Harrison Barnes.  Small-ball.  65% shooting.  131 points.  And a series headed back to The Bay tied at 1-1.

It’s never that simple.  Basketball isn’t arithmetic and the box score never tells the whole story.  So despite Barnes’ career performance as Mark Jackson’s nominal starting power forward, the real means behind the Warriors win is far more layered than that.

We at Warriors World have been staunch advocates of playing Barnes in non-traditional lineups all season; the injury to David Lee only exacerbated our cries and let us dare to dream up potentially awesome ramifications of such a style.  Plug Barnes in for Lee as the screener in Steph Curry pick-and-rolls and reap the floor-spaced benefits!

But that was wrong.  Jackson had a more nuanced idea on how Golden State could thrive in game 2 without Curry’s auxiliary pick-and-roll creator, and the Warriors preyed on it early, often and all game long.

Of Curry’s 10 first half shots in game 1, none came via ball screens set by the center; as they have all season long, those high/side pick-and-rolls between he and Lee served as the fulcrum of Curry’s off-dribble activity and Golden State’s offense as a whole.  That all changed last night, though, as without Lee the Warriors basically abandoned 1-4 ball screens altogether.  Instead, Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli came high to set those picks for Curry – he took 15 shots in Tuesday’s first half and six of them followed a pick from a Warriors center.  He had 17 points in the first half last night compared to just three on Saturday; it’s not a coincidence.

Check out the video below of Curry’s 1-5 pick-and-rolls in last night’s first half.  Take special note of the inconsistency in Denver’s defensive coverage and the various ways Curry attacks.

It’s far more difficult for centers like JaVale McGee and Kosta Koufos to defend ball screens than a small-ball 4 like Wilson Chandler.  The Warriors know that but didn’t take advantage in game 1 mostly because relying on Curry-Bogut/Ezeli pick-and-rolls would be to deviate from their season-long bread and butter.  But Lee’s absence necessitates change, and Jackson did just that – not only by playing Barnes as power forward in small lineups, but electing to involve his centers in high screens.

This is a two-sided coin, of course.  Ezeli and Bogut aren’t close to the threat of Lee or Barnes as post-screen offensive threats, even factoring in the latter’s unique penchant for playmaking.  But that didn’t matter last night, as Denver’s centers couldn’t ‘ice’ the action half as easily and Curry felt far more comfortable attacking them than he did Chandler in game 1.  And just as important – especially in the case of McGee – is that a 1-5 pick-and-roll forces Denver’s lone paint-protector out to the perimeter.

What an adjustment by Jackson.  This is what makes a playoff series so absorbing for basketball fanatics; it’s a chess match between opposing coaching staffs on a game-by-game basis. Golden State won last night’s on the back of pick-and-roll repairs, but rest assured George Karl and the Nuggets will react accordingly in game 3.  Where the Warriors go from there should go a long way in determining Friday’s outcome, and which team takes a 2-1 stranglehold on the series.

*Video courtesy of NBA.com.

Follow Jack Winter on Twitter.

About The Author

Jack Winter is a 24 year-old Bay Area import. Having grown up in Kansas City without an NBA team to root for, his Warriors fandom is complicated. He loves help defense, extra passes, and the additional efficiency of corner three-pointers. After recently relocating from San Francisco to Oakland, he's an avid and tireless defender of the East Bay. He contributes to ESPN TrueHoop sites Hardwood Paroxysm, Magic Basketball, and HoopChalk, and encourages you to reach him via Twitter (@armstrongwinter) or e-mail (john.armstrong.winter@gmail.com).

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