Steve Kerr waited and waited and waited. Then, the Warriors coach finally played his trump card:
Draymond Green at center.
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:
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.