Clippers relish role as underdogs against the Golden State Warriors

PLAYA VISTA — Somewhere between David’s upset over Goliath and Denver’s shocking first-round takedown of the top-seeded Seattle SuperSonics in 1994, that’s where you’d file a Clippers first-round series victory over the Golden State Warriors.

“I think it’s bigger honestly (than 1994); Golden State is one of the greatest teams ever to be assembled,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before practice Friday.

Still, “someone’s gonna beat them,” Rivers said. “It’s gonna happen. Either it’s gonna be another team or they’ll implode themselves, but I just know 10 years from now, they’ll not still be winning. Someone’s gonna do it.

“You gotta go in thinking it’s us.”

The Clippers will take their first crack at an upset of epic proportions on Saturday at 5 p.m. in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at Oracle Arena, where they’ll be greeted by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors. After finishing the regular season a relatively mortal 57-25, Golden State begins the playoffs as the odds-on favorite to win its fourth NBA title in five seasons.

The surprising, eighth-seeded Clippers (48-34) have yet to win a title, but those within the organization, with its ambitions of landing star free-agents this summer and competing for championships soon, believe every additional step now is taking them in the right direction.

This season has already been a success, which the Clippers acknowledge, even if they’d rather not focus on that right now.

“You want to push that out of your mind,” said starting forward Danilo Gallinari, who will make his first playoff appearance since 2012, when he played for the Denver Nuggets. “You get to this point and it doesn’t make any sense to get to the playoffs and just lose in the first round and then you’re out. You want to be focused, you want to win, you want to go to the end. That’s the reason why you make it to the playoffs.

“It’s great to be here and of course nobody thought that we could be here but now we here, we want to play.”

The teams’ play, in some respects, is relatively even.

They’re two of the league’s top scoring squads. The Warriors rank second in the NBA with an average of 117.7 points per game, not all that far in front of the Clippers’ fifth-ranked 115.1 – figures that reflect the fact that both teams are top eight or better in key shooting categories.

Golden State shoots 47.1 percent from the field, the best in the league. The Clippers make 49.1 percent of their shots, seventh in the NBA.

From behind the arc, the Clippers make their shots at a 38.8 percent clip (second); the Warriors hit 3s at 38.5 percent rate (third). And from the free-throw line, the Warriors are 80.1 percent shooters (fifth) and the Clippers are 79.2 percent foul shooters (eighth).

They also rebound at a similar rate: Golden State grabs 46.2 boards per game and the Clippers get 45.5 per contest. They even turn over the ball about equally often, with the Warriors losing it 14.3 times per game and the Clippers 14.5.

Still, in key ways, the Warriors have Goliath-esque advantages. Take their ball movement, for example; it’s the best.

The Warriors average 29.4 assists per game, No. 1 in the league. The Clippers’ 24 assists per game ranks 18th.

And so the Clippers will be tasked with trying to interrupt the Warriors’ wicked transition game.

“Listen, they do what they do and they do it well,” Rivers said. “We have to try to guard it as hard as we can guard it. We have to be as physical as we can be without losing who we are and losing our principles.”

They’ll pick their poison, preferring for center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Draymond Green to get looks at the basket before sharpshooters Steph Curry, Klay Thompson or Kevin Durant.

“I don’t think we need an analytical staff to tell you that if Steph, Klay and Durant are taking the bulk of the shots, it’s probably not gonna turn out well for you,” Rivers said. “Anytime you can limit any one of those three from taking a shot, it’s a good thing.”

The Clippers will do their best to respond to Golden State’s inevitable scoring barrages with runs of their own: “The game of basketball is a game of runs, that’s all it is,” Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell said. “It’s about who’s run can go the longest.”

Rivers said his gladly overworked coaching staff has spotted some things that could benefit the Clippers in their labored evaluation of the teams’ four meetings this year (the last three of which were won by the Warriors).

“Of course,” Rivers said. “Same with them. I’m sure they see things they’re gonna try to take advantage of.”

The key, Clippers rookie point guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said, sounding wise beyond his 20 years, will be hanging tough.

“They’re obviously really talented and they come at you for 48 minutes,” he said. “So (it’s about) withstanding their talent level and their energy level for 40 minutes.”

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