Were you among the many who concluded on the basis of game 2 that the Warriors had no shot against the Clippers in this series? Well, this game must have come as a surprise.
Game 2, as I wrote in the last thread, told me next to nothing about how game 3 would play out. Game 2 was a must-win for the Clippers, and a completely meaningless game for the Warriors. It was a give-away game for this shorthanded, undersized, injured and aged Warriors team, a game to take off and rest up. The kind of game I have seen given away in NBA playoffs more times than I can begin to count. It was foreordained to be a blowout. I predicted before the game it would be a blowout. And it was a blowout. The final score was meaningless. I’ve seen eventual World Champions — both the Larry Bird Celtics and the Magic Johnson Lakers — give up 30 point blowouts in the Finals, and live to laugh about it. So Doc Rivers felt like tacking on another 10 points to that, so what? Meaningless to everyone but the demoralized team he was trying to inspire, and a horde of neophyte sportswriters and fans who didn’t understand the circumstances.
I also wrote in the last thread that game 2 was not the game for Mark Jackson to make the adjustments that everyone clamored for (after the game). THIS was the game for those adjustments. First of all, it’s rare for an NBA coach to make adjustments in the middle of a game. If you’re going to make major adjustments, you want to game-plan them before-hand, and prepare your team for them in practice. Secondly, you don’t make adjustments in games that are foreordained to be blowouts. And particularly after the starting bell in games that have all the hallmarks of blowouts. There is a very big poker playing element in an NBA playoff series. You want to hold your cards close, sandbag your jokers, and play them at the perfect time. You want to surprise your opponent, give him as little time to prepare for your adjustment as possible. Giving your opponent a glimpse of the future adjustments you are contemplating in the midst of a blowout loss would be a huge mistake. Rank incompetence, in fact.
Do you think I’m giving Mark Jackson more credit than he deserves? Ascribing thoughts and tactics to him that he didn’t have? Well, maybe. I don’t know what goes on inside his head. But I can say that in this Game 3 I saw him make major adjustments. And it would be silly to think that these adjustments didn’t occur to him, just as they occurred to everyone else, as he sat patiently through that game 2 blowout. I also know that Jackson has been around the league for 20 odd years. Both participating in and broadcasting playoff games. Not to mention coaching in last year’s playoffs. I am certain that Jackson understands intimately the poker playing tactics involved in making adjustments. And I’m also certain he knew what was coming in Game 2.
There is no 50 win target in a playoff series. There is no prize for Best Record. You don’t get graded on Competing Hard Every Night, or Showing Up on the Road. The only thing that matters is getting to four wins before your opponent. In the playoffs, there are games you need, and games you don’t need. Games in which you expend everything you’ve got, and games you take off. Games in which coaches spring prepared adjustments as traps, and games in which coaches play possum.
That’s playoff basketball.
Mark Jackson: After seeing his team catch the Clippers by surprise in Game 1 by the effectiveness of its blitz-busting pick and roll, and then getting a look at the adjustments Doc Rivers made to sharpen up the Clippers defensive rotations in game 2, Mark Jackson decided to give the Clippers a different offensive look in game 3.
The high post.
The Warriors ran a ton of high post action in this game, starting from the opening tip. And a number of different players were used to initiate the offense from the high post. Iggy. Lee. Green. Even O’Neal.
The main goal of course was to take Curry off the ball. But also to give the Clippers something they hadn’t seen before, and to keep the ball moving. And to a certain extent, this offense succeeded. After a high-low entry that got the Clippers defense to move, the Warriors managed to create quite a few open looks from three. Just not for the player they most wanted to get open, Stephen Curry.
And we all know how many of those open looks the other Warriors were able to knock down.
That wasn’t Jackson’s fault. This was a creative adjustment that leveraged the excellence of the Warriors passing ability. And did you happen to notice how little ISO and post-up basketball the team played?
Jackson made another significant adjustment in this game, limiting O’Neal to 16 minutes and opting for more smallball, which was greatly effective. In fact, if my math is correct, smallball not involving Mo Speights was +15 for the game. O’Neal was -12, Speights -3.
I think we can expect to see more of this going forward.
If I have any gripes with Jackson in this game, it is these: First, the lack of a real running game. If you are going to attack the Clippers with smallball, you have to commit. You have to go balls to the wall. I didn’t see that urgency. I didn’t see leakouts on missed shots, and running after made baskets. Virtually all of the the Warriors fastbreaks occurred after turnovers. Fastbreak points 17. Points off turnovers 15.
Also, if your single greatest problem on offense is freeing up Stephen Curry, isn’t your single best offensive solution to get out and run? Get him some patented walk-up threes? Find him in transition? I would think this would be a no-brainer.
My second gripe with Jackson concerns the Warriors turnovers. I think it’s fair to ascribe quite a few of them to the unfamiliar offense the Warriors ran in this game. Why was it unfamiliar? Because instead of running it in the regular season, and leveraging the Warriors’ great strength in the passing game, Mark Jackson was busy forcing isolation basketball down his team’s throat.
The Warriors also turned the ball over quite a bit in transition, and I think you can at least partly ascribe the same problem. The Bogutted Warriors simply did not play at the same pace the playoff Warriors are trying to play at, and not even close to the pace they need to get to. I have been faulting Mark Jackson all season for that, and it’s costing the Warriors right now in an unforeseen way. If you can call a season-ending injury to Bogut unforeseeable.
Having said this, if you’re at all inclined to blame Mark Jackson for where the Warriors stand in this playoff series, I think you’re making a big mistake. Jackson outdueled Rivers in Game 1, and won. And I believe he also outdueled Rivers in Game 3, but came away with a loss.
Jackson clearly won the tactical battle of Game 3. The way this game was played, surely it was a game that the Warriors should win more times than not. One more three would have won this game, in a game in which the Warriors were a ridiculously poor 6-31, for 19.4%. And if there were maybe one less turnover, or if one of those multitudinous end-of-the-shot-clock, thrown-up prayers the Clippers made had missed…
Of if the goddamn refs had blown the whistle on the obvious mugging Chris Paul gave Curry on the final shot…
The Warriors would be up 2-1, in a series many think they shouldn’t be competitive in. How do you fault Mark Jackson for that?
Curry: There is a mainstream media meme starting that Curry is having a sub-par series. That he needs to start scoring more for the Warriors to win this series.
I disagree somewhat. Wasn’t that disproven by Game 1? And if the refs had called that obvious game-ending foul, and Curry had finished with 19 points and 15 assists, against 3 turnovers, would we be talking about this at all?
Stephen Curry is a point-guard. His job is to make the best basketball play. When he’s getting blitzed, that play is to find the open man. He’s doing a superb job of it. And he’s not doing anything that LeBron James hasn’t done — and been roundly criticized for — while en route to two titles.
Would it make you feel any better if Curry forced up a 12-29 through the teeth of the defense, a la everyone’s hero, Kobe Bryant? Do you think that would help win games?
Of course it would help the Warriors chances greatly if Mark Jackson could find ways to get Curry open shots. Against a Clippers team determined to smother him, the running game is the best bet.
But in my book, Curry is playing great. If the Warriors are to win this series, it is his teammates who need to step up and help him.
Lee: He wasn’t at his best finishing around the rim at this game. But he buried his only jumper. And why isn’t that part of the gameplan? Is there no value in pulling the Clippers bigs away from the rim? Spreading the floor and giving him faceups?
A point about Lee’s plus/minus. It was 0 for the game. But while playing center, Lee was +5 for the game. And +7 in crunchtime.
So why only 32 minutes? Isn’t this something the Warriors could use more of?
I’m afraid there are injury issues at play here.
Iggy: Great defense and rebounding, as always.
But the big offensive series that I expected from him has yet to materialize. Where is the Point-Iggy that was so effective to start the season, and the Warriors so desperately need to take Curry off the ball in this series?
Where is the offensive aggressiveness against the undersized Clippers backcourt?
If this is all that Iggy is and can be, it really makes you rethink the Warriors offseason moves. $48 million for 4 years of a 30 year old THIS?
Jarrett Jack would be tearing up this Clippers backcourt.
And making his free throws.
Klay Thompson: Another studly all-around game. It would be great if he could get more threes to fall, but it’s hard to complain when he’s taking it to the rack and finishing with such authority.
And holding Chris Paul to 5-13.
Green: Clearly ahead of Barnes in the rotation finally. And how could he not be, with performances like these? 13 and 11, 2 assists, 3 steals, 4 blocks. He fills out a boxscore like few other 6-6″ players can.
Barnes: The utter invisibility we’ve grown so accustomed to. I wonder why Jackson relies on him so much in the backcourt, rather than trying Crawford or Blake alongside Curry, or some other starters.
What do you give up? Not defense, surely.
The Bench: I have argued that Jackson has failed to develop Speights and Crawford in the roles that best suit them. And I particularly feel that unleashing Crawford and forcing the tempo with the second unit could change the complexion of this series.
But Mark Jackson clearly doesn’t trust his second unit players. Is that his fault, or a gross failure on the part of amateur GM Joe Lacob to get the Warriors the players they needed?
I think I know what Lacob’s opinion on this will be.
O’Neal: Did you notice that Mark Jackson finally sprang the cross-match in the third quarter of this game? Blake promptly forsook the low post, set up outside, and smoothly buried consecutive Duncanesque 20 foot bank shots in JO’s mug. And that was it for JO. Jackson pulled him, and played small the rest of the way.
I still think this is the best matchup for him. Let Griffin keep launching those jump shots, regardless of whether they go in. If the Clippers win the series by virtue of the most inefficient shot in basketball, the long two, then congratulations. (And by the way, they stopped going in later in the game.)
Was health a factor in him only getting 16 minutes in the game? Or the fact that the Warriors are so much better when playing smallball?
3 games down, 3 to go for the ancient warrior. Have you been wondering why I’ve only been counting up to six, in a seven game series? It’s because if the Warriors are to win, it will be in six. They can’t win a game 7 in Staples.
Which means every one of the next three games is a must win.