The gesture that could have saved the Golden State Warriors season

IT’S NOV. 20 ET the Golden State Warriors are in the midst of a surprisingly competitive tilt against the Houston Rockets 3-13. On paper, the Warriors should get away with this game, facing a much younger, less experienced team, much happier to lose. With 4:46 to go in the first quarter, the Warriors make their first substitution. They are up 13. They end the first quarter with a 40-28 lead. The eruption is launched.

Until it doesn’t. The Rockets storm a 13-0 streak to open the second quarter. At halftime, the Warriors, without a win on the road, trailed by four. It’s a situation they’ve found themselves in all season — Stephen Curry and the starters are building a lead, only to have the bench give it up.

Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his staff return to the coaches office in the bowels of the Toyota Center to discuss changes they should make for the second half.

With an almost entirely new bench unit from last season, Kerr had tried to remain patient, trying to avoid making hasty personnel adjustments. But now, in that windowless closet in a room adjoining the visitors’ locker room, he knows his time is up.

Kerr turns to his team with an idea – an idea they’ve discussed before but haven’t yet executed. They had been trying to find ways for their young players to emulate what Draymond Green does on the pitch. Set up Jordan Poole as Green. Communicate on defense like Green. To set screens as Green. But with the Western Conference quickly overtaking them, Kerr knows they can’t afford an impressionist anymore. They need Draymond Green.

“Okay,” Kerr told his team, “we need to put Draymond on that second unit.”

The idea is not without risk. The Warriors’ starting lineup – Green, Curry, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Kevon Looney – is the most effective lineup in basketball. Disrupting him could easily backfire.

Instead, the move does more than stabilize a wobbly, losing bench unit. It stabilizes a Warriors season on the brink.

“Nobody does what Draymond does,” Kerr told ESPN. “We’d like to teach that and we try to, but Draymond has an innate intelligence for the game, an innate feel for the game that’s like any player I’ve ever been around. … You can’t replace Draymond . “

NINE DAYS AFTER Golden State’s game in Houston, they’re back in Texas, this time for a game in Dallas in a Western Conference Finals rematch against the Mavericks. The Warriors are 3-1 since starting the Draymond Green experience.

The Warriors would lose this game, but something stands out more than the final score: Every Warriors starter has a negative plus-minus. And all but one of their bench players have a positive. For the first time this season, the second unit actually put the Warriors in position to win.

“Two weeks ago we couldn’t say that,” Green told ESPN. “We couldn’t get near it.”

Made up of a group of players who had barely played with each other, the second unit had spent weeks searching for any identity.

Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green were brought to San Francisco over the summer to replace Gary Payton II and Otto Porter Jr. James Wiseman had returned after being sidelined for 18 months with a meniscus injury. Jonathan Kuminga and Moses Moody have been asked to take on much larger roles. And after a breakout season, Poole was expected to take care of everything.

They waded – badly.

In the 16 games before the trade — excluding Golden State’s game at New Orleans on Nov. 4 when four of its five starters were rested and all foul weather — the Warriors had played 261 minutes with two runners or less on the ground. In those minutes, Golden State was outscored by 63 points, a number, according to ESPN Stats & Information’s Matt Williams, more identifiable with teams tanking for Victor Wembanyama.

“The beauty of the game,” Kerr said, “is that all five guys have to click and it just took us time to work out different combinations.”

TWO MONTHS AGO, Green was Golden State’s villain after practice footage leaked of an altercation in which he punched Poole in the face and the ensuing fallout.

But since that November game in Houston, he’s been the answer to the Warriors’ biggest problem.

In the nine games since, the most used bench formation Green has been involved in includes Wiggins, DiVincenzo, Poole and Anthony Lamb. The second most used features are DiVincenzo, Poole and Lamb, with Kuminga for Wiggins. Those two lineups posted a plus-5 in 26 minutes and a plus-14 in 10 minutes, respectively.

The quartet of Green, DiVincenzo, Poole and Lamb have played 47 minutes together since November 20. During that stretch, the Warriors are plus-16.4 when those four players split the floor — a stone’s throw from the plus-18.7 starting rate.

“The idea of ​​the combinations is that you want to get to each group’s comfort zone there where they can feed off each other and find different sets or actions that they like,” Kerr said. “We’ve always been able to do that…it just takes longer this year due to the nature of our roster and the way our season has started.”

First and perhaps most importantly, he turned the dynasty’s worst defense.

Bench units with Green since Nov. 20 have allowed just 93.8 points per 100 possessions in 99 minutes overall, nearly 17 points better than before November. 20. The Green-Wiggins-DiVincenzo-Poole-Lamb group, in particular, stifled opponents, allowing an absurd 85.0 points per 100 possessions.

“[My priority has been to] make sure that unit defends,” Green said. “As a second unit, your job is not to go out and build the lead, your job is to maintain the lead. And in any case where the first unit has failed to create a lead, your job is to slow down and settle the game. That’s my goal – and try to help that unit play as much basketball without error than we perhaps.”

The attack also started its pace.

“Earlier in the season when I was the main playmaker, that’s how I was guarded,” Poole told ESPN. “…With Draymond in there, I can be more aggressive [with scoring]. … Now, with the second unit and the rotations we have, if need be, I know where I can go to try my luck.”

Green’s time in the second unit also unlocked Kuminga, who since Nov. 20 has nearly doubled his points per game, averaging 8.4 points on 52.3% shooting and 4.1 rebounds in 20 minutes per game. match.

Kerr called Kuminga’s performance against the Mavericks — 14 points, 10 rebounds and two blocks — the best game he’s seen Kuminga play. Weeks later in Utah, the 20-year-old big man delivered a clean block on Jordan Clarkson late in the fourth, and ended up drawing a foul.

As for the risk? It did not materialize. The starting five have played together more since the change, going from 13.8 minutes per game to 16.3 minutes. Their net efficiency went from plus-25.2 points per 100 possessions to a still absurd plus-18.7 points.

“Remove Draymond from [Curry] may not be as damaging [as] five or six years ago, we really wanted to smash an opponent with those two for a whole quarter,” Kerr said of his mind. “As long as those two things happen, we’ll be fine.”

Green, for his part, sees his role as dual.

“Number one, try to slow the unit down,” he said. “This unit shouldn’t play as fast as the first unit, it should be more methodical. There should be more sets. There should be more structured moves, as opposed to random moves and random attack. And then number two, and most important, make sure the unit defends.”

And the first returns are promising. The Warriors are 6-4, including a seven-point win over the Rockets, since the switch.

“Draymond has everything to do with the success of our team,” Kerr said. “This guy is so good in the game, the whole game. He understands. He sees it from both sides, the way he pushes the ball in transition, his screen setting, sees the ground and then protects everyone defensively. He gets our guys organized. Draymond is an amazing basketball player.”


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