At their best, the Golden State Warriors are a free-flowing, ball-skipping machine that dissects defences in search of the most optimal shot.
That style, however, doesn’t always suit the playoffs, but in their 102-91 win over the Utah Jazz in Game 3 of the second round series, the Warriors proved they can adapt and play out of their comfort zone.
If the Jazz were going to steal a victory in the lopsided series, Game 3 was the time to do it. Golden State’s Splash Brothers duo of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined for 7-of-29 from the field, while Draymond Green’s outside shot crashed back down to Earth as he went 0-of-3 from long range.
The pace of 94.54 possessions and just seven fast break points for the Warriors also didn’t work in the visitors’ favour, but Durant and Curry combined for a fourth-quarter outburst that resulted in yet another double-digit win.
Durant and Curry each tallied 11 points in the period, but it wasn’t necessarily off crisp ball movement and in the flow of the offence. Instead, with Utah’s defence clogging the lane, Golden State leaned on Durant in isolation and off ball-screens near the top of the key.
It was a call-back to Durant’s days in Oklahoma City as the former MVP reminded just how much of a mismatch he is for any defender. While that style has been the antithesis of the Warriors’ unselfish approach, it provides Golden State another weapon in their deep arsenal, a ‘break in case of emergency’ option that will be more and more handy the deeper in the playoffs they advance.
“Really, for us, it’s simplistic, basic, backyard basketball,” Warriors coach Mike Brown said. “You find where you think you have an advantage, and we felt we had that in a pick-and-roll situation, moving Gobert away from the hoop.”
Golden State’s ability to shift the offensive strategy wouldn’t be possible if not for Curry’s willingness to slide into more of a sidekick role, which he did in the fourth quarter as Durant accumulated a usage percentage of 43.5, compared to Curry’s 31.8.
“Myself and the other 19,000 people in the arena and everybody watching on TV saw the same thing I saw,” Curry said. “It’s an easy decision to at that moment (to defer to Durant). Try to set a screen for him and get him to the right spot and, obviously, he does the rest.
“We’re smart enough basketball players to know what’s going on at that moment and try to make the right decision and let a talented scorer like he is…let him do what he does.”
First quarters have been a constant problem for the Boston Celtics against the Washington Wizards.
Though Boston overcame sluggish starts at home in the first two games of the second round series, their propensity to fall behind early finally derailed their chances in Game 3’s 116-89 blowout loss.
Through the three contests, the Celtics have been down by an average of 16.3 points at the end of first quarters. It hasn’t been an issue isolated to the playoffs either as Boston trailed by 8.0 points per game following first periods in the four regular-season match-ups with Washington as well.
The Wizards’ starting lineup has been dominant all season and has continued to create separation in the playoffs at plus-8.7, but the Celtics have failed to adjust accordingly with their starting five.
Gerald Green as the fifth starter failed in the series opener and Game 3, while Boston didn’t fare much better with Amir Johnson in his place in Game 2.
Coach Brad Stevens could shake up the unit again in Game 4 tonight in an attempt to find a lineup that can keep the Celtics from falling into an early hole.
His best bet may be inserting guard Marcus Smart alongside Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Al Horford. Though Smart offers necessary playmaking off the bench and is a large part of the advantage Boston’s reserves hold over Washington, that five-man group has been one of the Celtics’ most effective – and second-most used – in the series.
With that lineup, Boston are holding the Wizards to 100.9 points per possession for a 3.2 net rating, while being plus-7 in total.
If not Smart, another option could be Kelly Olynyk, with him and the regular starters boasting a plus-42.1 net rating in a limited seven minutes.
Offence has been the best defence for the San Antonio Spurs in slowing down the Houston Rockets’ high-octane attack and gaining control of the second round series.
After getting hammered in a 27-point loss in Game 1, the Spurs have turned it around by focusing as much on scoring efficiently as they have on limiting James Harden and Co.
The adjustments have clearly worked, with San Antonio evening the series through a lopsided 121-96 win in Game 2 before taking the lead with a 103-92 victory in Game 3 on Friday.
Not by coincidence, the Spurs’ surge has aligned with LaMarcus Aldridge finding his rhythm as the big man has improved his scoring output from 4 points in the opener, to 15 in Game 2 and 26 in the recent outing. His shot attempts have also gradually increased from seven to 15 to 20, while his defence has allowed coach Gregg Popovich to leave him on the floor longer.
Houston shot 13-of-26 when Aldridge served as the primary defender in the first two games, but that figure dropped to just 3-of-14 in Game 3, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“This was his best game, obviously,” Popovich said. “He felt good tonight. He was loose as far as his physical nature, his legs and everything. He wasn’t too stiff. It showed. He moved up and down the court well. He was able to push off on the block, and he felt good shooting the ball, in addition to busting his butt on D and trying to get the boards for us. He was a big help tonight.”
The Rockets’ blueprint for success was on full display in Game 1, when they shot 22-of-50 from long range and had 27 fast break points.
Houston has struggled to replicate that kind of performance ever since as San Antonio have tightened their offence to shoot 49.7 per cent overall and 36.7 per cent on 3-pointers over the past two games.
The increased efficiency has left few chances for the Rockets to get out and run after misses, lowering their fast break points to 13 in Game 2 and 9 in the most recent contest.
“It sounds kind of counterintuitive, but it’s not really about defence,” Popovich said about defending the Rockets in transition. “It’s really about offense. Bad offense leads to transition.
“If you’re making shots, if you’re shooting free throws, there’s not a whole lot of transition you have to worry about.”
Houston have also flat-out missed open shots, converting just 19-of-67 uncontested field goals (28.3 per cent) in their losses.