The Warriors’ Nuclear Lineup propelled them to the 2015 NBA championship. It has drawn praise from the President of the United States. It has been credited with revolutionizing basketball.
And it has marginalized Andrew Bogut.
Golden State has been at its best the last two years when benching Bogut for Andre Iguodala and shifting Draymond Green to center. That small-ball unit has defended well, pushed the pace and found quality shots.
But with the death lineup looking more vulnerable than ever – and, really, vulnerable at all for the first time – the Warriors turned to the starter who had sat and cheered his teammates in the biggest moments.
Bogut scored 15 points (his career playoff high) and grabbed 14 rebounds (his 2016 postseason high) in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the the Thunder.
The biggest number: Bogut’s 30 minutes.
He played just 17, 16, 12 and 11 minutes in the series’ first four games. Foul trouble contributed, but so did Golden State’s sloppiness – turnovers and quick shots – that turned games into track meets. At 7 feet and age 31, Bogut isn’t built to keep up. But the Warriors slowed the game just enough to let Bogut shine.
Protecting the paint has two major components:
1. Preventing shots at the rim. Even the worst finishing teams score at point-blank range more efficiently than the best mid-range teams do between the paint and 3-point arc.
2. Forcing misses at the rim when the opponent gets off a shot. Obviously.
Golden State improved tremendously in both areas tonight.
The Warriors allowed a series-low 18 attempts in the restricted area:
And they held Oklahoma City to a series-low 44% shooting in the restricted area:
Add it up, and that means the Thunder made just eight shots in the restricted area – a third as many as Game 3 and half as many as any other game:
Bogut was central to the interior defense. Oklahoma City shot just 3-for-10 (30%) in the restricted area with him on the floor and 5-for-8 (63%) with him off.
“Bogues is our best defender,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, providing news to the voters who picked Golden State forward Draymond Green second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.
Green defended well tonight. But Bogut – who had two blocks and two steals – really drove the turnaround.
“It’s probably the key if you want to look for one thing – Bogues’ play leading to better defense,” Kerr said.
Add his quality finishing (7-for-9 from the field) and plus passing from the post (which generated two assists), and this was a real gem from Bogut – at a time the Warriors needed it most.
But can Bogut help them in Game 6 Saturday in Oklahoma City? He hasn’t played 30 minutes twice in three days in more than a year.
“I believe in Bogues,” Kerr said. “I think he can play that way in Game 6.”
Golden State will need him – or another way to defend the paint. Given the results of this series so far, including Green uncharacteristically struggling to protect the rim as the small-ball center, I’d turn to Bogut again.