Chaos theory is a mathematical concept that is defined as “the study of apparently random or unpredictable behavior in systems governed by deterministic laws.” One principle of chaos theory is the butterfly effect, defined as “the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state.”
To put it in much simpler terms, the butterfly effect argues that small and seemingly unrelated moments will have a significant effect on much larger happenings down the line — the most common example being given is one of a butterfly apparently causing a change in weather patterns as a result of it flapping its wings.
A game of basketball is four quarters long. Each and every one of those quarters is important, and what happens in one quarter will have massive consequences in the subsequent quarters. Ultimately, it was this fact that doomed the Warriors in their loss against the Toronto Raptors.
Giving up 38 points in the first quarter against a dangerous team — 12 of them off of 6 turnovers — is what ultimately killed the Warriors in the later stages of the game.
Warriors’ turnovers are the butterfly’s wings
Turnovers — both of the forced and unforced variety — have always been a problem for the Warriors, and it has often resulted in the Warriors shooting themselves in the foot and killing their chances of winning games. Ranked 18th in the league in terms of turnovers per game (18.9 per NBA.com) , their system — predicated on constant ball and personnel movement — is a double-edged sword; while it may allow for a lot of efficient scoring opportunities, it is also prone to a lot of passing errors, especially against a disciplined defense full of lengthy defenders.
The first turnover of the night is one such example. In this possession, Klay Thompson had the correct idea of throwing a lob for Damian Jones; with all the attention on Thompson, this would’ve been an easy dunk. But Thompson throws the pass too high:
This turnover would eventually translate to a three-point shot from Kawhi Leonard — the first instance of the Raptors pouncing on the Warriors’ mistakes.
In this sequence, the Raptors successfully defend the Warriors’ initial split action between Thompson and Durant. The ball finds its way to Durant, but he is forced to give it up to Quinn Cook, who penetrates inside and makes an ambitious bounce pass in the paint to Jones:
Another avoidable turnover results in a Kyle Lowry three-point shot on the other end. Off of a timeout, Quinn Cook brings the ball down and passes it to Thompson, who is being guarded closely by Danny Green. To Green’s credit, he intercepts the pass and makes the Warriors pay for being nonchalant — but the Warriors need to be more cognizant; these kinds of turnovers are inexcusable:
And yet again, the Warriors commit another careless turnover that was supposed to be a simple entry pass to Jones on the elbow. As expected, the Raptors capitalize on this by getting another easy bucket in transition:
So far this season, the Warriors have been called on a lot of offensive fouls due to moving screens. While the Warriors have been egregiously setting moving screens for years, a renewed emphasis by the league in doubling down on these violations have stifled many offensive possessions for the Warriors. Jones is called for one here, during a stretch where the Warriors were down big and could not afford to come out of an offensive possession empty-handed:
And to cap off the first quarter clown fiesta, Thompson unnecessarily attempts a pass behind his back that costs the Warriors another two points on the other end, making it 12 points off of turnovers that the Warriors have given away in the first quarter:
By letting the Raptors pull away as a result of their affinity for giving the ball up, the Warriors laid the groundwork for a self-inflicted defeat. Although they would fight back in the subsequent quarters to keep the game close, the turnovers in the first quarter would serve to be the flap of the butterfly’s wings that would eventually cause the insurmountable storm at the end of the game.
The Durant and Thompson third quarter takeover
The Warriors were able to cut their deficit to nine at the half, helped in part by limiting their turnover total in the second quarter to just one. Entering the third quarter, the Warriors begin to lean on their two All-Stars for increased offensive production.
Durant hits his first three of the game in the face of the best perimeter defender in the league:
This is followed by the Warriors initiating early offense off of made free throws by Leonard, courtesy of Thompson catching his defender off guard with a sudden cut from the corner. The Warriors opt to not deal with a set Toronto defense that has been giving them problems all night long:
Following the theme of getting quick buckets on offense, a Leonard miss from three-point range allows the Warriors to get the ball to Thompson in transition. He pulls up and knocks down the three. Again, the Warriors find success in scoring against a Raptor defense that isn’t fully set:
With Thompson showing signs of heating up, the Warriors count on him to knock down another three. He takes his defender on a bit of a joyride, directing his man to the other side of Jordan Bell’s screen. This allows him just enough space to pull up for his second straight three:
Off of another missed shot by the Raptors, the Warriors fake a Durant screen for Thompson, which makes Leonard anticipate the switch a split-second too early. This allows Durant to slip the screen, cutting inside and receiving the pass from Andre Iguodala for the wide open dunk:
Here is an amusing sequence for the Warriors. With Durant handling the ball, he manages to penetrate inside. As expected, the Raptors collapse and pack the paint, forcing Durant to kick out to a perimeter shooter — Kevon Looney:
As one would expect, Looney misses the three, but a great effort on the offensive board by Durant allows him to get points from this otherwise weird and unfavorable possession.
With Thompson sitting down and the Warriors needing to cut the Raptors’ lead down to single digits, the Warriors make an interesting adjustment: a series of possessions running the high pick-and-roll for Durant.
The Warriors run it three times, with the first two instances pitting Durant against Jonas Valančiūnas in drop coverage. Durant takes advantage and makes the jumpers in Valančiūnas’ face. The third instance is defended well by the Raptors, but Durant goes full isolation and makes the jumper anyway:
And to complete his dominant third quarter, Durant knocks down this nuclear missile from the Raptors’ center court logo:
The bench mob steps up in the fourth quarter
While Durant and Thompson were able to shoulder the load in the third quarter, the fourth quarter proved to be the story of the Warriors’ bench stepping up and doing their part to keep them in the game.
In this possession, the Warriors are able to defend the pick-and-roll well by shutting down Fred VanVleet’s penetration. A desperation kick-out pass ends up in Shaun Livingston’s hands, and he explicitly directs Jonas Jerebko to the spot where he should receive the pass. Jerebko obliges and gets the dunk:
Meanwhile, Damion Lee announces his arrival with two shots of his own. He creates his own shot on the first bucket through dribble penetration, and the second one comes from a well-timed cut after a series of Looney offensive rebounds gives the Warriors several opportunities to score:
Jerebko continues to prove his worth in the subsequent possessions. In this sequence, his defensive effort and hustle leads to him knocking a down a three on the other end, cutting the Raptors’ lead to six:
And in a play similar to the one the Warriors ran for Durant and Thompson in the third quarter, Jerebko slips a screen for Thompson and cuts toward the basket. The defenders miscommunicate on the switch, allowing Jerebko a free lane to receive the pass for the dunk and the foul:
However, the Raptors stretch their lead back to ten, with Durant checking back in for the endgame. Durant manages to get to his preferred mid-range spot for the floater, but he misses. He gets his own rebound and passes the ball off to Jerebko on the perimeter, who comes up big with this shot:
With under two minutes left to go in regulation, the Warriors get a stop. They recognize that the Raptors are spread out on the floor, and they immediately look to take advantage by having Durant shake off his overplaying defender by cutting hard toward the basket. He misses the layup, but Looney is there to tip the ball back in to cut the deficit to two:
This eventually leads to the most memorable sequence of the game. Down three with under thirty seconds left in regulation, Durant forces Leonard to miss, allowing Durant the opportunity to even up the score. The Raptors forget that they have a foul to spare, and Durant gives everyone the gift of free basketball:
Hello turnovers, my old friend
Despite the Warriors stretching the game into overtime, they were not able to take advantage of a shell-shocked Raptors team. Turnovers came back to haunt them in extra time, and it ultimately cost them the chance to snatch away the victory.
After the Raptors score four straight points to start the period, the Warriors commit a turnover courtesy of Jerebko, who forgets to put the ball down before moving his feet:
Meanwhile, Durant would get fouled and sent to the line, where he would make both of his shots to cut the deficit to two. Soon after, a defensive stop allows him to score — which would turn out to be the sole field goal make and attempt for Durant during the entire overtime period:
Soon thereafter, the Warriors would return to their ball-gifting ways. Thompson attempts to penetrate, but a good poke from Pascal Siakam forces a steal and a three-point shot for Toronto:
Durant would also turn the ball over as a result of an excellent poke by Leonard in the middle of Durant’s dribble:
And the final two turnovers that proved to be the nails in the coffin for the Warriors — the first one as a result of a Kyle Lowry poke that took the ball away from Iguodala:
And the second one as a result of an Iguodala travel:
As much as these turnovers cost the Warriors the game in overtime, one cannot help but look back at the first quarter, where their 6 turnovers contributed to 12 points that the Warriors gifted away to the Raptors. Looking back at the score at the end of the first quarter — 38-25 in favor of the Raptors — those 6 turnovers came back to bite the Warriors hard, seeing as how the Warriors outscored the Raptors in the second (33-29), third (30-29), and fourth quarters (31-23).
People don’t often attribute what happens in the first quarter to an outcome of a game. Casual observers often tune out during the early stages of a game while waiting for the more “exciting” crunch time period. But more seasoned observers and fans know that what happens in the beginning of the game matters as much as what happens near the end of it. All those small things that occur in the early stages — whether it be a three-point shot, a foul, or a turnover — can spell the difference between victory and defeat
For the Warriors, they were victimized by basketball’s own version of the butterfly effect. As one sneaky and wily operator once said, “Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them.”
As it turned out, the Warriors’ first quarter turnovers made them fall, and that fall broke them.
Twenty-three down, 59 more to go.
Stay Golden, Dub Nation.