Will the Warriors lean on that second unit?
Golden State is on the cusp of the Finals, but will need an answer for a Mavericks team that figured out the zone
It’s time for Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors to get serious and close out these Dallas Mavericks. With the NBA Finals starting exactly one week from today, the Warriors had been playing some of their best basketball. Now it’s time to see if they blast past the opposition or grind out an extended series. Heading into Dallas, coach Steve Kerr mentioned that the team would be happy with a split, and the Warriors got it; they are coming back home needing just one more win to advance to their sixth NBA Finals appearance in the past eight seasons.
But that loss was not good. Luka Doncic continues to go nuts on the Warriors. He’s averaging 33 points, 9.3 rebounds, 6 assists, and 1.3 blocks per game. And now it looks like the Mavs have figured out how to effectively bust the zone defense that Golden State had been deploying so successfully in the first three games.
The Warriors have some things to figure out. But they’re back home to the welcoming arms of Chase Center, and have cracked tougher puzzles before.
On the injury front, Otto Porter is trending in the right direction, but we’ll see if he plays or not. Right now, he’s listed as questionable (which is better than the “doubtful” he was assigned in game four).
WHO: Golden State Warriors at Dallas Mavericks
WHEN: Thursday, May 26th, 2022 // 6pm PDT
Warriors lead series 3-1
Shake it off
Dallas showed off some good adjustments in game four, beyond just the simple move of hitting all their shots. Of course, you can always boil basketball down to whoever hits their shots — and the Mavs certainly did that. In game three, Reggie Bullock was 0 for 10 with seven misses from deep. In game four, he poured in 18 points by shooting nothing but threes, hitting 6 of his 10 attempts.
For the game, Dallas shot 20 of 43 from three-point range as a team, leading to a ridiculous effective field goal percentage of 62.2% That’s excellent under any circumstances, but against a strong Warriors defense in a closeout game, it’s exceptional.
But that game four was a weird one in a lot of ways.
The Warriors are obviously going to throw away much of it, but they’ll need to figure out how badly they want to stick with their zone defense. Doncic is getting the LeBron treatment, but a zone defense requires a ton of buy in and high-energy defense if it’s going to work against the guys you are counting on to not be able to beat you. Last game, Dallas got way too comfortable parking an extra man on one overloaded side of that zone defense, resulting in open looks.
The Mavericks took more layups and corner threes than in any other game of the series. In a nutshell, if the Warriors are going to play zone like they did for much of the last game, then it may not be a viable option for much longer in this series. No longer slowing them down, Dallas is now thriving against the Warriors’ zone to the tune of 1.17 points per possessions against it.
But the thing about the playoffs is that small sample sizes matter a whole lot. The Warriors have mountains of evidence that the zone works well against Dallas… until it doesn’t. I’m not sure where the line is, but at some point soon, Golden State will either win the zone battle, or throw it out as an option.
By starting the series employing a number of quick-switch defenses — from zone to box-1 — the Warriors coaching staff was able to get Doncic on his heels a bit. But as Doncic and the Dallas coaches get their heads around the problem, it doesn’t mean that it can’t work, just that it isn’t working exactly like it used to.
There was a lot going on in that last game though, and the Warriors didn’t practice yesterday, so I think the initial answer will be to try and execute better, not necessarily reinvent themselves.
Time for the B Squad?
Putting on the bifocals for a minute, there are some near- and long-term implications coming out of that strange game four. This Warriors team has risen back from the ashes quickly, but not without some singed edges. Andre Iguodala was critical for the first half of the season. Gary Payton and Otto Porter provided more value than expected and have been some of the more stabilizing players throughout the year.
Without them, Kerr leaned harder on his existing rotation, but as the playoffs grind on, the accumulated physical and mental weight starts to accumulate like mud on the bottom of boots. Each step gets a little heavier.
With the previous game starting as a blowout loss, it freed Kerr and the Warriors to run some experiments. It’s remarkable how good Golden State looks considering most of their shiny young assets aren’t playing. The #2 pick from last year hasn’t played a single minute in the regular season — and certainly not this postseason. Lightly used rookies Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody were chilling on the bench before Kerr called out the B Squad to run out the thread in game four.
Instead, that unit turned the game around. The hustle was there, needed to execute the complicated zone defense that the Warriors clearly prefer against Doncic and the Mavs. Beyond the energy, the seldom used players that we dusted off added a new wrinkle for Dallas to consider.
Moody, Nemanja Bjelica, and of course Kuminga all seem like they could have a place in this series, should the top of the rotation run into any loss of traction like they did in the last game.
My suspicion is that Porter won’t play tonight and that Kerr will fill the rotation out with some combination of those seldom used bench players that worked Golden State back into the game.
Golden State is going to have their focus back tonight. Playing zone, busting zone, countering that bust, it’s all basketball knowledge that is buried deep in the reptilian brain. The Warriors just need to find the focus and effort to execute.
That said, I do expect some wrinkles. Coach Kerr isn’t the type to head into a critical opportunity like this and rely on nothing but trying harder. Let’s see what happens.
Dubs in five!