Gut Check Time Brings Out The Best Of The Golden State Warriors In Game Four
The Golden State Warriors were in a familiar spot. They were down 2-1 like they were versus the Memphis Grizzlies. At that point and time, it was the Western Conference Semifinals and plenty though the Grizzlies had enough in the tank to beat the Warriors in a series. The questions began to rise as to if the Warriors had enough to win when the game got physical. Well, the Warriors answered that challenge emphatically when they took the rest of the series from the Grizzlies, winning in six games. The play of the inside guys was solid and Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were they usual selves, hitting shot after shot and making plays happen. The Warriors entered game 4 in Cleveland with the same sort of challenge ahead of them. The Cavaliers had won two straight in the NBA Finals after losing the first game out in Oakland to the Warriors. The feeling that many had about the series is that the Cavs would take Game 4 and put the Warriors in the ultimate distress. But someone may have forgot to tell the Golden State Warriors that they were supposed to lose in Game 4. With their backs against the wall, the Warriors made a lineup change that struck most as peculiar. Warriors head coach Steve Kerr decided to take starting center Andrew Bogut out of the starting lineup and replace him with swingman Andre Iguodala. The adjustment looked to be a failing one to start the game, as the Cavs raced out to the early lead while Tristian Thompson was getting loose on the boards. But as the game went on, the change took affect and the Warriors won the game going away 103-82. Kerr won the chess match of this game and potentially could have changed the outlook of this series, but it was more than just a lineup change that made it happen.
The adjustment by Kerr was big, but he also made some subtle adjustments to go along with the lineup change. The thing the smaller lineup did to the Warriors is made the Cavs overthink offensively. The Cavs all series long have been posting LeBron James and running their offense through him. All series long he has been guarded by Harrison Barnes to start the game and then Andre Iguodala would come in and guard him. Well in this game, the Cavs decided they would go away from that when they saw the size advantage that Mozgov had in the paint. Of course Mozgov had a career night with 28 points and 10 rebounds, but he is not the straw that stirs the drink for the Cavs. By going through him and other players at the beginning of the game, the Cavs effectively through their rhythm off and played right into the hands of the Warriors. LeBron was not the same dominant guy he was for the entire game. Some of that can be attributed to just being worn out from being on the floor almost all game every game. But almost all of that can be attributed to the strategy the Warriors put out there. And to the Warriors’ credit, they played gritty defense and besides a few offensive rebounds at the start of the game, they were solid on their boxouts and actually were outrebounding the Cavaliers for much of the game. For the Warriors, the Cavaliers took the bait and played right into their hands.
The Warriors not only made a lineup change but a tempo change. The Golden State Warriors were allowing the Cavaliers to dictate the pace of this series from the beginning. The pace was slow, deliberate and had limited fast-break opportunities. And because of the big man, Andrew Bogut, it wasn’t like the Warriors could pick up the pace any. If they did, it would have be 5 on 4 because Bogut would have still been trying to catch up to the action. With him out of the lineup, the Warriors pushed the tempo more than they have the entire series. With Iggy, Green and Curry out there, there were three guys that could take the rebound and push the tempo. Add backup guard Shawn Livingston to the mix and then there is another guy that can force tempo during the game. The Warriors, who would usually walk the ball up the court on makes or misses, were pushing the basketball right at Cleveland. The result was a lot more easy setups for the Warriors for easy baskets and cross matches that the Warriors exploited in this game. The tempo for the game also lulled the Cavs into pushing the tempo as well. The Cavs were shooting some early shots and that is the one thing they did not want to do. As a result, the depth of the Warriors took effect. The Cavs have been playing shorthanded for a while now and the weariness was evident. The Warriors, meanwhile, were fresh and ready to close the game out with ease. And in the end, the fast-paced start of the Warriors had LeBron James looking gassed and ready to call it a game.
But most importantly, the biggest adjustment made this series is finally putting David Lee back in the rotation. Lee had been a star for the Warriors leading up to this season. He was a very good offensive player for him and the symmetry he had with Steph Curry was a great thing to watch in 2013-2014. But this season did not go as Lee wanted due to injuries early and the emergence of Draymond Green. Plenty were wanting Lee to start in place of Draymond Green for Game 4. But instead, he took the place of veteran center Andrew Bogut in the rotation and produced very well. He had 9 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in 18 impactful minutes on the floor. The one thing he brings that Bogut and Festus Ezeli do not is offensive skill. The Warriors get a guy that can finish at the rim with ease, has soft hands and makes their offense flow versus the Cavs in Lee and he surely picked up where he left off versus the Cavaliers in this game. He may not have played many minutes, but the combination of Green and Lee at center gave the Cavs fits on the offensive end and made the Warriors a difficult matchup offensively. And one thing that having five offensive weapons on the floor also did is make Timofey Mozgov a guy that was a fish out of water. He essentially could not guard anyone on the court, especially with Green getting his rhythm offensively this game.
The Warriors came out loose and played their best game of the series. And with the adjustments by Kerr, we now have a brand new series. The Warriors have given the Cavaliers a lot to think about as they head back West to Oakland for Game 5 Sunday. After Game 1, it seemed like Kerr was the one that needed to make adjustments to what Cavaliers coach David Blatt was doing. But now the ball is in Blatt’s court as Kerr flipped the script on him this game. It will be interesting to see what he does in Game 5. But after Game 4, Kerr made it happen and the Warriors came out to play.
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