The Golden State Warriors are enjoying their most successful regular season since most of us can remember.
It’s been 20 years since this franchise has had a team with the talent and chemistry to win 50 games in a season. Although this season was filled with its scary moments, this team should be congratulated for accomplishing their regular season goals. However, once the playoffs emerge, all regular season accomplishments are thrown out the door. Each playoff series is a brand new matchup of two teams that haven’t won, or lost, any games.
Playoff games are a different breed of NBA basketball. Two of the main differences between playoff and regular season games are the amount of scouting and effort on defense each team puts forth. The regular season forces each team to play 82 games with sometimes minimal days off between each game. There is only so much scouting and effort a team can conjure up with respect to their opponents on a nightly basis. Teams in the regular season are able to get a lot of open shots simply running their normal offensive sets. Opponents don’t have the time or energy to take everything away.
But in the playoffs, each team/player exerts every ounce of energy because they know their season could be over in as little as four games. This is coupled with the fact that playing the same team for a string of games allows coaches more time to gather and teach everything they learn about an opponent. Basically, any typical play the Warriors try to attempt will be 10 times as difficult to accomplish in a playoff atmosphere.
With that being said, Mark Jackson and the players will need to shake things up just enough to keep their first round opponents from believing the Warriors are predictable. Players making extraordinary plays in high-pressured situations and coaches establishing a successful playoff player rotation achieve this goal. Since predicting if, or when, a spectacular play will happen is a virtually pointless exercise, let’s focus on the rotations. There is a Warrior lineup that has not seen a great deal of floor time together, but has the potential to cause problems for the right opponents during a playoff series.
The lineup is:
As of Wednesday, this lineup has only played together for less than 61 combined minutes during the entire regular season, per NBA.com. However, they have made the most of their given opportunities by showing solid play in terms of efficiency. This lineup could surprise teams because of the lack of sample they have to scout.
Switching David Lee for Draymond Green yields the Warriors best on-ball defensive lineup. We already know Iguodala, Thompson, and Bogut are all lengthy defenders for their position, but having Green as the small-ball four gives this lineup a player who can effectively guard out to the three-point line as well as battle inside to limit scoring opportunities and offensive rebounds. His presence on the floor increases an already scary athletic group of five.
Green’s contributions come on the offensive side of the ball as well. The Warriors can now place four players around the perimeter who command respect from behind the arc. A smaller lineup creates more driving lanes for players with a desire to attack the rim. Curry has been piling up assists by getting passed his defender, having everyone collapse, and kicking it out to a player for a wide open three. It’s difficult to play any help defense when one knows his responsibility can consistently make threes.
What the Warriors lose from this lineup is size. If they face a team that has two low post scoring threats then this lineup would be less effective. Also, as good as Green is as a rebounder, bigger players will still exploit his height at times. If this lineup is more heavily used, it is imperative the emphasis on defensive rebounding is at a premium.
This lineup works against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Warriors will most likely face the Clippers in the first round of the playoffs. Just the thought of these two teams facing off in an intense seven game series is ridiculously exciting. Each regular season game between these two teams has resulted in scuffling, pushing, ejections, and technicals. One can only imagine how the players and coaches will react when the playoff atmosphere ramps up the intensity.
Defense: This lineup has potential because the Warriors have an answer to any style Blake Griffin wants to play in the series. If he wants to catch and create off the wing, Green is there to be an intense on-ball defender. If he wants to live on the block, Andrew Bogut can disrupt his post moves with his size advantage. While Bogut is doing his job, all Green must worry about is boxing out DeAndre Jordan. Jordan has never been a reliable offensive player consistently relying on put backs and scrap baskets for his points. If the focus for the Warriors is a two-pronged attack to limit Griffin, there is massive potential for success.
Offense: A pattern is developing on how to limit the Clippers’ success. How the Warriors plan on stopping the Clips’ big men will be a huge theme in this potential series. This lineup works offensively because it forces at least one of the opponents two post players to be constantly wary defensively out to the three-point line. This wrinkle unclogs the paint and allows spaces in the teeth of the defense for guards to make plays. Attacking the rim against the Clippers is usually a difficult task because there are two athletic freaks waiting for you at the rim. If a player has the ability to avoid one big man, another is simply waiting to furiously block their shot. But if Griffin has to constantly hedge out to Green at the elbow, players can attack the hoop only having to worry about sneaking past one player for a basket and/or a free throw trip.
The keys to this lineup having an impact is the element of surprise, due to the lack of minutes and scouting, and forcing the Clippers into awkward matchups that do not tailor to their strengths. This lineup achieves this idea on offense and defense.
This lineup does not work against the Houston Rockets.
In the last games of the season, it would not be inconceivable for either the Warriors to leapfrog Portland for the fifth seed or Houston jump the Clippers for the third seed. If either of the above situations were to occur, the Warriors would play the Rockets in the first round. Though there isn’t at much mutual distaste towards the Rockets like we see towards the Clippers, this series would also be incredibly entertaining. Both teams have players that can win games by themselves in Curry and Harden.
Having Green on the floor improves the team defense as a whole. But because Houston usually has a smaller four in their starting lineup with Terrence Jones, the matchups become too similar to exploit on a game-to-game basis. Jones and Green, though slightly different play styles, would basically cancel each other out at the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Houston plays a style that is similar to what this Warrior lineup tries to accomplish. They want to spread the floor and either have a clear path to the basket or an open three. If the Warriors end up playing the Rockets in any round, it is unlikely using this lineup extensively will move the needle in Golden State’s favor.
Exploiting mismatches and adding subtle team wrinkles is a potential recipe for playoff success. David Lee’s torn hip flexor during last season’s series against the Nuggets forced the Warriors to rethink the norms of their team. The injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise as the Warriors exploited the Nuggets’ defensive weaknesses with Harrison Barnes playing power forward. This seldom-used regular season lineup has the potential to cause trouble for particular playoff opponents. It is one of the many things to keep an eye on as the Warriors begin their postseason journey.