Warriors Advance to Western Conference Finals Avoiding the Famous Small Ball and Deciding to Go Big

Warriors Advance to Western Conference Finals Avoiding the Famous Small Ball and Deciding to Go Big

SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Brown looked worriedly at Kevon Looney, one of his troopers of the last six seasons who did everything he was asked to do with little to no fanfare in a Golden State Warriors franchise filled with highlights and glory. Looney, who rarely plays in stretches longer than six or seven minutes, was heading for his 17th straight minute on the floor, on his way to a career-high 35 for the game.

“I kept looking at him because after the first five [minutes] it looked like he was dying. So for the next two, he seemed to be doing worse,” said Warriors interim coach Mike Brown. “So every minute after that, I was just saying, ‘Loon, wait. Loon, wait. “

Looney not only survived but thrived in the final quarter of Friday night’s 110-96 Game 6 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, and epitomized the theme of the game by sending the Warriors back to the Western Conference Finals for the first time. since 2019. .

Just before the final bell, Mike Brown walked down the line of fellow assistant coaches along the sideline. He hugged Kenny Atkinson. He hugged Bruce Fraser. He hugged Chris DeMarco.

Serving as head coach with Steve Kerr out due to health and safety protocols, Brown – recently named as the next head coach of the Sacramento Kings – had been caught in the crosshairs of NBA Twitterati just 48 hours earlier when the Warriors received a mortifying loss in game 5 in the hands of the Grizzlies, as we rarely see in the NBA playoffs.

By the end of Game 6, however, the Warriors had prevailed over the pesky, young, fearless, and relentless Grizzlies, and a major adjustment by Brown, the coaching staff, and even the players was a big reason.

Most of the conversation during and immediately after the Warriors’ first-round win over the Denver Nuggets was the remake of the Warriors’ famous small-ball lineup. Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green all seemed unbeatable in their brief stints together, leading many to suggest the unit should start for the rest of the playoffs, or at least get a bigger chunk of minutes.

Against the Grizzlies, however, the lineup failed. Again and again. When Grizzlies forward Ja Morant was injured in Game 3 and Memphis started with mountain man Steven Adams in Games 4 and 5, the Warriors offense looked as futile as it had all season. The small-ball lineup, which was supposed to overwhelm defenses and boost Golden State’s championship hopes, managed a measly 94.5 points per 100 possessions in 25 minutes during the series.

“When Ja fell, we really realized later [Game 5]we almost have to adjust like we’re starting a whole different series,” Green said. “Because that was a whole different team that we played against the last three games.”

So the Warriors had a decision to make for Game 6. Do we go small and hope to take advantage of Adams’ lack of speed, or do we try to match his size and go big? A few minutes before the match, the starting lineups were announced and Looney was chosen to face Adams.

It turns out it was a collective decision stemming from a conversation that began at the end of that terrible explosion in Memphis on Wednesday. Brown spoke with Curry and Green, who agreed that Looney was the guy they wanted on their side. Not only does he bring size and physicality, but he is also one of the top remaining players in the Warriors Finals. Kerr, who might be the biggest Looney fan in the world outside of his family, ended up agreeing to the decision.

“When you look at the last eight quarters before this game, we were dominated by seven of them,” Green said of choosing Looney as a starter in Game 6. “We knew we needed to go out and establish an internal presence to start the game and not worrying so much about our score… They made it clear they were going to beat us, and they were doing a good job. Putting Loon back in the starting lineup changed that.”

For the third straight game, the Warriors offense struggled through most of the night. Thompson had several flourishes en route to a 30-point team, but Curry and Poole couldn’t get the ball into the ocean for most of the first three quarters. In addition to pitching fights, the Warriors fell into their notorious habit of tossing the ball to the other team or out of bounds, leading to 16 turnovers in the first three quarters.

So how did they stay alive, especially when Grizzlies forward Dillon Brooks – public enemy number one at the Chase Center – was having the best game of his life? The Warriors have grown.

Looney was a threat from the jump, grabbing 11 rebounds in the first quarter alone and finishing with an absurd 22 rebounds on the night, half of which came on the offensive glass. He also helped nullify Adams, who had just one offensive rebound for the game. The Warriors beat the Grizzlies on points, an area where Memphis dominated all season.

It wasn’t just Looney who got the message. Green had 15 rebounds. Wiggins was 11. Thompson was eight. Curry got seven. In all, the Warriors managed a monumental 70 rebounds, including 25 on the offensive glass. For a game that was ugly offensively for most of the night, the Warriors’ grit and determination on defense and on the boards took them to the conference finals.

“When we win the rebound game and the possession game, we give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Brown said. “That’s remarkable against a team of this size and athleticism.”

Brown was right. Eventually, the offense came in the form of 11 fourth quarter points from Curry and another 10 from Wiggins. Thompson’s eighth three-pointer in just under three minutes sealed the game and the series.

We can debate all day whether what the Warriors have shown so far in the playoffs deems them worthy of a true title shot, but they showed something essential to the championship formula in a closing game Friday night: adaptability. The more cards a coach has to play – whether Kerr or Brown – the more likely they are to have an answer to any problems they encounter. And it goes without saying that the Phoenix Suns or Dallas Mavericks will present huge problems.

Planning will come later, however. Thompson and Curry said they would watch Sunday’s Game 7 between the Suns and Mavericks, both as NBA fans and to get a feel for their next opponent. In the meantime, they will celebrate a once-ritual Western Conference Finals spot with a renewed sense of appreciation.

“It’s unbelievable, knowing what we’ve been through the last two years – six of the last eight, we’ve had the opportunity to play in the finals,” Curry said Friday night. “It’s a really cool vibe when you find out as a group, because we didn’t do this with this group together. Definitely special, never underestimate. Understand, that’s what it’s all about.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.