There was a sequence in Game 4 of the Pelicans-Warriors series that — once again — reinforced what I’ve been thinking for a little while now: The Golden State Warriors can win it all.
The sequence was the kind of sequence we’ve seen countless times this year for the Warriors, and every time I see a sequence like it I realize that there is simply no defense for it. None. Nada. Zilch.
With about three minutes left in the second quarter, the Warriors were up 54-47 and the Pelicans were trying to make a late close before halftime. Eric Gordon had just completed a three-point play, and New Orleans set up on defense to try to get a hold. And they got one, then another one … sort of.
Festus Ezeli tried to make a move on Ryan Anderson but was stymied. Anderson got a piece of Ezeli’s shot and the ball popped right into Draymond Green’s hands. Green was under the bucket and seemed to have a clean layup. But Anthony Davis recovered quickly enough to block Green’s putback attempt. The Pelicans were defending and playing with energy.
The shot that Davis blocked ended up coming loose out onto the perimeter. The ball found its way into Stephen Curry’s hands and already there was a sense to what was about to occur. The Pelicans knew it, too, and attempted to defend Curry. With New Orleans in scramble mode defensively, Curry threw a nice, simple pass to Klay Thompson, who was alone on the wing and behind the 3-point line.
Thompson took the pass and routinely buried the 3-pointer, putting the Warriors up 10. It was a pretty good defensive possession for the Pelicans. Heck, they were credited with two blocked shots in that action. But they still ended up taking the ball out of the net.
One of the reasons the Warriors can win it all is because there are simply too many plays during the course of a game that cannot be prepared for, that cannot logistically be defended and that are born organically out of normal basketball chaos. Loose balls are a part of the game, and coaches want their teams to pursue the ball.
But if you go ahead and do that against the Warriors, and don’t come up with the possession, you are doomed. They will demoralize you to death with dagger 3s when you were just a fingernail away from getting a stop or turnover. If you’ve watched the Warriors this season you’ve seen these kinds of plays all the time.
Deflected passes turn into scrambles and then open 3s; long rebounds find open 3-point shooters after an initial miss; gained interior possessions get kicked out, creating advantageous offensive situations. And few teams — perhaps no team — is better than the Warriors when it comes to playing with a numbers advantage. They know how to find the open man.
I’m not saying that this is why the Warriors are winning games. But if you get a few of these types of possessions per game, we’re talking about a legitimate number of points. Do other teams take advantage of these kinds of situations? Of course they do. But not to the extent and not to the degree that Golden State does. Not to mention — how many teams have Curry and Thompson ending up with the open 3?
Around midseason, we had George Karl on 95.7-The Game and were talking about defending the 3-point line. I asked him if NBA teams were really doing a good enough job defending the 3-point shot, which has become a dominant weapon in the game. Karl said he thought teams did a good enough job of it, but the real issue was that scramble-type plays can’t be avoided.
If you’ve watched the Warriors this season you know they’ve turned upbeat teams into dejected ones after these kinds of plays — plays that were oh so close to being really good defense but instead end with Curry tapping his chest and pointing to the sky. And you’re down another three points.
Look at Curry’s game-tying 3-pointer in Game 3. All Quincy Pondexter did was turn his head for a split second. That allowed Curry to re-position. Think about it: Pondexter lost Curry for an instant and that’s all it took.
The Warriors’ offense is terrific on its own. But when the Warriors get scores even when things break down or go awry that’s when they look darn near unbeatable.