easily come down to which team can battle harder. Both team is facing adversity. The Clippers want to overcome the scandal involving their owner, Donald Sterling, and prove that they can win a championship. The Warriors want to win this series for their coach, in hopes that a playoff series win will ensure him some job security.
The Warriors have a lot to prove, and that’s just the way they like it.