Warriors ignore Russell Westbrook, execute different game plan in blowout of Clippers

SAN FRANCISCO — First, let’s look back a couple of weeks. 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 tore off the collective defensive effort for the entire season.

Here is a glimpse from the end of the third quarter. Bones Hyland, the Clippers’ new slick scorer, had Ty Jerome in an isolation setting. The Warriors’ biggest defensive problem has been at the point of attack. They have been blown past much of the season. Hyland slides right by Jerome and slides in for a layup before JaMychal Green can rotate to help.

Fast forward to Thursday night. Jerome is still at a disadvantage trying to keep Hyland in the room. Nothing between the two has changed.

But look at this early possession in the fourth quarter. Hyland operates against Jerome on the right wing. He seems to have a foot on him with a left dribble. But Hyland abruptly stops the drive. The defensive system has changed. Draymond Green sits behind the play, right in the paint, waiting in Hyland’s direct path.

That forces Hyland to stop and hand it off to Russell Westbrook, who Green ignores. Westbrook misses the 3. The Clippers get an offensive rebound. Westbrook misses another 3.

On the Clippers front, this result – a 115-91 dominant Warriors win – should only add to the level of concern surrounding the choice to sign Westbrook. He was the centerpiece of Golden State’s defensive strategy. They had Green drop him deep in the paint, play free safety and beg Westbrook to hit them with jumpers. He could not.

On the Warriors front, this is the latest in an encouraging string of defensive performances. During this four-game streak without Steph Curry or Andrew Wiggins, they have held the Rockets, Timberwolves, Blazers and Clippers to 101, 104, 105 and 91 points, a stingy defensive rating of 100.0, easily the best in the league during this the mini-stretch.

It includes two straight games with exotic game planning and focused execution. Against the Blazers, they beat Damian Lillard on high screens and even deployed a box-and-1. Against the Clippers, they not only sank outside of Westbrook, but also navigated well within the other weight areas.

“It wasn’t just hanging off Russ,” Green said. “Everyone was locked in on their coverage. If there was a top lock with Paul George, Donte (DiVincenzo) was in the top lock. Klay (Thompson) was all over Kawhi (Leonard). (Jonathan Kuminga) came in and he was over both of them when he was guarding each of those guys. It was a total team effort.”

This property is a perfect example. Westbrook brings the ball up the court. Green falls far back in the paint. Kevon Looney, guarding Mason Plumlee, another non-shooting threat, is also in capable help position behind the play.

That allows DiVincenzo to top-lock Paul George, and make his way to the perimeter without fear of getting hit on an over-the-top pass. Westbrook still tries it and throws the ball into the crowd.

The Warriors also peppered in some effective zone defense and switched up the Westbrook assignment. Thompson is his closest defender on this particular possession. He remains detached and finds himself a rebound.

This is one of Thompson’s 11 rebounds, the first time since 2017 that he has had double-digit rebounds in a game. Eleven is his peak in the regular season. But he was quick to point out after the game that he had 14 in a playoff game against the Spurs in 2013. Rebounding has been an added emphasis for Thompson coming out of the deadline. It’s another example of an increasingly focused Warriors team that is now three games over .500 for the first time this season.

But so much of Thursday’s game plan was green-related. While watching tape of Green’s charged defensive performance against the Blazers, Kerr texted Green to tell him about the Westbrook-related game plan they used against the Clippers.

“We went through it this morning at shootaround to try to get everybody to understand the concept,” Green said. “It’s very easy when a guy is hanging and (the open guy) catches it, it’s easy to rotate to him. We didn’t want to do that.”

“Draymond, as a center, I think is the best in the league,” Kerr said. “I mean, no one can kind of mess up the track like he can and just read what’s going on, help everywhere has to help, and then come in and bounce back.”

Here is a possession from the first quarter. Leonard uses a high screen to get past Thompson. Looney picks him up, but Green threatens. It entices Kawhi to pass to an open Westbrook in the corner instead of shooting the contested layup. Westbrook misses. Green returns.

The win moved the Warriors into sole possession of the fifth seed. They are a game on the Clippers and Mavericks. They get the Pelicans on Friday night with a chance to complete a 5-0 home run before Curry is likely to join the lineup on Sunday at the Lakers. This is the highlight of the season, and it is done because of increased focus, effort and game planning in the defensive end.

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

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

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