OAKLAND –- Steve Kerr believes video review should be as entertaining as it is informative. The coach wants the Warriors to see their mistakes, and maybe laugh over them, but definitely learn from them.
Assistant coach Ron Adams can’t quite bring himself to laugh at errors, particularly on the defensive end. He cringes. One member of Warriors brain trust says Adams sometimes sees a defensive goof and recoils as if “he’s been shot.”
Widely considered the NBA’s top assistant, Adams is valuable under any circumstances. His value has been particularly evident in these playoffs.
It was Adams who, as an assistant in Oklahoma City, conducted a predraft workout with a young James Harden. Adams, who has coached for 44 years, 21 in the NBA, says he has never observed a more impressive workout. The Thunder drafted Harden, who later was traded to the Rockets.
In the two years since Kerr and Adams arrived, the Warriors are 15-2 against Houston. It’s not a coincidence. Adams, 68, coordinates the defense. He studies tendencies and relays them to players. He knows Harden.
And now that the Warriors are facing OKC, Adams’ knowledge of Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook has been exceedingly helpful.
Late Wednesday night, long after the Warriors had vanquished the Thunder in Game 2, tying the Western Conference Finals at 1-1, Adams was standing in the hallway a few feet from the locker room at Oracle Arena discussing, what else, defense.
He mostly likes what he sees. Mostly.
“They’re great,” Adams says of Durant and Westbrook. “This is what we’re dealing with. When we relax, if we’re not focused, if we’re not committed to our format for playing them, these are marvelous players.”
Westbrook through two games is shooting 34.2 percent (12-of-35). Durant is shooting 43.8 percent (21-of-48), but is responsible for 13 turnovers. OKC is shooting 44.3 percent as a team. The Warriors have scored 40 points off turnovers.
Now, when we say Adams is “discussing” defense he isn’t really divulging much. Asked how the Warriors have been able to contain the OKC duo, particularly Westbrook, Adams pauses.
“The only way I’ll answer that question this whole series is by saying Russell is just a dynamo, and very difficult to guard,” he says. “You think you do well some possessions, and then he squirts away on other possessions. I’m not going to sit here and say anything about what we did to stop him, and the same holds true for Kevin.
“These guys are two battle-tested guys. They think they’re the two best players on the floor. And they play that way.”
Here’s what’s evident: The Warriors are swarming Durant, trying to seal Westbrook from the rim and daring anybody else on the Thunder roster – notably guard Andre Roberson -- to beat them.
Though the Warriors rotate defenders on Durant, the man most frequently assigned to him is Andre Iguodala. The Warriors also rotate defenders on Westbrook, with Klay Thompson being the primary cover.
If it’s not Draymond Green drifting off Roberson, playing free safety on the court, it’s Stephen Curry. Whomever it is as a given time is liable to rush over and trap Durant as soon as he gets the ball. If he’s able to find the open man, Roberson, so be it.
Adams can accept anybody except Durant or Westbrook getting an open look.
“That may be a bit of our thinking, but they have other guys who can hurt you, just as Portland in the previous series had other guys who can hurt you – and they did,” Adams says. “In any of these series, this is the crème de la crème. You’re trying to slow the really, really good players that every team has and then do a good job on what I would consider the others, the auxiliary players, all of whom are good.”
The Warriors are barely guarding power forward Serge Ibaka. They’re trying to keep center Steven Adams from owning the paint. They’re allowing Roberson, known more for his defense than offense, to roam free about the court.
And it’s working. The Warriors lost Game 1 on the offense end, practically handing the ball to the Thunder, who took advantage. The defense has been more than acceptable.
Well, sort of.
“There are always things you see and you see things that we could do better,” Adams says. “Regardless of what we did (in Game 2), any tweaks or whatever, the real essence of it all is that we played every possession more like it mattered – which we didn’t do in the first game.”
Game 2, then, was much more to his liking. There are no guarantees once the series moves to OKC this weekend, but expect Adams to continue to use similar strategy.
If it works well enough, he might even smile a time or two during video study.