Some have already published their articles about the downfall of the Warriors’ dynasty. They’ve declared the series over, wanting to move on to free agency and an NBA season in which the Warriors are not the consensus favorites. You might have thought that’s what I would be writing about too after reading the title of the column, but no, that is not the case. What I am writing about is what I think the Warriors need to do in game five in order to get back in this series. I’m writing about this because I think it can happen. This is an all time great team and they have come up clutch too many times to simply be written off. That said, the solution to their problems isn’t just to play better. Rather, Steve Kerr and the coaching staff have to make some serious adjustments in the way they play in order to take down this red-hot Toronto Raptors team.
- Get Kevin Durant Back
I know, I know, not exactly mind-boggling intuition. It makes sense that inserting a guy who just a month ago was coronated as the best player in the world back in to your rotation will help. I’m bringing it up because I don’t think everyone realizes just how much he means. The Kawhi hype-train has been steamrolling through the Finals, and for good reason. He’s averaged a 31-10-4 line, an ungodly 129 Offensive Rating, and a combined three steals/blocks per game for good measure. Yet, if I had to choose, I’d still pick Kevin Durant as the best player in the world over Kawhi Leonard. Put your pitchforks down and let me explain. Kawhi feels unstoppable very often. If you don’t get up on him, he’ll nail threes. If you let him operate in the midrange, he’ll cross into a myriad of sweet perfect release jumpers. If you get to close, he’ll get a step and overpower you as he finishes at the rim. But he only feels unstoppable. He’s still only 6’7”, incredibly tall for normal humans but not towering when compared to NBA athletes, and he still needs all his jump shots to be falling to be unstoppable. Don’t forget that in game one Kawhi’s struggles were a part of the headlines, as he staggered to 23 points in 43 minutes on 35% shooting from the field. Kevin Durant on the other hand does not just feel unstoppable, he is unstoppable and inevitable in nature. Just go back and watch some game three highlights from last year’s finals, especially with a little over four minutes left in the game, where KD takes it at Kevin Love who plays solid defense and even deflect the ball as Durant rises up, yet the shot still rolls in the hoop in buttery smooth fashion. Love stands to the side, staring at the basket with his hands over his head. It’s how I felt watching KD two rounds ago when he dropped 50 on the Clippers, or when he was averaging 36 points per game on near 50-40-90 shooting splits against the Rockets. If KD has a great shooting night, it is pretty much impossible to beat the Warriors. It’s definitely not an original pick that if KD is ruled out for game five, I think Toronto will close out the series, but if they say he’s ready to go, then I’d have to take the Dubs on Monday night. He just matters that much.
- Cut the Rotation to Seven
Strength in numbers might have worked when the Warriors’ bench was composed of younger Iggy and Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Ian Clark, Anderson Varejao, and a not horrible at the time Festus Ezeli. As most of you saw in games three and four, the 2019 Warriors’ bench is about as productive as a Michael Scott conference room meeting. Steve Kerr should follow after what Nick Nurse has done, slashing the rotation from 10 in the regular season and eight in the playoffs, all the way down to a meer seven. Even if it meant making Norman Powell (A Philly Buckeye favorite) obsolete, I approve of Nurse just picking the few guys he trusts and leaving it all up to them. Kerr has played at least 10 guys in each game so far, which is simply unforgivable given some of their talent levels. In game five, the only Golden State players that should see the court are Steph, Klay, Draymond, a healthy KD, Andre Igoudala, Kevon Looney, Alfonzo McKinnie, and maybe a brief two minute cameo by Shaun Livingston. I don’t care that half of them are injured. I don’t care that it leaves Steph as the only true point guard. With your back against the wall, you have to forget about the external circumstances and focus on the here and now. You can start the core four with Looney at center in order to handle Gasol’s size, and bring McKinnie in from time to time because he provides the only two things they need from role players right now–defense and maybe a three point shot. Other than that, it is time to unleash that Hampton’s five death lineup. You built yourself on that core and on small ball, so you should go down with it too.
- Stop Doubling the Pick and Roll
Watching second half game four highlights must be a heart-wrenching, monotonous experience for Warriors’ fans. The Raptors ran top of the key pick and roll like clockwork, destroying the Warriors’ defense no matter who they were screening with. The Warriors often chose to have their lumbering behemoths like Boogie and Bogut high hedge and double the ball handler, and the Raptors, filled with gifted smart passers, hit the big men on countless slips and rolls for easy layups. Doubling the pick and roll is not a bad idea in amateur basketball or even against below average NBA point guards. But against deft passers like Kyle Lowry, Kawhil Leonard, and Fred VanVleet? That’s death for your defense right there. Golden State needs to embrace what teams often do against them: switch like there’s no tomorrow. I get that the Raptors have some intimidating size in Siakam, Ibaka, and Gasol, and that switching Curry onto talented forward like Kawhi is a big no-no, but we’re past the point of no return. The Warriors have not stopped the Raptors’ offense in any way shape or form. They have been picked apart and simply hoped that every Raptor not name Kawhi will miss their jumpshots. It somehow worked out for them in game two. It has been a catastrophe in the other contests. If you can’t stop the Raptors from killing you with most basic play in NBA history, then you might as well kiss your three-peat goodbye. I know that my suggestion is not a perfect answer. With the way Toronto has been shooting there doesn’t seem to be any true answer. But I do know that what I saw in Oracle was horrendous and cannot continue if the Warriors want any chance to come back.
- Stop Fooling Around with Equal Opportunity Offense
I like ball movement. Basketball is built on the concept that teams with lesser talent can win if they play an unselfish, smart style, whipping the ball around and passing up good shots for great shots. But sometimes you have to go with the math. The Warriors have never fully weaponized the Curry-KD pick and roll, which has always seemed strange to many a fan. It guarantees a good look every time with proper spacing. Either the defense switches, giving one or both of them a mismatch, or they high hedge, giving the screener an opening to slip for a jump shot. If I’m Kerr, I might run that play nearly 20 times a game. It’s good to get everyone involved because you never know when you might need them, but right now what Golden State needs is Curry and Durant each taking north of 30 shots in game five. Same goes for Klay Thompson, who should have the green light to launch threes whenever he has an inch of breathing room. In reverse, the other Warriors should be more hesitant on their shot selection. Dray and Iggy should only shoot threes with an expiring shot clock, as anything else is simply a wasted possession. Looney can stick to his normal inside the restricted area shot selection, and I’d give McKinnie the liberty to shoot maybe two corner threes on the night (however if he ever tries to dribble I’m subbing him out immediately). If Durant is back, the Raptors will have a harder time sagging off of non-shooters in order to double the superstars. The Warriors need to take advantage and work to make sure one of those three is shooting just about every possession. They get paid the big bucks for a reason.
This Finals has been very surprising, however, if you had told me that Klay would severely injure himself in game two and that Durant would still be nursing his injury, then I could have believed the Warriors being in a 3-1 deficit. I personally don’t want it to end on Monday night. This Warriors team has been too much fun to watch over the last five years and the last thing I want to see is their dynasty end simply because KD and Klay’s legs randomly gave out at the worst possible times. They’re an all time team, and hopefully they can figure out a way to keep their magic alive in game five.