The San Antonio Spurs are up next; they'll assuredly have gameplans, matchups and whether Stephen Curry likes decaf in the morning, but after their second playoff series win in nearly two decades, now is as good a time as any to look back at what went right.
Stephen Curry matured in the media's eyes—but is it true if he's been doing it all year?—into a bona fide franchise star this series, elevating his team's play in the crucial moments and carrying the offense on his half-healthy one ankle. Through Draymond Green's threes (yeah, I don't know either), Klay Thompson's defense and Harrison Barnes' dunks, there was one constant aspect of the team that stood out above the rest: Andrew Bogut's revitalization as a dominant defensive center and an underrated offensive cog.
There are many aspects of the game the Warriors failed to execute and struggled to adapt despite seeing the same traps, but they won the series and Bogut became more than just an afterthought factor after what many assumed was a fluky Game 1. How many back-to-back consistent games did he play in the regular season? He had only played 30+ minutes in back-to-back games only once this season and was probably on a minutes restriction despite the team claiming he was fine. Not only was his play spectacular but it came out of the same depths he was stuck in whilst nursing his ankle.
Without watching video or listening to an anecdotal perspective on a specific sequence, let's look at some fairly inarguable statistics that backs Bogut's case as the main difference-maker. According to nbawowy.com, the Denver Nuggets' percentage of layup attempts go down from 22.2 to 19.9 when Bogut is on the floor. Despite Lawson's ability to slash and Miller's old-man game, the Nuggets are only shot 47.3 percent from two-point range when Bogut is on, 50 percent when he is off.
And this isn't a Nnamdi Asumuogha situation where his numbers may get inflated when opposing quarterbacks don't throw to him. The Nuggets are going at Bogut the same way they are going at Festus Ezeli and Carl Landry in the paint. The Nuggets shot 17.5 percent of their shots from 0-3 feet with Bogut on the floor and 17.9 percent of their shots with Bogut off the floor; 31 percent of their shots from 4-9 feet with Bogut on and 34 percent off the court. So despite Bogut blocking and changing so many shots at the rim, the Nuggets were relentless in their pursuit to the rim.
Bogut makes many plays that people may not see on the surface but this is one that showed what he brings to the team that hasn't been there consistently in the past. After Lawson torched Bogut and Curry off the pick-and-rolls early in the first, Jackson made the right adjustment by putting Green, a quicker defender, in to guard the Nuggets smaller, quicker lineup. Here we see the Warriors switch the up-screen between Barnes and Green and Green stays in front of Iggy until Bogut, who is fending off Kosta Koufos on the rebound, swoops in and blocks the shot. As odd as it may sound, Bogut did a great job "hiding" himself until the very last moment, essentially playing possum and not rotating too early so Iguodala, an excellent passer, can release a drop-off pass.
With Bogut doing such a great job in the paint, the Nuggets actually stopped going to the bucket in transition because of his lurking presence. It was funny to see Lawson, Brewer and Iggy not go 110 percent on fastbreak opportunities. Humor isn't created equal between Denver and Oakland right now, though.
Since we've all seen the crazy putback and one-handed hammers by Bogut, let's look at how he emulated David Lee on Game 4 when the traps the Nuggets ran started to pester Curry and Jack on the sidelines. Usually, Curry runs the pick-and-pop with Lee and tosses a backwards overhead pass to Lee, an excellent passer, as a release valve and the offense keeps flowing from there. Bogut is normally standing on the baseline waiting for an offensive rebound or another Jack 18-footer. Instead, he catches the ball in the middle here, and after several big dunks, he attracts several defenders and flips a behind-the-back pass to Jack in the corner for the 3. This stopped the Nuggets from trapping as much for the rest of the game. This was the first time this season that Bogut appeared to be comfortable on offense. Is that because he was able to play spread offense with four other wings? Perhaps hat's a better question for the offseason.
Just ridiculous. I could probably wax a couple thousand more words about Bogut's defensive presence but his passing was as integral to the Warriors spacing as his ability to finish, if not more. Since he can't make a 15-footer like Lee, he compromises by always looking for cutters, and with his feel for the game, dropped two perfect passes to two cutters (Barnes and Klay) on the baseline. I'm not an NBA scout or coach but it appeared Denver's defense was a little slow all series after the first pass and Bogut and Curry repeatedly took advantage.
After spending the year fighting through various ankle setbacks, retweaks and back seizures, he's played like the center we've envisioned in our trivial offseason dreams. You know how they so often sound:
"If healthy, this team can make a run. There's a lot of potential on this team, we just have to wait until next year when they pan out. Maybe we can trade Player X for Player Y (keep in mind this trade will never happen) and we'd be a contender right away! Or maybe Player Free Agent will sign here (he won't) because everyone loves San Francisco!"
But through the great passing, bone-crushing finishes and out-of-nowhere blocks, lays one of the most menacing and physical players in the NBA. Remember when Andris Biedrins was the physical enforcer down low? Nah, me neither.
That was in Game 2. The trash-talking between the two teams was just beginning and Bogut wasn't going to let his fragile stars get pushed around in a playoff series. Was it dirty? Maybe, but it wasn't egregiously so—same with the Kenneth Faried "ankle trip".
Speaking of which....
We'll have to wait and see what the San Antonio Spurs do to slow down Curry but Bogut brings another level of physicality that isn't numerically measurable. Without sounding too anti-stats or old school, those elbows to cutters in the paint, sweeping arms on boxouts and earth-shattering screens don't always correlate to points but they set a tone that isn't often seen or heard in a Warriors uniform. "We Believe 2007", despite "hardasses" like Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes were nothing but pesky defenders and a collection of guys trigger-happy shooting from 25+ feet. The duo of Bogut and Green, and a little David Lee when he's in, is unafraid to throw down in the paint, for lack of a better term.
We didn't know what we were going to get when Lacob and management traded for an injury-prone seven-footer. But now we're reaping the benefits, and it goes way beyond the flashy passes, dunks or the accent. Bogut doesn't make this team tougher; he lets every other team know that his teammates won't get hurt on his watch. If you clip Curry running through the double screens, you're going to feel an elbow in your gut on the trip down. Hard foul on Barnes slashing to the basket? You might want to think twice crashing the boards next possession. NBA players aren't soft and they would never tell us if they did in fact think twice about getting in Bogut's way, but it's encouraging to even approach this notion.
And the craziest part is? Said enforcer, defensive ace and difference-maker in a playoff series against a 57-win team isn't remotely healthy, needing to take a shot before Game 6 just to play.
As Mark Jackson so eloquently stated, "Mama, there goes that man".