How Small Ball Has Changed This Series
  • Parth Goradia

How Small Ball Has Changed This Series


*Photo via Bay Area News

After having an offensive rating of 107.3 (points per 100 possessions) in the postseason leading up to the NBA Finals, the Golden State Warriors high powered offense was being halted by the Cleveland Cavaliers suffocating defense. In Cleveland’s back to back wins in Games 2 and 3, Golden State had offensive ratings of 92.9 and 100.1 respectively. Not exactly numbers indicative of an offense that helped the Warriors win a league high 67 games during the regular season.

Before Game 4, Steve Kerr was asked about whether or not we would see a change in the starting lineup, to which he replied, “No, We’re going to start the same way.” Well he lied. Instead of starting seven-foot Center, Andrew Bogut, Kerr decided to start six-foot six swingman, Andre Iguodala and play small ball. And just like that, the series had shifted in favor of Golden State after a 103 – 82 rout in Game 4, and the Warriors offense was back to its dominant ways by having a 116.0 offensive rating

Cleveland’s defensive strategy has been to double Stephen Curry on every pick & roll and force players, excluding the Splash Brothers, to beat them. Take a look at two separate possessions during Game 3 where Cleveland doubles Curry and forces the screener to make a play.

NBA Finals, Game 3, June 9, 2015, ABC

Curry uses the screen and forces the double team leading to a pocket pass to Draymond Green. Take a look at where one of the best rim protectors in the league in Timofey Mozgov is on the court. He’s where he wants to be, right in front of the rim.

NBA Finals, Game 3, June 9, 2015, ABC

Draymond Green challenges the big Russian and doesn’t stand a chance and gets his attempt sent right back at him.

Now take a look at what happens the next time down the court.

NBA iInals, Game 3, June 9, 2015, ABC

Curry gets doubled again, Mozgov is still protecting the rim and Cleveland will once again force Draymond to beat them.

NBA Finals, Game 3, June 9, 2015, ABC

After Mozgov sent Green’s attempt back to Oakland last time down the court, Draymond elects to take this open three-pointer but fails to knock it down. He was 0 of 13 from downtown at this point in the series after he bricked this attempt. Safe to say Cleveland was making the correct decision to allow Draymond to shoot.

However, in Game 4, the spacing of the floor shifted as the Warriors went to their small ball attack and Cleveland stayed big with both Tristan Thompson and Mozgov on the floor.

NBA Finals, Game 4, June 11, 2015, ABC

Notice the double team on Curry after the screen, but now that Moz is defending a wing player, take a look at where he is on the court compared to the stills in Game 3

NBA Finals, Game 4, June 11, 2015, ABC

A pass from Curry to Green leads to a pass to Iggy who now gets wide open corner three-pointers because Moz wants to stay in the paint. Iggy ended up shooting 4 of 9 from three in Game 4, forcing Moz to step further out to contest. Leading Mozgov out of the paint allowed Green to get going by attacking the basket. Iggy continued to lead Mozgov further and further out of the paint and eventually guided him right to the bench in Game 5.

After losing by 21 in Game 4, David Blatt decided to play small against the Warriors in Game 5 which worked for majority of the game until the Dubs took control in the final frame. Now with both teams playing small, the floor spacing drastically changed.

Now when Cleveland doubles Curry, the paint is free of Russian rim protectors.

NBA Finals, Game 5, June 14, 2015, ABC

The screener is now able to roll to the paint and make a decision whether to shoot or pass the ball to the corner. On this play Iguodala receives the pass at the elbow and dishes to it Harrison Barnes in the far corner.

NBA Finals, Game 5, June 14, 2015, ABC

Now its scramble mode for Cleveland’s defense.

NBA Finals, Game 5, June 14, 2015, ABC

Barnes ends up passing out to the wing to Green who is able to blow by a recovering Tristan Thompson and take it to the basket for an easy layup.

NBA Finals, Game 5, June 14, 2015, ABC

By playing small, the Warriors have been able to achieve better floor spacing leading to better ball movement which opened up scoring opportunities for Green, Barnes and Iguodala. The adjustment Cleveland made to try and slow down the role players was to either switch the pick & roll or to not be as aggressive with the double team. Curry took advantage in Game 5 with a signature, 37 point performance.

Even though the number of possessions have been the lowest in the series in Games 4 and 5, Golden State has scored more fast break points since going small. Cleveland had the rebounding edge in Game 4 but lost the advantage in Game 5, when they also went small. The floor spacing has also made an impact on the Warriors three-point shooting as they shot above 40 percent in Games 4 and 5.

Defensively, small ball has enabled Golden State to switch majority of pick & rolls Cleveland runs. It has also allowed them to double LeBron James and quickly rotate to open shooters to contest.

If the Warriors continue playing this way, LeBron needs efficient shooting nights from all of Cleveland’s role players to have a chance. Just like Cleveland had to adjust their double teams when the Warriors role players starting taking advantage, Golden State may have to do them same which could help LeBron be more efficient.

Tune in to Game 6, tonight at 9:00 EST on ABC. Enjoy the game.

http://stats.nba.com/team/#!/1610612744/stats/advanced/?Season=2014-15&SeasonType=Playoffs&VsConference=West

http://espn.go.com/nba/boxscore?gameId=400796847

http://espn.go.com/nba/boxscore?gameId=400796848

http://espn.go.com/nba/boxscore?gameId=400796849

http://basketball.realgm.com/wiretap/238197/Advanced-Stats-Of-The-NBA-Finals-After-Games-1-5

#NBA #NBAFinals #WarriorsFinals

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