Not only are the Golden State Warriors acting like the Harlem Globetrotters but they’re making the rest of the NBA look like the Washington Generals. There was even a tweet from the Globbies, congratulating the Dubs on their current streak, saying it now puts them only 3,562 behind every fan’s favorite basketball entertainment team. The difference is the Gens, while a talented bunch of players, were acting out a script.
It appears the Warriors are actually abiding by the cliche that sportswriters despise, i.e. “play one game at a time.” Their latest road kill was the team many folks predicted was going to be the one to finally halt Golden State’s streak. Instead, the Indiana Pacers became the 23rd victim (in 23 games), losing 131-123. Is there no stopping the Boys from the Bay?
There is one way the Warriors’ streak, and even their season, could be stopped dead in their tracks – and every team knows exactly what it is. Injuries. It’s not luck the Warriors have been so good. Their offense, especially, is predicated on timing. They work so well as a team, with every guy on the floor knowing where he’s supposed to be, as well as where his teammates are supposed to be, that the ball moves in such a way that they’re always one step ahead of the defense. That doesn’t happen by accident and a team so precise cannot stand disruption of their rhythm. Last year they dealt with a couple of inconveniences to their lineup due to guys not being 100% healthy but, for the most part, they glided through the season unscathed.
So far this season they also have been, according to the new catch word of athletes, “blessed.” The only injury bug they couldn’t avoid was back surgery to their head coach, Steve Kerr. Which, believe me because I know from firsthand experience, can (and in Kerr’s case, as in mine, did) lead to another surgery. Taking over the head coaching reins (mostly because last year’s lead assistant, Alvin Gentry, took the head coaching job with the New Orleans Pelicans and the other returning veteran coach, Ron Adams, is not nearly as suited for a head coaching role as he is a defensive guru – possibly the best one in the NBA) is 35-year old Luke Walton. Following a 10-year NBA career, Walton was, for a brief period of time, i.e. the NBA lockout, an assistant at the University of Memphis. Other than an assistant position on the Warriors’ staff during last season’s championship run, his only coaching experience was as a development coach in the D-League.
Based on the results thus far, you’d never know it. However, a chink in Walton’s armor, in the form of inexperience, might have shown last night. Ask any NBA coach (with the possible exception of Gregg Popovich) and they will tell you one of the most draining ordeals a head coach has to go through is dealing with the media. The Warriors’ success has been a two-edged sword for writers and talking heads in that winning every game has become a broken record. How many times can “winning another one” be told? Getting the scoop or causing a meltdown have become career-makers in that business so finding a mole, aka “anonymous source” who will give up dirt or a question that’s a little more pointed or nasty.
While there has been no mention of Walton being frustrated with such tactics – or, in fact, whether someone has attempted maneuvers of that kind – the pressure of a winning streak that’s somewhat unprecedented (including the possibility of being the first NBA team ever to sweep a 7-game road trip – last night was the fifth game away from Oracle) maybe influenced his decision to re-insert his main three guys (Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green) into a game that the Warriors comfortably led ever since they ran off a 22-0 run in the first quarter, turning a 15-21 deficit into a 37-21 rout.
The new NBA has so many more analytics and statistics than when Steph’s, Klay’s and Luke’s dads were playing, often it influences moves made more than, possibly, it should. Kind of an “information overload,” also known as TMI. Without getting into such hard-to-understand formulas that make up stats such as USG% (keep in mind that I was a math major and teacher, yet haven’t been able to grasp how it’s calculated or why it’s needed), let’s take a look at +/-. This is a statistic that shows how the team did when you were in the game, e.g. how many points your team scored vs. how many the opponent scored. So, if your +/- for the game is a +, it means that if the winner was decided only by the times you were on the floor, your team would have won. Conversely, a – stat for you would mean an L. Notice, though, that this statistic is based almost as much as which four teammates you’re in with, as well as which five players are in the game for the opponent. Let’s not forget Mark Twain’s famous line, “There are three types of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.”
During last night’s contest, starters Curry (+18), Green (+18), Thompson (+19) and Bogut (+31) were exceptional. The fifth starter, Brandon Rush, however, was a -12. Every substitute, except for Andre Iguodala (+18), was on the negative side, with backup point guard Shaun Livingston checking in at an unforgivable -27. For the record, I know of no coach who substitutes during a game based on +/- stats. Some may determine future playing time based on the statistic but, usually, in-game subs are done using the eye test – and the gut, if another body part is involved.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Golden State was up 28 points (111-83) and it looked like the starters were done for the evening. A 12-2 run to begin the final frame cut the lead to 18 (113-95) with 9:13 to play and, about three-and-a-half minutes later, it was cut to 16. In any case, when Walton made the late game substitutions, there was 5:48 left in the fourth quarter. Did he make the move out of fear the game might be lost (with his stars on the bench), was his decision based on the suggestion of an assistant or did he want to send a message to his second unit? It surely wasn’t to get Thompson back in to get 40 (he had 39 when he checked back in).
As is often the case, when guys think their work is done because the outcome is inevitable, they mentally as well as physically check out. After the “Big Three” re-entered the game, the Pacers cut the lead to six (somewhat deceptive because there were only 24 seconds), meaning they were outscored 18-8 in that stretch.
Outside of terrorism and terminal illnesses (along with, certainly a few others that escape my mind at 2:45 am as I conclude this post), I admit to loathing people who second guess coaches. No doubt it’s because I was one and, having been a career assistant, fans felt more comfortable bitching about moves made to me than they did to the head coach. One factor for Golden State, however, which may or may not affect the ball club (although it looks like not since the X-rays were negative) is Thompson spraining his ankle with just under a minute remaining. There seems to be little debate that, for the long haul of an 82-game season, Popovich manages players’ minutes better than any other coach. While Walton’s late game substitution might have saved the streak, does anyone think an NBA team is going to go 82-0?
The interim coach (and Western Conference Coach of the Month for October/November) explained his move. “We all know we’re gonna lose a game and when that is, we don’t know but when it happens, we’ll be fine with it.” Yet the way he approached the Pacers cutting the lead to 16 was reminiscent of Kentucky last year when, prior to the season, John Calipari made the statement, It would be neat one year to go 41-0.” But the college game is one-and-done. Even if an NBA club did finish 82-0, they would have to win a 7-game series. And another, and another, and another. So the pressure of “winning them all” in the NBA is foolish, or put another way:
“You don’t want to win the battle and lose the war,”