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Preview: Mini adjustments and big philosophies paying off for Warriors
Golden State staying one step ahead of Celtics, but will face biggest challenge in Boston
The tides of public opinion can shift quickly, but it’s nice to see that the threatened return of the Golden State Warriors dynasty has so thoroughly saturated the landscape. In just two games, the Warriors have gone from “tuxedo players that don’t want to be touched” to that familiar maddening team that has opposing fans, players and coaches calling on the NBA to intervene. According to Zach Lowe via ESPN, the Golden State Warriors’ “rivals have been grumbling about the competitive spending advantage they have over other teams.”
This team finished dead last two seasons ago. And now they’ve already climbed all the way back into that elite tier. Within three wins of an NBA championship, the Warriors just need to win three of the next five games.
On the injury front, Andre Iguodala is listed as questionable at time of writing, but I’m guessing that he might be done, barring any emergencies.
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics
WHEN: Wednesday, June 8th, 2022 // 6pm PDT
Series tied, 1-1
Kerr’s broken clipboards: mini adjustments and big philosophies paying off for Warriors
It’s hard to say exactly how much a coach can directly affect winning, but no one disputes their importance. Coach Steve Kerr has endured verbal slings and arrows — as he should. No one is beyond question… but for a man quickly running out of fingers to hold his championship rings I feel a duty to point out some of the ways that Kerr’s fingerprints all over this team, and their performance in these playoffs.
The Celtics had 18 turnovers in Game 2 — tied for their second-most of the postseason. It was also Boston’s lowest scoring game of these playoffs. Put aside that one 4th quarter, and the first two games have been defined by the Warriors wrecking the Celtics on both ends of the court.
Sure, some of that is due to an increased intensity from Golden State…
… but it’s also an impact of the coaching. The Warriors have been putting Gary Payton in the right spots all season, so it was a pleasant, familiar feeling when he returned from his hiatus. After brutalizing Golden State on 6-of-8 shooting from deep in game one, Al Horford didn’t attempt a single three-pointer in game two.
That’s a point of emphasis being implemented. The partnership between the coaching staff and players can’t be overstated, especially in the playoffs where constant adjustment and counter-adjustments are occurring. Perhaps most vocally, the pass-happy Kerr offense is called on to run more pick-and-rolls (PnR). As we’ve detailed here in the past before, Kerr does adjust to more frequent PnR in the playoffs — and in general over the past few seasons.
Curry scores 1.16 points per possession in isolation situations. So whenever the team’s offense is struggling (or Curry is), there are loud calls for more PnR. The Mark Jackson ethos of putting the ball in the hands of your best player and letting him go to work. And for Golden State, it clearly works. Curry’s scoring efficiency in isolation is better than the entire team average for all but the two best offenses. But Kerr will never spam that play.
It’s the unwillingness to completely toss the system that fools so many eyeballs. Kerr has quietly doubled Curry’s PnR rate as compared to the regular season. It’s a little hard to see in the graphic below, but Kerr has Curry running nearly twice as many PnR in the NBA Finals:
It’s worked. According to that same article, Curry “has now scored a total of 63 points in 70 minutes against the best defensive team in the NBA this season. It's also the most points he's ever had through two games of the Finals, a fact made all the more impressive given he sat the entire fourth quarter of Game 2.”
Kerr has an almost samurai-like school of thought as to how best to use his best weapon. Scoffing at the entire concept of the Harden Rockets model, Kerr has designed his team’s hero ball to be a selfless, but dangerously sharp edge.
Then there’s the Jordan Poole, the Splash Kid. He’s adopted enough of Curry and Thompson into his game to make teams be worried about when Curry sits.
Kerr has tinkered with lineups to an almost maddening extent. Some of it was due to necessity as players cycled in and out with injuries and Covid, but some of it is that like any true master, he cannot stop trying to improve his craft. With all sorts of zany lineup combinations, Kerr has found success with everyone from Bjelica to Poole this season.
In the Finals, small sample size really and truly matters. Just like a powerful fourth quarter comeback cost the Warriors game one, winning these lineup combinations around the edges of the primary starter battles can win the war.
Sure, the players are the front end of the spear, but Kerr’s philosophy is all over these Finals.
Keep it clean out there!
I’m going with an entreaty ahead of game three. For the love of the basketball gods, please no injuries, and no shenanigans! As the NBA Finals ramp up in intensity, I’m reminded of the one time me and my old man friends got our Friday night open gym crew together for a mini tournament. It was meaningless. We were all decently washed dads, there as much for the post game beer and camaraderie as the basketball (or maybe that was just me. Anyways, the point is that we finally got assembled for a tourney. Four teams, a trophy, each team with one sub.
Over the course of two consecutive Fridays, we worked our way through a round robin tournament, but had more injuries in those two weeks than we did in the entire rest of my time there. The point isn’t so much a direct comparison of our old knees and poorly timed jumpers to the pros, as it is about the unwanted intrusion of injuries and tussles that comes with increased pressure to win. Sure, it’s just a game, but these ones matter a whole lot. Contracts — literal millions of dollars — on the line; legacies too.
And some people are talking real crazy on the sidelines. For example, Celtics coach Ime Udoka woke up and chose violence:
"If you want to ignore it, ignore it. If you engage, engage," Udoka said. "I told them if I was a player, who I was, I would probably get a double technical immediately. But that’s not everybody."
That sucks. It’s not just the fresh memory of Marcus Smart diving onto the floor, securing the ball, and then rolling onto his back over the side of Curry’s leg, sidelining him for the last month of the season. But yes, it is also that. Exactly that. The line between “trying really hard” and “Chris Paul punch in the nuts” level of intense competition is a slippery slope. That’s the path that found Dillon Brooks throwing a leaping elbow to the back of Gary Payton’s head and trying to call it defense.
“I mean, you respond to fire with fire, right? We've just got to turn around and do the same thing. If he's going to come in here and try to be physical, this is our house and we've got to protect it.”
Please, let’s keep it cool out there.
I’m travelling for work, so much like the Warriors, I’ll be on the road for this one. I don’t think the Warriors are coming into Boston thinking about a split. I think they’re coming in with eyes firmly affixed to game three, with nothing but a win in mind. It’s going to get chippy, but the Warriors are the harder team to crack. Dubs win a close one.