CLEVELAND — After outscoring the Cleveland Cavaliers 27-18 in the second quarter, largely on the strength of their small lineup, it remained an open question what Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr would do to start the second half. Would he stick with the so-called “Death Lineup,” or would he return to the starters, who got torched in the first quarter?
When the second half began, Andrew Bogut was out there with the rest of the starters, and he stayed out for almost four minutes. It wasn’t a consideration for Kerr to pull Bogut, despite his poor play at both ends of the floor — he was a -21 in just 12 minutes.
“Not really,” Kerr said after the game when asked if he thought about benching Bogut. “We thought Boges played well. Boges has done a good job for us in the series. We didn’t feel like we had to match what they were doing because of their change in their starting lineup. We can always make a quick substitution. So I don’t think that had anything to do with losing the game. It wasn’t lineups. It wasn’t substitution patterns. We just got our tail kicked.”
The Cavs, by necessity, went smaller in Game 3 of the NBA Finals, which became a 120-90 blowout win for the home team. Kevin Love sat out with a concussion, and Tyronn Lue inserted Richard Jefferson into the starting lineup in his place, moving LeBron James up a position to power forward.
Not that the Warriors think the absence of Love, who had been struggling in this series, made a difference.
“I think the game would have been the same whether he played or not,” Kerr said. “This was about one team being emotionally fired up and angry about being down 2-0, and another team being comfortable. So I don’t think that had anything to do with it. I think it was just the level of intensity that they brought. They would have brought it with Kevin, too. So I don’t think it made a difference.”
But the fact is, the Cavs had a similar advantage over the Warriors to what the Warriors did to most teams this season. With James and Tristan Thompson in the frontcourt, Bogut was all but unplayable at both ends of the floor. If Love doesn’t play in Game 4 and the Cavs go small again, the Warriors will have some decisions to make about their lineups.
And Kerr will have to think long and hard about going small.