January 16, 2019

For the Golden State Warriors, it begins and ends with their Small Ball Lineup Of Death. While the Warriors don’t ever start the game small, it’s an inevitability that once they align the stars correctly, their opponents have virtually no chance.

Harrison Barnes, Steph Curry, Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala, and Klay Thompson is a supercharged, athletic, long, defensive minded, long range bombing consortium that has played together for 147 minutes over 31 games (due to Barnes injury that had him miss 16 games). While this group has only averaged 4.7 minutes per game together, it is still their third most played lineup. However, it is by far their most effective.

In a devastating mix of both offense and defense, their Offensive Rating is 144.0, their defensive rating is 94.8, and the Net Rating is 49.1.

To give you an idea of how silly good this lineup is, when you examine all five-man Lineups that have played at least 30 games and 140 minutes together, they are number one – 20 points higher than the next five-man lineup of Bismack Biyombo, Cory Joseph, Kyle Lowry, Patrick Patterson, and Terrence Ross.

5 Man Lineups Minimum 30 Games, 140 Mins Played
5 Man Lineups Minimum 30 Games, 140 Mins Played

When you examine the flow of the game between the Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder from Saturday night, you’ll see a linear graph that tilted very heavily towards the Thunder.

Linear Graph of GSW at OKC, courtesy of popcornmachine.net
Linear Graph of GSW at OKC, courtesy of popcornmachine.net
There were two main rises where the slope tilts dramatically in favor of the Warriors. While the first one, in the middle of the third quarter, relied on Marreese Speights at center, the second one is clearly their Death Lineup.

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In fact, head coach Steve Kerr didn’t put that lineup on the floor until there was 4:37 left in regulation, trailing 96-85. One could argue that this lineup is so efficient because he doesn’t trot it out until the end of the game, after the opponents are tired, and have less chance to adjust. If that’s the case, then it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it. That lineup promptly went on an 8-0 run to get back in the game.

Over to the Thunder, and some overall thoughts:

Kevin Durant is one of the greatest scorers we’ve seen. I do lament his lack of a post up game, but when he can shoot like he can at his size, a lack of a post up game at this point in his career can be seen as nitpicking. That said, as we see in the breakdown above, the design of their offense has some fundamental flaws.

With non-scorers like Andre Roberson on the floor, the natural inclination is to send him to the weak side to stay out of the way of Westbrook and Durant. However, this plays into great defensive teams’ hands, allowing them to overload off Roberson and completely clog the lane, making those tough shots that Russ and KD usually make against inferior teams almost impossible.

If they are truly serious about being a title contender, they can’t be content to score ruthlessly on the bottom two-thirds of the league and think the same offense will get it done against the Spurs, Warriors, or even Memphis.

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It’s the process that seems to be missing, and from my view, it’s unclear whether head coach Billy Donovan hasn’t thought about how his initial offensive alignments are hurting the team, if his team is ignoring what he’s teaching, or if perhaps he has players out there that simply can’t execute anything more than what they’re doing.

Of course, this would all be moot had the Thunder avoided the situation where Kevin Durant tossed up a dying quail of a pass over the middle of the court, then got stuck up in the air and fouled Andre Iguodala to allow him to tie the game with two free throws. But it does speak to an underlying basketball IQ issue that the Thunder clearly have.

Up by two with 10 seconds left in regulation, you can see Russ hurry up to just toss the ball in bounds, rather than take a second to scan the floor. Then Durant gets caught in a double team in the corner, off balance, and forced to throw up a terrible pass.

Russell Westbrook finishing in traffic at the rim
Russell Westbrook finishing in traffic at the rim
At any time during this sequence, any player on the floor could have called timeout. Billy Donovan could have called it as well. Unfortunately, he was so far up the sideline towards halfcourt, we couldn’t see what he was doing, and when he does finally appear on screen, it’s to react in horror as Draymond Green is saving the ball back to Klay Thompson to set up Iguodala’s heroics.

Can this be a learning experience for the Thunder? Will they improve their late game decision making and clock management after taking a long, hard look at this game?

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Having broken down Westbrook’s game extensively over the past five years, there isn’t much indication that he’s willing to learn and grow in this area. It doesn’t mean he’s not an overwhelming talent that can impose his will against even the best players in the world. This, he can do. But it’s the subtlety of timing, cleverness, and decisions that doom the Thunder against the top, best coached teams.

Looking at their record against the best teams in either conference, they’re currently 1-7 versus the Cavaliers, Raptors, Celtics, Spurs, Clippers, and Warriors. They have several games against all of these teams coming up as they close out their season, making their last stretch a difficult one.

But it will give us more opportunities to see if they have grown from these mistakes and have become a better team because of them. If not, they’ll be left to ponder a season of tremendous results, incredible highlights, and another loss in the playoffs.


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