From an aesthetic standpoint, there are only so many different variations of players that fill to your heart's content. As a fan, there are a specific subset of talents that please the eye when it comes to the way basketball is played. For the Golden State Warriors, the variations run so high it feels like any random compilation of five players on the team will produce a series of jump-out-of-your-chair plays. Instead of parsing over the entire season, let's see what Steve Kerr did Wednesday night against the Atlanta Hawks, the Eastern Conference's one-seed and a potential NBA Finals matchup come June.
In their first matchup, Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer went small early in the game, allowing the shooting of Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore to take over the game at times. This game, Kerr went to his dynamite center lineup as quick as he could, inserting Draymond Green at the center position seconds into the second quarter. A player before that? James Michael McAdoo checked in for the final few seconds of the first quarter, contesting a shot and grabbing the rebound as the buzzer sounded.
Kerr gave the shock-Green-at-the-five lineup a couple minutes where they played relatively well, suffocating defense, and then went into an even more ridiculous five including Justin Holiday, Marreese Speights, Shaun Livingston, Andre Iguodala, and McAdoo. Trying to buy a couple more minutes without Stephen Curry, he needed to make do and went with an all-length lineup we are so accustomed to seeing. Though these didn't work as well earlier in the season, a rejuvenated Iguodala and healthy Livingston has completely taken over games. Kerr also planned out the Curry-less offense where Speights would have to almost carry the offense by shooting nonstop. If he hits, the minutes are gold, if not, there might be some issue at times. Speights did not disappoint.
In the second half, Kerr decided to run out one of the Warriors success stories in the second half. Festus Ezeli entered the game for Andrew Bogut and thoroughly dominated the paint on defense. He blocked two shots, careening one so hard into the glass, I could hear it from my vantage point in the media level. Again, Kerr had obviously planned this out, doling out these minutes when Stephen Curry is also on the floor so the offense comes easy to Ezeli. It's either an open catch-and-dunk, or screen-and-get-out-of-the-way.
The all-encompassing cloak of many faces the Warriors can disguise themselves in is perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this team. Yes, there is Stephen Curry's perpetual awesomeness, Klay Thompson's growth as a star, Draymond Green's defensive player of the year candidacy as singular accomplishments but the team-wide level of brashness, tangible fun, and a freaking scoop shot from 30 feet from Leandro Barbosa makes this a fascinating projection of Spurs-ian levels of success.
Perhaps the only downside remains how Kerr will utilize his top players in crunch-time. He has made a habit of using the word "matchups" as reasons for the benchings of Speights, David Lee, Leandro Barbosa, and Shaun Livingston throughout the season. As far as Kerr is concerned, his reasons for Lee's lack of playing time (defense out to the perimeter) essentially banishes him to the bench for the rest of the season barring an emergency - though some of us around these parts are bracing ourselves for a Barry Zito moment.
Now that Livingston is playing like he was last season as a Brooklyn Net, Kerr can't so much flirt with the thousand faces of this defensive/offensive juggernaut so much as to play to their highest strengths in the biggest moments of the season. We can argue that there are seven players that deserve to play in crunch-time, the starters and Livingston/Iguodala. That being said, depending on who is on the floor, Kerr might well have to decide on the super-blitz scheme of the small lineup or the relatively toned-down, but much better rebounding five with Bogut at the end of games.
Regardless of what Kerr chooses and what result comes the Warriors way, the fun is just beginning. And no one predicted all the good stuff would arise from a contingency of greatness in lieu of individual feats of excellence.