The Golden State Warriors are only twelve wins away from a second straight championship. They survived a limited but desperate San Antonio Spurs team 99-91 in the friendly confines of Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.
Let’s jump right into my four gold-blooded observations from this first round tussle between past and present Western Conference powers.
Draymond Green’s jumpshot is theater
I love moments when desperate defenses forces superstars to dump the ball off to weaker players to take low percentage shots. There’s the calculated fear shown by the D, the trust shown by the passing superstar, and the moment of truth for the role player receiving the shot opportunity. They are especially memorable in high-leverage, late game situations, like when Michael Jordan gave the ball up to a young Steve Kerr for a game winning shot in the Finals.
The Warriors are so stacked, the guy that defenses are forced to leave open is an Olympic gold medalist: Draymond Green. When the Warriors spread the floor to prey on an easy matchup, Green’s defender often bails on him to keep another Golden State player from getting an solid look. This basically dares Green to shoot from distance, where he’s at 32% accuracy for his career.
That’s Antoine Walker-level, folks. Walker was known more for his shimmying and volume jacking than his accuracy. So, it stands to reason that teams choose to leave Green open rather than let one of the Warriors historically accurate scoring assassins rip their hearts out.
Just don’t tell that to the reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year.
Not sure what Draymond Green loves more: Getting the 3 points for hitting the 3 or yelling at whoever HAD THE AUDACITY to leave him open.— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 25, 2018
Outside of being stepped over by a petty “king”, nothing angers Green more than when defenders abandon him beyond the three point line.
Green’s incredulous roar toward the Spurs’ bench last night after canning this bomb early showed his bubbling confidence. He then proceeded to miss five out of his next six shots from long distance (including an airball) to finish 2-of-7 for the game. For the five-game series against San Antonio, Green was 8-of-28 from downtown (28%). Still, I don’t expect his confidence to waver. Green shot a blistering 41% from deep last playoffs (32-of-78), and his range was a major reason the Warriors only lost one game the entire postseason.
I remember a piece that Chris Ballard wrote for Sports Illustrated during that historic run, detailing Coach Kerr’s trolling way of motivating the feisty forward to shoot well:
One of Kerr’s favorite tactics is to yell the same thing at Green every time he attempts a three-pointer: “Hell no!” Green, a career 33% three-point shooter, obviously doesn’t have the same green light as Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or Kevin Durant. But Kerr also knows that by diminishing Green, he’s creating a more positive result.
”’He knows yelling that turns on something inside of me,’ says Green. ‘If he just said, ‘Don’t shoot that shot, it’s not right for us,’ it wouldn’t work.’ (Kerr says his goal is to motivate Green because, as he explains in an email, ‘he thrives on people telling him he can’t do things, so I yell that partly as a joke and partly because I think it will motivate him. He’s at his best with a chip on his shoulder and I’m trying to keep it there.’)
When Green hits this shot, the Warriors’ offense becomes unguardable, and Oracle Arena ascends into euphoria. When he misses, the opposing defense exhales that no one with the last name Curry, Thompson, or Durant got an attempt.
Even though Green wasn’t on fire from downtown tonight, his energy shone on the glass as he snatched a postseason career-high 19 rebounds. That Dennis Rodman-esque effort on the boards more than made up for his off night from distance. Still, I don’t know if I’ll ever fully trust Dray’s shot after he couldn’t beat Kevin Hart in a shooting contest.
Then again, Green did shoot a higher percentage than Durant did (10-of-40, that’s 25%) from the arc. Hmmm...
Kevin Durant: Easy Money Sniper
Did anybody wonder what the Warriors version of Durant would do to a top-5 defense in the playoffs without Curry’s gravity? The answer: whatever the hell he wanted.
KD averaged 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists for the series on 48% shooting.
Now with 19 points tonight, Kevin Durant (3,183 points) has passed Kevin McHale (3,182) for 19th place on the NBA's all-time playoffs scoring list.— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) April 25, 2018
Admittedly, there were some frustrating possessions throughout this series where Durant went iso and nonchalantly bricked contested bombs early in the shot clock. It was as if he was challenging himself to see how many difficult shots he could drop in the eyeballs of the team ranked fourth in defending the three-point shot.
Still, when it mattered most, he buried the Spurs’ season with timely buckets.
Folks, the Spurs’ defense had the fourth highest defensive rating in the NBA, and tied with the Utah Jazz for least points allowed per game in the league. And that’s while Kawhi Leonard, their best wing defender, missed 73 games! These guys understand how to lock up defensively.
With that said, with their season on the line, they were powerless to stop Durant.
Klay Thompson is unreal
“The Android” averaged 22 points on 52% shooting (51% from three-point range!). He cooked the Spurs in hot fish grease. But he went 1-for-2 on teammate encouragement after this And-1 layup.
Klay left JaVale hanging pic.twitter.com/Fdwhn07ZGh— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) April 25, 2018
Give JaVale some love, Klay!
Warriors’ depth continues to provide strength in numbers
- Shaun Livingston is a 6-foot-7 point guard, and a small guard annihilator. He torched Tony Parker and Patty Mills, averaging 51% shooting on seven shots a game for the series. His buckets came on the impressive array of mid-range jumpers and sweet post moves that only the OG’s have mastered. He provided some scoring punch for the bench, pushing the pace intelligently, and hunting mismatches in transition.
- Andre Iguodala moved into the starting lineup and reminded the world of the Warriors’ versatility. The veteran and former Olympic gold medalist shot 41% from the arc for the series after connecting on an ugly 28% in the regular season. When he pushed the ball in transition, the Warriors got downhill, and their pace terrorized San Antonio.
Andre Iguodala cleared for takeoff ✈️ pic.twitter.com/SrMaQWok5J— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) April 25, 2018
On defense, he swarmed the passing lanes ferociously, constantly getting deflections to disrupt the Spurs offense. Playoff-Iguodala is living proof that certain vets can preserve themselves in the regular season without ramifications in the postseason.
- The two-headed center monster of JaVale McGee and Kevon Looney did an admirable against All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge averaged 23 points and 9 rebounds for the series, but he was forced to work for his buckets. Looney, in particular, showed excellent footwork and instincts in switching onto smaller wings. Watching him stay step-for-step against the ball-handling wizardy of the wily legend Manu Ginobili was further evidence that Looney can hold his own in deep waters.
Warriors' center minutes in Round 1— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 25, 2018
Good fight, Spurs!
They lost their best player, and their coach lost his wife. Even still, San Antonio’s will to battle remained unbroken. Ginobili was heroic; he continued to gamely fight despite the daunting odds the Golden Empire presented.
With that said: damn, I wanted that sweep.
The Warriors will meet the Pelicans in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Saturday at Oracle Arena (time TBD). Golden State and New Orleans have previously met in the postseason just once, a 4-0 sweep for the Warriors in the 2015 First Round. pic.twitter.com/k9wUt90HW7— Warriors PR (@WarriorsPR) April 25, 2018
Who was Warrior Wonder for Game 5 against the Spurs?
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