The unit got a little more run in Game 2. But Game 3 got away from Kerr as David Lee’s breakout shifted the rotation. Green played just a few seconds at center once Golden State started intentionally fouling late.
So, Kerr boldly started the small lineup in Game 4 and Game 5, ensuring maximum playing time for the group.
The Warriors haven’t looked back since.
Green at center has provided their edge throughout the series. They’re just leaning on it more now.
Here’s how the Warriors have performed in each game with Green at center (yellow) and with all other lineups (blue). The width of the bar represents how much playing time each got.
Green at center
Green at center
Green at center
Green at center
Green at center
This isn’t a small sample, either.
When Green plays center with a four perimeter players – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and/or Brandon Rush – behind him, the Warriors have dominated.
Green protects the rim, and everyone switches screens. After stops (or the occasional times opponent basket), everyone runs the floor to generate open shots.
Here’s how the lineup has performed since the start of the regular season, per nbawowy!:
Offensive rating: 120.0
Defensive rating: 92.8
Net rating: +27.2
This grouping isn’t just a change of pace. It’s a reliable strength – one the Cavaliers must solve quickly.
The Warriors have now played 367 minutes with Green at center and four wings/guards – a combination of Harrison Barnes, Andre Iguodala, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush – behind him. The results:
Offensive rating: 119.0
Defensive rating: 93.2
Net rating: +25.8
Thursday, Green was flanked by Curry, Thompson, Iguodala and Barnes the entire time.
The Warriors first used the lineup on the final two possessions of regulation.
With five shooters on the court for its final shot, Golden State spread the floor and cleared the lane of any defenders. Curry drove for what appeared to be an open layup, but Kyrie Irving made an incredible block at the rim.
The Warriors stuck with the small group to defend Cleveland’s final possession, which was essentially a one-on-one battle between LeBron James and Iguodala.
The unit reappeared in overtime, and that’s when Golden State went on a run to pull away.
Green drives it all.
Watch how he fortifies the paint defensively and gets the ball going the other direction quickly:
This lineup thrives because Green strong enough defensively to allow the Warriors to play four skilled and fast players behind him. Plus, Green is comfortable running with the rest.
Initially, the Cavaliers had Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson in the game against this group, but they couldn’t capitalize on their size advantage. David Blatt tried to match up by going smaller, inserting James Jones for Mozgov, but that played into Golden State’s hands. That’s a major talent drop for the Cavaliers, and Jones isn’t quick enough to keep up, anyway.
Unlike many small lineups, the Warriors don’t sacrifice defense for offense. The Cavaliers’ only overtime points came on this LeBron pity bucket:
Kevin Pelton of ESPN argues the game didn’t swing because of Golden State’s small lineup, but because of Irving’s injury costing the Cavaliers during a crucial defensive possession.
On the most pivotal play during small ball – Harrison Barnes’ corner 3 (starts 40 seconds into the Green highlight video above) – the Warriors were playing 5-on-4 because Irving couldn’t move. Pelton argues Cleveland, with a foul to give, should have hacked the Warriors to stop the game and get out Irving. Barnes’ open triple was due more to that numbers advantage than a size mismatch.
And that’s true.
But why didn’t the Cavaliers make the correct call to foul?
I’d argue they were too busy scrambling to keep up with Golden State’s up-tempo attack to realize they should have fouled. They just got matched up defensively and had a moment to catch their breaths when Barnes hit the shot.
With Green at center, the Warriors go quickly and pressure opponents into quick decisions.
The Cavaliers, already in a bad spot due to their injury misfortune, couldn’t handle it. Maybe they would have fared better against small ball without that possession. Or maybe they would have fouled if Golden State weren’t pushing the pace.
But the Warriors weren’t waiting to find out.
They’re going to play Green at center and show no mercy.
David Lee expects Warriors to try trading him this offseason
Lee, on the books for $15.4 million in 2015-16 as the final installment of a six-year, $80-million deal as part of a sign-and-trade with the Knicks, knows they will try to trade him.
“I think they tried to trade me the last two years, didn’t they?” he told NBA.com.
“That’s nothing new,” he said of preparing to be traded. “But once again, what’s kind of predicted and what ends up happening is not always the same thing. We’ll just see what happens. I love it here. We have accomplished a lot here. We’ll see once the season’s over. The most important thing, though, is getting this ring first and then worrying about that later.”
Lee is right. Though he has handled his demotion this season with class and provides solid insurance behind the team’s rotation players, Golden State will try to trade him.
The financials mandate it.
Let’s say – perhaps generously – the Warriors decline Marreese Speight’s team option, and Brandon Rush declines his player option. Add a max contract for Draymond Green, the standard 120 percent of scale for the No. 30 pick and four minimum contracts to fill the roster.
“The one thing I can tell you is that both teams like to play small,” Golden State coach Steve Kerr said.
Speak for yourself.
“No,” Houston coach Kevin McHale said. “I hope that Dwight is healthy and we can stay big. I like us playing when we play big. We didn’t have that option tonight with Dwight out.”
The Rockets didn’t show much against the Warriors’ small units with Dwight Howard, who’s battling injury.
Golden State outscored Houston 47-29 in 16 minutes with Draymond Green at center. When Howard was in, it was 12-2 Warriors in three minutes.
In his final six possessions against the Warriors’ small lineup, Howard committed three turnovers, missed a shot and got strongly boxed out by Green after two other Rockets missed.
Green – who finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists, two steals and a block – sure enjoyed his last possession against Howard:
The Warriors played 330 minutes entering Game 1 with Green at center and four wings/guards – a collection of Harrison Barnes,Andre Iguodala,Stephen Curry,Klay Thompson,Shaun Livingston,Leandro Barbosa,Justin Holiday andBrandon Rush – behind him. The results have been spectacular:
Offensive rating: 120.4
Defensive rating: 93.0
Net rating: +27.4
All three marks would easily lead the league.
Tuesday, the Warriors kicked it into overdrive on both ends with Green at center:
Offensive rating: 138.2
Defensive rating: 87.9
Net rating: +50.3
It works offensively, because the Warriors have excellent shooters who love to get out in transition. Smaller lineups are faster lineups.
When most teams go small, they sacrifice defense. Not the Warriors.
“Draymond is one of the best defensive players in the league because he can guard low-post guys and perimeter guys,” Kerr said. “He can switch onto James Harden. He can guard Dwight Howard. Doesn’t mean he’s always going to get a stop, but he’s always going to put up a fight, and he’s got a chance.”
Green’s interior defense is excellent, though not unique. Other players can duplicate or even best his ability defend the paint, including teammate Andrew Bogut.
But find another player in Green’s interior-defensive class with his ability to lead the fastbreak, pass and shoot 3-pointers. Some of his defensive peers are lumbering centers who are offensive minuses or, best-case scenario, inside scorers. Green is a floor-spacer.
I think that often gets lost in discussions of Green’s defense. It’s his ability to defend while contributing so much on offense that sets him apart.
Green is the total package, and that shines through when he’s at center (thanks in part to his wonderfully capable perimeter teammates).
Kerr saw it tonight, and that’s why he wants to see more. McHale saw it, too – and that’s why he’s seen enough.
Warriors owner Joe Lacob on paying luxury tax next season: No choice
Are you prepared to go into the tax next summer to keep this team together?
-LACOB: Committed or not committed, I don’t think we have any other choice. Numbers would dictate–anyone can look at them–that we’re very likely in the luxury tax and very likely very substantially, next year.
And you know what? We’re OK with that. I tell Bob all the time; he keeps asking me, ‘Are you sure?’ We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to win a championship; I’ve said that before.
You want to do it when the timing is right. Maybe the timing’s right, right? We’re pretty good. And so, I think we need to take advantage of that and go for it.
-Q: So you’re re-signing Draymond Green?
-LACOB: Draymond Green! I’m not allowed per NBA rules as you know to make certain statements about who we’re going sign or how hard we’re going to try to sign that person.
What I will say is, he was born to be a Warrior. And we love him. I certainly think today as we look at our team, he’s part of our core and can’t imagine it being otherwise.
Lacob could announce his intention to re-sign Green – you can’t tamper with your own team – but his statement implies enough.
So, how much will this cost him and Guber?
Let’s create a scenario and assume the projected tax line sticks:
The Warriors get the No. 30 pick in the draft and give him the standard 120 percent of scale
Rush exercises his $1,270,964 player option
Golden State exercises Speights’ $3,815,000 team option
Green re-signs for a starting salary of $11 million
The Warriors sign two minimum-salary players
That roster would cost a whopping $128,335,643 – $96,614,269 in salaries and $31,721,374 in luxury-tax payments.
The Warriors could try to save money by letting Speights loose, trading their first-round pick or making some other deal. Trading Lee, who is set to make $15,493,680 on the final year of his contract next season, would be ideal and could even sneak Golden State under the tax line. But other teams won’t rush to pay Lee.
Lacob’s statement suggest the Warriors, who owe Utah their 2017 first rounder as a result of a previous salary dump, aren’t willing to send out the sweetener necessary to move Lee. If they were, paying the luxury tax wouldn’t be so inevitable.
Golden State has never paid the luxury tax, so no repeater penalties would apply, and this is unlikely to trigger a run of repeat-penalty-inducing tax seasons. With Lee’s contract off the books in 2016 and the salary cap set to skyrocket under the new national-TV contracts, the Warriors should have plenty of leeway. Only the 2015-16 season is sticky.
But if Lacob and Guber are willing to pay the luxury tax to get the team over the hump, Golden State fans should be thrilled. This is the exact time to pay the tax, when the team is contending.
It’s hard to see what would derail the Warriors this season. If the luxury tax isn’t an impediment, it’s hard to see what would derail them for coming seasons, either.