With his team losing two straight games to fall into a must-win situation, Warriors head coach Steve Kerr on Thursday heeded the advice of a trusted member of his staff to put the club back on track in the NBA Finals.
The advice came not from veteran assistants Alvin Gentry and Ron Adams, nor did it come from young assistant Luke Walton. It did not come from player development coaches Jarron Collins and Bruce Fraser.
No, the advice came from further down the organization chart, from video-scouting specialist Nick U’Ren.
He suggested that Kerr change his starting lineup, replacing 7-foot center Andrew Bogut with 6-7 forward Andre Iguodala, who hadn’t started a game all season.
“It was his idea,” Kerr said of U’Ren. “He brought it to us this morning. We had debated some other things the other night after Game 3, but you always want to let these things simmer before you make a decision.
“But we talked about it at breakfast and we made the decision to do it.”
Twelve hours later, the Warriors took the court and laid a 103-82 thrashing on the Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena to even the NBA Finals series at two games apiece.
The triumph was a marvelous manifestation of Kerr’s general postseason experience and, moreover, his inclusive approach to operating a team. He listens.
“Whoever has the right idea, or a good idea, it doesn’t matter where it comes from,” Kerr said. “I’m happy Nick brought it to me.”
Kerr is delighted because it worked. The move cranked up the pace of a Warriors team already committed to making an intensified effort. Draymond Green, after two subpar efforts, reverted to the firebrand whose passion inspires his teammates.
“We really picked up our intensity level,” Green said. “We contested shots. We got on loose balls. We rebounded. They still outrebounded us, but we battled. If they were getting offensive rebounds, they weren’t clean. They still had to scramble to get another shot. And that’s (how) they’ve been winning. They’ve been outworking us.”
Not on this night, and not with Iguodala, the most consistent of Warriors through four games, on the court from the jump.
Iguodala, in his first start of the season, after starting every game in his 10-year career prior to 2014-15, scored a season-high 22 points and played a season-high 39 minutes.
The goal, after two games played at the deliberate pace preferred by the short-handed Cavaliers, was to speed up the game. The Warriors wanted to run at every opportunity, with all five players as often as possible.
That’s easier to do with Green, at 6-7, playing center and Harrison Barnes and Iguodala on the wings, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson at guard.
“Credit to the coaching staff for making that adjustment,” Thompson said, “because when we go small like that it’s going to create mismatches on the floor and it’s going to take the big guys away from the basket. It was beautiful to watch, just the way we shared the ball and competed.”
The Warriors took a 31-24 lead after one quarter – the first time all series they’d led after any quarter in regulation – and never lost it. Cleveland got as close as three late in the third quarter before the Warriors pulled away from the weary Cavaliers down the stretch.
“One thing we’ve been preaching the whole series is we wanted to wear them down,” Green said. “They’re playing seven guys. Sometimes eight. But the majority of the time, they’re playing seven guys.”
In the moments that mattered, Cleveland played seven. The Warriors played eight, but set a pace so blistering even Bogut, who played only three minutes, was pleased.
“I can understand why coach is doing it,” he said of the lineup change. “Going smaller, it opened up the court a lot more for Steph and Klay and it worked like a charm
“I didn’t play well the last two games. And we lost. I knew there would be some sort of change or tweak, because he’s a smart guy. It worked out well, so no gripes.”
None at all, certainly not with U’Ren, the guy Kerr calls his “chief of staff.” He’s never been more chief-like among the Warriors.
The Warriors committed seven turnovers, their lowest total in 19 playoff games.
The Warriors held Cleveland to 42 first-half points, its lowest total in any half this postseason until the Warriors held them to 40 in the second half.
Curry finished with 22 points, passing Rick Barry (521 points in the 1967 playoffs) for the most points in a single postseason in franchise history with 532.
Livingston (7 points, eight rebounds, four assists) was fabulous off the bench and finished with a +25, the highest on the team.
Not much to see here, other than Thompson (9 points) never really getting it going.
One of the reasons Kerr has been successful as a rookie coach is his humility. He has some great ideas, but he realizes he doesn’t have them all. The players appreciate that, as do the assistant coaches. In the biggest game of the season, Kerr heard and saw something he liked – and didn’t disregard the source. It implies that the coach is less concerned with being right than he is with getting it right.