The Golden State Warriors caught a horrible break with David Lee’s hip injury. He is currently sidelined for the remainder of the postseason and consequently the Warriors must now battle for their playoff lives without their lone All-Star.
Let’s not mince words here, it’s an incredibly difficult proposition for the Dubs.
Lee was essential to everything the team did. He provided the team with low post scoring, a good mid-range shooter and a terrific release option against defensive pressure.
His absence puts added pressure on Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli. Not only must they patrol the paint and serve as Golden State’s defensive backbone, but they must now clean up the boards on their own for the most part.
Mark Jackson isn’t being dealt any favors in his first postseason head coaching experience. As our very own Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted, Jackson might have to turn to Nellieball.
Ever the tactician, George Karl unleashed a trapping defense in Game 1 that flustered the Warriors’ guards on occasion. Jarrett Jack struggled with it and picked up his dribble at inopportune times while Stephen Curry made some questionable passes in a few instances.
The Denver Nuggets’ defensive scheme forced the Dubs into somewhat of an accelerated pace. Lee was the player that helped them on this front.
Much like he did throughout the season, he camped out at the free throw line and waited for the pass that relieved the defensive pressure. From there, he could shoot, drive or pass. Executing these tasks was fairly easy for him considering his skills and good judgment.
But with Lee in street clothes, Golden State needs someone to replicate that. And honestly, they don’t have another big man capable of doing so.
The closest they’ve got is Draymond Green but his jumper has completely betrayed him this year. Consequently, he is not the triple-threat the Warriors need.
Thus, Jackson might have to downsize. That’s the conventional train of thought.
This might sound counterintuitive, but in the 19 minutes that Lee spent either on the bench or in the training room, the Warriors generated 131.7 points per 100 possessions according to NBA.com’s advanced stats tool.
The sample size is incredibly small but Golden State did a couple of things with their starting power forward off the floor to manufacture points.
The Nuggets trapped the pick-and-rolls headed towards the corners and also attacked players with a live dribble in that area of the court. The Warriors’ perimeter players got themselves into some tough situations in these instances and coughed the ball up a bit.
Avoiding these key-trapping areas on the floor is almost mandatory for the sake of ball security.
Nonetheless, the Dubs used a few wrinkles to their advantage.
For instance, late in the fourth quarter, Denver doubled Klay Thompson when he ran curl screens. Stephen Curry had his shooting guard run the action and fed him the ball before he even got open.
Once Thompson caught the ball, he immediately dropped off the ball to his center as he rolled to the hoop.
In addition, with Jarrett Jack running the point, his defender often cheated in the direction of the curl screen. The Warriors’ backup guard countered by simply driving the ball to the hoop for scores or dishes.
As the contest unfolded, the Warriors slowly figured out their points of attack. They scrapped the two-man game attack because of the trap and instead ran some screen-the-screener action for their shooters and sprung them loose.
Denver adjusted late in the final period by simply switching on screens and trusting their athletes would stay with the 3-point shooters. This resulted in the Denver “bigs” defending the perimeter and the guards on the interior.
The Warriors lack a huge post threat and thus couldn’t take advantage of this tactic in that manner. However, with big people playing on the outside, it created driving lanes for the Warriors as well as offensive rebounding opportunities.
The Warriors got by without Lee in Game 1 and nearly stole the contest. Mind you, as Zach Lowe demonstrated, doing so for an entire series against the Nuggets is a completely different proposition.
Mark Jackson will more than likely mix and match his lineups, alternating his small lineups with his big ones and truly open things up. It’s risky, but it could yield some terrific results.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.
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