Less than 3 minutes into the third quarter, substitute head coach Mike Brown did something Steve Kerr had never done and likely will never do in his coaching tenure running the Golden State Warriors. He pulled Zaza Pachulia after the Utah Jazz had valiantly trimmed a 20-point deficit to 13 at halftime, and all the way down to 6, and sitting at 7 when Andre Iguodala checked in to assemble the greatest collection of talent on the floor at once in NBA history.
That same Hamptons 5 unit struggled to close the second half, allowing a 16-pt lead to close at 13. Throughout the regular season they struggled to play with what Stephen Curry has called “force”. They moseyed about setting screens, making cuts, and running around without any idea of what to do. They expected the same sort of magic created by Steph in the past two years to suddenly reappear. They assumed every defensive possession would result in a turnover and a transition 3 on the other end. Instead, an underwhelming performance throughout the regular season led to a little less confidence than presumed.
And then Andre Iguodala walked in and the energy on defense, the tic-tac-toe passing on offense, and the infectious joy that permeate the smallball Draymond at center lineups started to take shape. They took the siphoned 7-point lead and jammed it back up to 16, singlehandedly taking the life from the Utah Jazz away in their best chance at making this a game.
It took all of 90 seconds to effectively end this series. The trademark run that catapulted the Warriors to dynasty status, to its destiny as one of the greatest teams of all time, came back to life with a lineup that will give them their best chance at unseating The King in the NBA Finals. The new Kevin Durant Warriors won’t coast through to the title. There will be some bumps in the road along the way, and for them to navigate through as painless as possible, they’ll need to hum as peerlessly as possible with the smallball lineup.
And from an individual perspective, Andre Iguodala has looked superb on defense and cutting to the basket, despite the 0-18 from distance in the postseason. Klay Thompson has yet to wake up but there are no signs of a physical or mental slump. Kevin Durant has shown some weird body language of some defensive possessions but has been a steady hand throughout, shooting 15 free throws out of a 20 total for the Warriors. Stephen Curry played flash-free but was tremendous on the defensive end.
What has propelled this team on Thursday night and for the entire postseason has been the end to end play of Draymond Green. Five more 3s and a postseason that has seen him drill more than LeBron James, Klay Thompson, and Kevin Love, he’s not only shut off the faucet on all offenses but also played like his Peak 2016 self. It was no more visible than when he went right at Rudy Gobert at the rim in transition, finishing through a foul. He later got hurt on a similar drive but returned as his limbs are made of the same material as LeBron James.
A series like this reminds one of the Memphis Grizzlies. Despite the double-digit 115-104 score, it felt more grit-n-grind than anything else the Warriors have seen before. Gordon Hayward kept them close enough without ever actually threatening the Warriors. At some point, the Jazz will put the Warriors to the test. If not now, then the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs, or the Cleveland Cavaliers. At some point, the NBA will retaliate and let the Warriors know traversing through the postseason for another title is not this simple.
Fortunately for the Warriors, they are also finding their way with the smallball lineup that has won them one Larry O’Brien trophy, and hopefully, another one.