If you’ve ever wondered why Steve Kerr, even with the Warriors’ multiple-superstar lineup, plays so many guys throughout the season, why he always tries to get his end-of-bench guys at least cameo minutes here or there, why he loves to experiment with his rotations…
Game 2 last night is why.
Game 2, with Kevin Durant, Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes all hurt and out.
Game 2, against a Portland team that tested the Warriors in Game 1.
And then last night…
-Patrick McCaw is a rookie whose rotation spot see-sawed all season with Ian Clark, who basically was out of the rotation for weeks at a time, who often looked like he just didn’t want to shoot the ball, who got bigger minutes again when Kevin Durant was out in March, who played under a minute in Game 1 of this series against Portland…
And then McCaw was jumped back into the starting lineup last night with Durant out again, played great defense against the dangerous Trail Blazer guards, and generally turned in the game of his life–34 minutes, 9 points, 5 rebounds, a massive plus.
-The aforementioned Clark, who was lost there for a while this season trying to assume the Leandro Barbosa role, but got big minutes in the March 11 game at San Antonio when Kerr rested all of his mainstays, put up 36 in that loss, and has been motoring along nicely ever since, including 25 combined points in this series so far.
-JaVale McGee was just looking for a job last summer, the Warriors added him as an after-thought because they knew their center situation was a little fuzzy, and now McGee has played two extremely solid playoff games for them as the first center off the bench (and even got a rare second-quarter stint last night).
Just when the Warriors needed those guys–who have at times barely even gotten minutes this season–they were ready to step into the rotation and produce.
Again: By playing a lot of guys, even in tough times, Kerr keeps them available for absolutely crucial times, such as Game 2.
The role players don’t always play well for Kerr, but it happens more than you probably would expect, and it’s largely because Kerr is adamant about making sure his deepest bench guys feel a part of everything that goes on.
He believes that bench players who remain thoroughly engaged in practice, film sessions and during games, even when they’re not playing, are essential to the spirit of a team… and then when they’re called on, it just all ties together because then the integrated bench guys don’t feel like spare parts.
In previous seasons, that a big reason why Kerr loved Barbosa so much and made sure to get him into even the toughest situations. Brandon Rush was another one.
And yes, there are some potential downfalls to this, and everybody can and will point to Game 7 last season against Cleveland, when Kerr went to Anderson Varejao and Festus Ezeli for key minutes and they absolutely were terrible.
But flash back to the previous Finals, when David Lee and Ezeli delivered crucial stints… or Barbosa throughout those playoffs… or just to Game 2 last night, and you see the method to Kerr’s philosophy, and remember, Kerr was often a spare-part guy himself during his career.
The Warriors are going to win or lose this series and in this postseason largely based on Curry, Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala, of course.
Kerr knows this, the players know this, management knows this, the whole league knows this.
But when Kerr can or needs to fill in the gaps with back-bench guys… he loves it… he loves keeping them ready for it… he loves putting them into key moments… and he really, really loves it when they deliver.
If he buried guys on the bench, and just didn’t care if they were sharp or happy throughout the season, you probably wouldn’t get minutes like this in the playoffs.
I’m not criticizing Terry Stotts at all, because Portland is in an entirely different situation and Stotts is a very good coach.
But I would suggest looking at some of the Trail Blazers’ mid-to-end-rotation guys in this series and tell me which ones of them have given Portland a surprise lift in this series.
* The Warriors are up 2-0 and that’s a big lead any way you tally it up.
NBA teams that go up 2-0 in a seven-game series have historically gone on to win the series 93.6% of the time.
Of course, one of those times the 0-2 team came back to win the series was… in last year’s NBA Finals, and it was over the Warriors.
That’s when the Warriors won the first two games at home over Cleveland (by 15 and 23 points respectively), then lost four of the next five–including the last three in a row–to lose the title to LeBron James.
Overall, the Kerr era Warriors are 4-1 in series when they win the first two games.
The Warriors also went up 2-0 on Portland in the second round last season, lost Game 3 (without Stephen Curry), then clinched the series by winning Games 4 (with Curry back) and 5.
The Warriors went up 2-0 on Houston in the first round last season, lost Game 3 (without Curry), then clinched the series by winning Games 4 (still without Curry) and 5 (with Curry back).
In 2015, the Warriors went up 2-0 over New Orleans in the first round and completed the four-game sweep.
They also went up 2-0 over Houston in the Western Conference finals, won Game 3, lost Game 4, and won the series in 5.
* Can everybody calm down a little bit about Scott Foster calling Warriors games?
And Tony Brothers, too?
OK, I know, fans are always going to have their least favorite referees, and it’s true that Foster and Brothers have had their blow-up moments with the Warriors in the recent past.
And they may yet have their controversial moments in coming weeks or years.
But Foster gets so much heat from the Warriors legions, and yet he’s the guy who could’ve T’d up Draymond once or twice last night–in the same long argument, when Draymond followed him down the floor and even stayed on the floor long after Kerr was trying to substitute him out–and Foster did not call a T.
Foster has been the ref for some big Warriors losses, sure, but remember, he was also the lead official when the Warriors played Cleveland in Game 6 of the 2015 Finals. Which seemed not to be a disaster for the Warriors.
And if the Warriors keep moving through the playoffs, they’ll see Foster many more times, and assuredly in the Finals if they get there again.
* Draymond was probably right when he suggested he would’ve gotten a Flagrant foul if he’d done what Meyers Leonard did to him last night–a high shot to the head as Draymond drove the lane.
Track records always come into play, whether the league says so or not, and Draymond’s recent run-ins certainly set up the case for him to get suspended for Game 5 of the Finals last season after his tap of LeBron in Game 4.
But Leonard’s shot also will be counted in there.
-Negatively for Leonard in future collisions (I guarantee if he does anything like that to a Warrior in this series he will get penalized harshly);
-And potentially positively for Draymond (who didn’t retaliate vs. Leonard and has not come close to a Flagrant in this series so far).
Draymond knows from last season that picking up an early Flagrant point (as he did in the Houston series) can have a major effect down the road–you play more series, the more those points can haunt you–and Draymond is many things, but he’s no dummy. In fact, he’s one of the smartest guys in the league about this stuff.
* What do the Warriors miss without Durant? We have lots of evidence now with and without him in the Warriors’ lineup, and he might miss Game 3, too, so let’s take a quick look…
-The Warriors’ defense has statistically been about equal with or without Durant on the floor this season.
During the regular season, Warriors opponents scored 104.9 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor… and 104.9 points per 100 with Durant out o the game.
(Perhaps not surprisingly, Andre Iguodala had the exact same on/off defensive numbers this season.)
-Durant’s biggest on/off impact statistically in regular-season was on offense.
The Warriors scored 120.9 points per 100 poss’s with him, and 112.3 points per 100 without him.
He’s a great player. The Warriors want and need him back in the lineup for these playoffs, which is why they wanted to sign him for years and why the rest of league would just as soon see Durant out for as long as possible.
But he won’t be.
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