Kawakami: Time to Ride the Warriors with Jordan Bull and the Small Squad (or Lose a Try)

There’s a reason everyone cares when Warriors put Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, Jordan Paul and Andrew Wiggins together early this season and set out to destroy every defender in sight.

These are the five best Warriors players – three pure archers, one vital slasher and a Draymond to aim and display them all. If warriors could put them there and keep them outside, what defense could slow them down for so long?

But there’s also a reason why the small lineup turned out to be such a deep problem in this physical series of second round against the Grizzlies. This pentagram can be overcome by larger formations; It is challenged defensively, and if the shots do not make the jump, it can result in a free fall. That’s what happened recently, to the point where the Warriors coaching staff completely walked away from this small squad during their awkward Game Five game against Memphis on Wednesday.

This spares the little unit from the epic failure in game 5 And He tells us the coaching staff didn’t like him too much against Memphis anymore – which is hard to argue with. Once Memphis went to Stephen Adams as the starting center and lost Ja Morant to injury, the Grizzlies became a more formidable and consistent defensive presence, at times controlling the board.

The Warriors have to be away, a lot tougher than they were on Wednesday if they’re going to shut down this series on Friday at Chase Center or next Monday in Memphis for a risky game of 7. Going as far as possible for Game 6 seems a bit illogical , I agree.

However… Curry, Paul, Clay, Wiggins, and Draymond are still the top five players. And with Otto Porter Jr now in question on Friday due to sore feet, Gary Payton II and Andre Iguodala out indefinitely, and Jonathan Kominga struggling in his last starts, here it is. Until now The five best players in the Warriors team.

I understand how the Warriors fell somewhere in between: Steve Kerr and acting coach Mike Brown (while Kerr remains out after testing positive for COVID-19) understandably like Curry, Clay and Paul playing together for intense offensive thermodynamics, but they have to be careful when doing so. They’d use Porter as a bigger striker alongside Draymond or use Kevon Looney instead of Draymond, just to add volume.

The numbers explain why Kerr and Brown have been limiting the junior squad’s minutes lately: he has an offensive rating of a measly 94.5 in the series. Combined with its defensive rating of 98.1 in this series, the net rating is 3.6-negative. Swap Porter for either Wiggins or Poole, and the decks performed much better.

While we’re on the subject, Curry, Klay, Wiggins, Draymond, and Kuminga’s recent starting lineup has been awful every time it’s been featured in the series, and I doubt Warriors will be using it again anytime soon. The group has an astonishing net rating – 59.7 in the 18 minutes so far this series.

The natural response would likely be to put Porter in place for Kuminga to start the game and try to avoid the 11-6 or 21-11 Memphis opener. But how much responsibility and weariness can the Warriors continue to burden Porter, if he can even play on Friday? If the Warriors played him for 20-25 minutes a game during the post-season, would they keep him longer in the post-season?

No, I think something stricter is the best call here. Warriors crash into a wall in Game 5, and it will likely take more than the same thing, the same thing to get them to run at full speed again.

And I think everything points to the Warriors going too far in these playoffs, like Curry, Draymond, Clay Wiggins and Paul. It probably won’t be much further. Perhaps the turnover issues and defensive problems are too much.

But I don’t think Warriors can do that by relying so heavily on anyone else, quite frankly. Moses Moody may be getting into the spin on Friday after looking tough at trash time recently. Perhaps the Kuminga can give them some productive minutes. Porter may be fine. Maybe Looney can fight Adams to a standstill. I just think these are sideshows to this season’s main Warriors event, which extended to Carey, Clay, Paul and Draymond Wiggins. Their top five players are at a critical juncture.

Also, a small assortment may be able to achieve two main things:

Get Draymond to go aggressively: With Adams in the center of Memphis now, Draymond wasn’t defending when he was there, which spoiled the picking move and forced him to make tricky passes against five defenders covering four of his teammates.

The Warriors have faced this in the previous series—against Houston in the 2018 Western Conference Finals and against Oklahoma City in the same round in 2016 that comes to mind. The solution was to move Draymond rather than leave him at the top, and stare at a full defense waiting for his pass. Getting Draymond moving up and down the lane, tied to the Warriors’ top four scorers, might be a path to some easy baskets for him, which could be all the key.

In previous tournament rounds, Draymond has solved these types of defenses by taking a few shots, setting fires and putting together a full offensive game. Maybe this is possible again. What he can’t do is refuse shots wide open at 10 feet.

“Draymond must continue to have an aggressive stance,” Brown said in a phone call after the team returned from Memphis on Thursday. “If Stephen Adams is far from him, he should let it fly. He has thrown big shots at us before. After that, he should continue to play the dodge game.”

Poole get some space to work: Morant’s injury changed the series in many ways. Memphis clearly doesn’t have their most explosive player, one of the best offensive players in the league. Without Morant, the Grizzlies aren’t a better team, but they definitely make a better defense.

For example: With Morant in and Dillon Brooks stopped for Game 3, the Warriors scored 142 points. With Morant and Brooks (and Adams in the starting lineup) out in the last two games, the Warriors held 101 and 95 points, respectively—and they’ve made 38 combined turns in those two games.

There is a direct correlation with one specific player: Poole has had eight of these transformations and has only made 5 of his 18 shots in those two games. Instead of the Warriors looking for a Morant match, they’re looking for a smooth defensive unit of five Grizzlies, and the slots aren’t there. The only way for the Warriors to mitigate this is to put their best offensive players on the floor at once and try to make the Grizzlies’ heads spin a little.

If the Warriors weren’t going to Poole, it was a struggle. I think it’s this way:

Every team has a blast (the Warriors won the game 3 on 30, and the Grizzlies won the game 5 on 39).

Each team has a lucky victory (Warriors in game 4, Memphis in game 2).

The difference so far is the Warriors’ smashing win in Game 1 despite Draymond being sent off in the first half.

And the best player of that match: Paul, who scored 31 points, eight rebounds, nine assists, and was a plus-10 in an impressive 38 minutes.

Now the Warriors have Game 6 at home and desperately want to avoid the Game 7 trip to Memphis. They are not the superpower they were a few years ago. Their founding players are not as young and flexible as before. They need to mix and match a little more.

Mostly, they need their best players performing at their best, and the quickest way to do that is to play together as much as possible – and then accept whatever happens from there.

(Steve Curry: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)