Smaller Lineup Keys Offensive Resurgence


Steve Kerr shocked the basketball world shortly before the start of Game 4 by revealing that Andre Iguodala would be replacing Andrew Bogut in the Warriors’ starting lineup.

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Spoiler alert: the gamble paid off.

Turning to a smaller lineup for much of the game added life to an offense that had largely been lifeless and frustrated up to that point. Game 4 saw the Golden State Warriors achieve series highs in points scored in regulation (103), assists (24) and free throw attempts (27), while also limiting the turnovers to a series low 7.

The question is, how exactly were these smaller units able to exploit the Cavs defense?

The first obvious advantage to utilizing a smaller lineup is increased floor spacing.  Taking Bogut off the floor allowed the Warriors to play with an extra shooter throughout.  Spacing the floor with shooters put pressure on a Cavs defense that stayed big.

The result was Timothy Mozgov struggling to extend onto shooters.  Given the Cavs penchant for sending double teams at Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, the Warriors were able to find openings on the perimeter out of almost every offensive set.

Most of these open looks were facilitated through the high pick and roll with Steph and Draymond Green.  This pick and roll created three separate scenarios, all of which benefited from increased spacing and shooting.

The first scenario saw Steph aggressively splitting weak double teams and getting into the middle of the floor.  Steph’s ability to enter the lane put the Cavs in between a rock and a hard place.  Either acquiesce to mid range jumpers, floaters and layups from the league MVP, or help off corner shooters. When the Cavs did decide to funnel into the lane, Harrison Barnes and Iguodala were the beneficiaries who got open looks from the two corners.

The second result of the pick and roll saw the Cavs foolishly switching the screen, leaving a larger, overmatched defender at Curry’s mercy.  This scenario played out pretty much how you’d expect.  Steph dancing a slow footed big off balance and hitting uncontested three pointers.  In case you missed much of the regular season, an uncontested Steph three is basically the best shot in basketball.

The third, and most common result of the high pick and roll was the Cavs forcing Steph to find Draymond at the top of the key as the result of aggressive double teams.  The strategy is based on sound footing.  Take the ball out of Steph’s hands whenever possible and make shooters other than Klay hit shots. This is something the Warriors failed to do with enough regularity through the first three games of the series.

Thursday was a completely different story.  Draymond consistently made the correct decision when essentially faced with half court 4 on 3 situations.  When the Cavs refused to collapse, Draymond showed off a mid range game that had been absent for much of the series.  Conversely, when the Cavs sent additional defenders at Draymond, he was able to find the forgotten man for open looks.

Although the pick and roll was the focal point of the half court offense, the Warriors also added a previously unseen wrinkle.  Isolation offense.  Isolating Curry seemed like a natural counter to a Cavs defensive strategy that included regular double teams.  Letting Steph work against Matthew Dellavedova and other guards through isolation sets allowed the mvp to work in more space than he had previously seen.  Steph was able to easily break down an over matched Dellavedova, scoring in the paint, as well as finding open teammates when the Cavs defense collapsed.

Jun 11, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors guard

Shaun Livingston

(34) shoots against Cleveland Cavaliers forward

James Jones

(1) and center

Timofey Mozgov

(right) during the second quarter of game four of the NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. The Warriors won 103-82. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhat more surprising was seeing both Shaun Livingston and Leandro Barbosa work off isolation sets.  Barbosa broke down Dellavedova and others from the wings, while Livingston worked from the right block at times.  The addition of these offensive sets made great use of increased floor spacing.  With Mozgov drawn away from his comfort zone under the rim, Barbosa was able to find success scoring at the rim.  Livingston had success of his own during a crucial stretch that ultimately put the game away.

Finally, the Warriors were able to parlay a smaller lineup into fast break opportunities, something that had been sorely lacking through the first three games.

The Warriors amassed a series high 11 fast break points during game 4.  In addition to the 11 credited fast break points, a few transition opportunities ended in the Warriors getting fouled and scoring from the line.

Twice were the Warriors able to turn Cavs baskets into fast break dunks.  On a handful of other occasions the Warriors successfully pushed the ball off Cavs misses.  finding easy buckets through transition was a huge boost to an offense that has struggled for much of the series.

All in all, even though the Warriors offense has yet to click on all cylinders, the change to a smaller lineup put just enough extra space on the floor for the Warriors to work more comfortably than previously seen.  Considering that Lebron James is the Cavs’ primary offensive concern, and going small allows Iguodala to spend more time harassing him, don’t expect Kerr to deviate from his new smaller lineup.

With the Cavs refusal to help off Klay Thompson, the Warriors will need repeat performances from Iguodala and Barnes during game 5 to make use of a lineup predicated on spacing the floor, getting into the lane, and finding open shooters when/if the defense collapses.

Run and gun baby.

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