Upsetting the Los Angeles Clippers would have been a tall order even if the Warriors had their #fullsquad. Without starting center Andrew Bogut, getting out of the first round of the NBA playoffs feels like a pipe dream.
Bogut is the heart of the Warriors defense, their rim protector and best rebounder. He's also their chief physical presence. Losing him really leaves the Warriors vulnerable to the Clippers' size and physicality.
On top of that, big man Festus Ezeli is a ways from returning still, meaning Jermaine O'Neal is the top center.
Yet, the Warriors have a card to play: small ball.
It's not the primary style for coach Mark Jackson, who prefers a staunch defense to a potent offense. But the Warriors have had their most success against the Clippers with smaller lineups. In some ways, the loss of Bogut might force the Warriors to lean heavily on the versatility and scoring punch of their perimeter players.
Will such a style hold up in a seven-game series? The smart money says no.
Doc Rivers, a championship coach, probably won't panic and play into the Warriors' hands like Denver's George Karl did last year. Still, the Warriors' best chance of pulling off this upset is to outgun the Clippers.
Last season, when they took 3 of 4 in the series, the Warriors played all four games without Bogut. This year with Bogut in the lineup, the Clippers' bigs feasted. They're too explosive for David Lee and Bogut, or any big man the Warriors can throw out there.
In four games against the Warriors this year, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan pulled 20 offensive rebounds and averaged 10.3 points and 15.3 boards. The Warriors thrive when they are able to take Jordan out of the game.
With no Bogut, the Warriors have just one center. Lee is the backup, which means they almost have no choice but to go small.
More minutes at power forward for Harrison Barnes and Draymond Green opens up the floor for Golden State's offense. Theoretically, it pulls Blake Griffin out of they paint or, even better, prompts the Clippers to move Griffin to center and put a small guy at power forward.
More minutes for Green is usually a good thing for the Warriors, and no Bogut means Jackson can play Green more with the top players.
The Warriors are tougher and much more versatile when Green is on the floor, because he can defend four positions. He's one of their best defenders and rebounders and brings some of the toughness they'll miss from Bogut. And Green can knock down an open 3, which he gets a lot of when he's playing with Stephen Curry.
Of course, such also leaves the Warriors vulnerable on the other end if the Clippers don't go small. Lob City could go nuts, but that could happen anyway.
The bright side is that it speeds up the pace (and should prevent Jackson from too much isolation offense). The Warriors' advantage is in the backcourt. More guards on the floor makes for more problems for the Clippers to deal with. Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Barnes have to knock down their shots. But they have the advantage of going against less-than-stellar individual defenders.
Having four shooters opens the floor and gets the Warriors better looks. They just have to make them -- especially considering Curry will be guarded by 19 Clippers each possession.
No Bogut also means the Warriors can have five offensive threats on the court.
Bogut left the Warriors wanting on offense. Perhaps because of his free throw woes, he rarely attacks the basket.
Because of the Warriors' shooters, any big man will get opportunities if he drives to the rim. Bogut rarely does, save for the designed out-of-bounds plays. O'Neal will, which is why he has attempted 132 free throws on the season. Lee will, which is why he is among league leaders for points in the paint.
Without Bogut, the Warriors lose a key facilitator and excellent screener (which helps Curry and Thompson get open). But Jordan, or whoever the Clippers have at center, won't be able to relax and focus on help defense.
Again, this doesn't mean the Warriors will beat the Clippers. It all the above works, they still could lose. Chris Paul and Griffin are bona fide superstars, and the Clippers' bench is deep. But there is still a viable plan of attack.
Will it work? Smart money says no. The Clippers, after a disappointing first-round exit last season, are hungry. Too much has to go right for the Warriors.
Clippers in 6.