This is not the same Miami team that was scrapping for a playoff seed last year. This Miami team is gritty defensively (second in the league in opponents ppg). Though they can't consistently score (being without Chris Bosh hurts), they were still able to score with no issue against the Warriors last night.
The Warriors have seen issues all season with teams who feature incredibly athletic wings and quick front courts. Miami was able to score at will, specifically Dwayne Wade who looked youthful and ever the All-Star. What is the trick? What is the issue? Why do teams like Toronto (Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan) or a team like Detroit (Reggie Jackson and KCP) seem to give the Warriors fits?
The Warriors are a fantastic team at defending the three point line, which puts pressure on the interior defense
Golden State leads the league in three point defense. They hug the perimeter, and force shooters into the lane. This is their defensive philosophy -- they want you to run the pick and roll or take our defender one-on-one and get toward the paint. The team seems content in saying, "If you score two points, we will still score three so we constantly have the advantage".
This system seems to work just fine until you get athletic guards who can shoot the midrange jumper or drive to the hoop. The Warriors had no answer last night for Goran Dragic or Wade driving to the hole. They miss Festus Ezeli contesting every shot at the rim and either altering or creating misses, as Bogut has seemingly lost a half step on the help. The product: Bogut cements himself under the rim to take on the layup, and we give up the midrange jumper. This plan wins until a team hits this shot with high consistency. Otherwise, it ends up in Bogut foul trouble, where he is now averaging 5.4 fouls per 36 (up from 4.3 from last year).
Will Anderson Varejao help this out? Sure, he is a great defender, and once he gets more use to the rotations on Ron Adam's schemes, he should be fine. Will Ezeli return this season? All signs point to him coming back at some point, which should help the interior. But the tape seems clear: penetrate this Warriors team and you can get the shot at the free throw line whenever you want it.
The Refs were not giving the Warriors any favors last night
How can Josh Richardson -- ye of a -2.8 BPM -- be made to look like Gary Payton on defense last night? Allow him to act like an offensive lineman on defense, grabbing and engaging Stephen Curry whenever possible. The refs did not do a great job establishing proper contact rules in the game last night, agreeing with most contact on defense against Steph Curry, yet calling every touch on Dwayne Wade on his way to 11 free throws. Sure, Wade does average about 6 shots from the line per night, but the rules seemed unbalanced.
This happens often. The book on Steph Curry seems to be grab grab and grab more. Disrupt his movement around the court, don't let him get to his spots, and beat him up out there. Curry has adjusted by learning to be the best running back he can be, bouncing off would-be tacklers and not being fazed on his way to the jump shot. When the refs are in his favor, he can help set the tone and get more space. When you find a player like Richardson, Caldwell Pope on the Pistons, or Chris Paul who are allowed to attach themselves, it makes life hard on Curry.
Refs are never an excuse, but there is a trend when the Warriors lose to athletic teams, that they win the battle at the free throw line. Slower tempo games hurt Golden State, and when Toronto's backcourt can parade to the line for quarters at a time, it breaks the flow of the free-flowing Warriors. Teams like the Clippers realize this, and will attack the Warriors backcourt instead of trying to bully their front court into foul trouble.
Hassan Whiteside represents the exact player the Warriors have trouble with in the paint
Add Whiteside to a short list of players that simply kill Golden State: Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert, DeAndre Jordan. All athletic big men, who relatively can't shoot, but get above the rim on the pick and roll and punish the Warriors on penetration. They also smash the offensive glass. As we saw in the Finals, you can expose the Warriors with multiple big men on the offensive end as our guards leak out for the outlet.
Whiteside abused the Warriors last night, hitting his outside shots to go with his huge presence in the lane. He is a unique talent, who is a relatively good shooter (though is a bad free throw shooter). If your team has a stiff in the lane, Andrew Bogut and crew can play traditional coverage on the drive. Players like Enes Kanter who can finish at the rim on the dish add more complexity to the Warriors game plan, and cause headaches on the switch. The Warriors usually counter by going smaller and disrupt the passing lanes instead of trying to cover the big men on the block, but this is a counter measure. They seem more willing to try to outscore their opponents in this situation than to truly stop them.
The long term solution? Festus Ezeli seems to be able to keep up with athletic big men more efficiently than Andrew Bogut. Additionally Draymond Green can handle the task in some situations. However this will continue to be a problem in specific situations.
In the end...
The Warriors escaped Miami with a win last night. They were not so lucky against the Blazers up in Portland, or back in Denver against Will Barton and crew. The consistent theme seems to be back court players burning the Warriors perimeter defense, and Golden State's front court not being able to adjust.
No team is perfect. So far this year, the Warriors have overcome this by simply outscoring their opponents with the league's best offense. In the first half of last night's game, when the shots weren't going down, the Warriors couldn't get containment and looked a step behind. In the playoffs, this team will have to adjust to win games when the threes are not going in, and learn to keep their opponent from relentlessly going to the basket. They have shown their ability to adjust, but games like Miami represent those in which serve as examples of their flaws.