The Golden State Warriors now face Elimination...How did they Get Here? How do they Get Out?
So, this is not your typical postgame recap. The Golden State Warriors, winners of two of the last three NBA Championships, now find themselves playing in an elimination game for the first time since 2016. How did they get here? How do they get out of here?
Now, I will not be giving an in-depth recap of what happened like I normally do, so just watch this video to see how Game Five played out:
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s break this down. How did the Warriors end up in this position?
The Warriors came out in Game One of this series and stole home court advantage from the Rockets, which seemed like a huge deal at the time, because the Houston Rockets worked all season to secure it for their playoff run and their eventual series against the reigning champs. In Game One both teams played very well, perhaps the best they have both played at the same time in any game this season, and the Warriors just pulled away down the stretch. Stephen Curry didn’t have a great game, but Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson came up big for the Warriors to shoulder the workload on the offensive end. The Warriors won 119-106.
Now, as the Warriors have done time and time again this year after a convincing win in a big game, they messed around in Game Two, committed 15 turnovers, and let the Rockets shoot 51% from the floor and 38.1% from three. Kevin Durant was great at scoring the basketball, but he committed five turnovers and recorded zero assists. No other Warriors had good offensive games, while the Rockets got HUGE games from PJ Tucker, Eric Goron, and Trevor Ariza, who combined for 68 points. The Rockets won 127-105.
In Game Three, the Warriors and Rockets played each other pretty well in the first half, but the Warriors exploded in the third quarter on the shoulders of a Stephen Curry explosion to blowout the Rockets. Steph had 26 points in the second half, 18 of which came in the third quarter, and it was incredible to watch. Five other Warriors had at least 10 points, whereas the Rockets’ leading scorer was James Harden with 20 points. The Warriors just had one of their classic third quarter runs to hand the Rocket their worst loss in playoff history with a final score of 126-85.
In Game Four, the Warriors did the same thing they did in Game Two. Outside of starting the game on a 12-0 run and a Stephen Curry explosion in the third quarter, the Rockets outplayed the Warriors. The Rockets got a huge first half from James Harden, who finished with 30 points but 24 of them were in the first half. Chris Paul hit some huge shots for the Rockets down the stretch in the second half, and they just simply refused to go away. After the Curry explosion in the third that would make most teams curl up and give in, the Rockets were only down by 10 points. The Warriors then shit their pants in the fourth quarter and only scored 12 points while the Rockets put up 25. The Warriors fumbled several late possessions that could have won them the game, but instead the Rockets pulled out a comeback win with a final score of 95-92.
And then Game Five happened, but the odds are if you are reading this then you know what happened, and if not, I refer you to the video on the top of this article.
So, what are the common themes from the three losses? There are a few, when the Warriors won Games One and Three, they turned the ball over nine and eight times. When they lost Games Two, Four, and Five, they turned the ball over 15, 19, and 16 times. Turnovers have very clearly been an issue, and they have come in the first quarters and in the other most crucial parts of the games. The turnover epidemic currently plaguing the Warriors has been particularly unkind to Kevin Durant and Draymond Green, who have 10 and 19 turnovers in the first 15 games. During the regular season, the magic number of turnovers that meant a loss was coming was 16, and the Warriors have been far too careless with the ball in this series, with around 16 turnovers in three games.
Another common thread from this series has been a lack of passing from Kevin Durant. Durant, who averaged 5.4 assists per game this year (0.1 off his career high from 2013/14), is averaging 3.2 assists per game in the Western Conference Finals. In the three losses this series, he has had six, three, and zero assists. He has been relying on his isolation scoring, which works, and he has been putting up solid individual numbers in terms of points scored, but the offense becomes incredibly stagnant when it flows through his isolation possessions. Durant has had other issues as well, such as taking horrible shots when he could get to the hoop any time he wants (though he attacked the basket much more in Game Five).
Outside of Games One and Five, Klay Thompson has been bad offensively. Stephen Curry was bad offensively in the first 10 quarters of this series, and has been a non-factor in the last two fourth quarters. Andre Iguodala has been out for the last two games with a leg contusion after crashing into James Harden (and his loss is kind of a big deal because Harden and Chris Paul were 1/41 when guarded by Iguodala). Draymond Green hasn’t been scoring, and at times has looked gassed (mostly in the final quarter of Game Four). The bench has been absolutely awful, and the lack of wing scorers or shooters off the bench is a massive problem, especially when there are four different centers who don’t play in the game just taking up a roster spot.
Houston has been playing very tough defensively, which has proven to be a problem for the Warriors now. Outside of Game Three, they were a very solid defensive team all series. James Harden had his big game in Game One, but has really not been too big of a factor offensively since then. Instead of impacting the game on offense without his jump shot, he has been playing solid defense, leading the series in tipped passes. Chris Paul, who, just in case you were wondering, I hate, has made some miraculous plays to shoulder the load while Harden crumbled late. The Rockets also just have better scoring off the bench, which has become glaringly obvious.
Now that we know how the Warriors got in this position of facing elimination, let’s look at how they can get out.
First of all, and this would be the most simple solution to all the Warriors problems right now, run a pick & roll. Just one, all we need to see is ONE Kevin Durant-Stephen Curry PnR. The Golden State Warriors have some of the best offensive weapons in the NBA, perhaps in NBA history, and Steve Kerr REFUSES to run a pick & roll. He is philosophically against it, as he referenced in an appearance on The Lowe Post. The thing is, that shouldn’t matter now, as your back is now firmly pressed against the wall, you NEED to unleash it now. The Warriors run the pick & roll the least of any team in the Western Conference and 29th out of 30 teams in the NBA. The thing is though, the Warriors do it the fourth-most effectively, scoring off of it 42.3% of the times they run it. It is simply infuriating that the Warriors refuse to do so, and if they don’t in the final two games of this series, they will lose.
Next, they need some kind of offensive contribution from the bench. Shaun Livingston has not been great this series, Quinn Cook has been ice cold all postseason, and David West is too slow. When Andre Iguodala returns, Kevon Looney will most likely be relegated to the bench, which could be good and could allow for him to provide the spark the Warriors need off the bench, but I think there is a better option lurking in the shadows. That option has a name, and his name is Jordan Bell. Bell has been shelved for much of this season with injury, but he has shown flashes of elite defensive ability and explosiveness on the offensive end, and he has done this during these Western Conference Finals as well. There needs to be no more messing around with the rotations, it is time to play the guys who have been effective, or else this will be like Game Seven of the 2016 NBA finals all over again.
Finally, they need Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry to figure themselves out. In Game Five, Curry and Durant looked timid in the fourth quarter, and made very little impact when the Warriors needed it in those final couple of minutes. They also did not show up in the fourth quarter of Game Four, which they easily could have won. Durant needs to remember who his teammates are and pass them the ball, and Curry needs to be less deferential and remember that he is a stone-cold killer/baby faced assassin. Now, if one of those two guys needs to get going more than the other it is Stephen Curry, as the offense flows much better when going through him, and his gravity is so monumentally large that it opens up the driving lanes for every other player on the floor. While it is great when Durant is locked in, the Warriors just happen to lose most of the time when he has his best games, at least this year.
The 2017/18 NBA season for the Warriors comes down to how they perform in Games Six and Seven. With one of the greatest teams ever assembled, a championship is expected, but not making the NBA Finals would be an utter embarrassment. I fully expect the Warriors to obliterate the Rockets in Game Six, but Game Seven will be one of the most important games played in the last five years in the NBA. While Steve Kerr says that he “feels great about where we are right now”, us fans certainly do not, and he comes across as a human version of the dog sipping tea in the middle of a fire. Will the Warriors be able to stop beating themselves for two games to make it to the Finals, or will they not make the Finals for the first time in four years? Only time will tell, but man I hope this team figures it out.
In the meantime, my health and anxiety will continue to worsen as I anxiously wait for the Warriors to take the floor in Oracle Arena for Game Six. I still have confidence, but right now I certainly feel like the “this is fine” dog.