CLEVELAND -– In the wake of the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the NBA Finals reaping the benefits of a forced change in their starting lineup, the Warriors now must make an adjustment as the teams prepare for Game 4 Friday night.
As coach Steve Kerr explores his options, there is little doubt that any move he makes will impact forward Draymond Green.
None of the Warriors were more adversely affected than Green when Cleveland turned to Richard Jefferson to replace power forward Kevin Love, who is going through NBA concussion protocol.
Moving Jefferson in at small forward pushes LeBron James to power forward, pretty much eradicating the crucial advantage Green could exploit against Love. If Love is a Clydesdale, James is a thoroughbred. Which makes Green’s challenge exponentially more difficult.
“That's fine,” Green said Thursday, prior to practice at Quicken Loans Arena. “I think I've got to be more active on the offensive end and kind of wear him out more. I don't think I was that active or aggressive last night. So I'll be more aggressive and like my chances.”
James poses challenges at both ends, and in Game 3 he was a decisive winner over Green –- and anybody else the Warriors threw at him. James totaled 32 points (14-of -26 shooting), 11 rebounds and six assists in a 120-90 Cavs win. Green countered with 8 points (2-of-8 shooting), seven rebounds and seven assists.
One glaring difference between Green vs. Love and Green vs. James is that Green found more ways to attack Love’s defense than he did that of James. Love’s lack of lateral quickness gave Green openings that were not there against James.
It’s the kind of space that would be available to Green if he were to go against, say, Cavs big man Tristan Thompson, who presents a problem only with his prolific offensive rebounding.
A change there, though, would mean giving Green more minutes at center, which would mean more bench time Andrew Bogut –- who likely would step aside so Kerr could insert Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup. That’s one way to give Green more space with which to operate while also having someone else, Iguodala, cope with James.
Kerr believes his team would trust any move he makes and roll with it.
“Our guys are all understanding that you go with whatever the best lineup us and, top to bottom, our team is professional and supportive of one another,” he said. “So it’s always just ‘Are we going to be better off matchup-wise, or are we going to be better off with a certain rotation that allows one guy to guard somebody specifically on the other team?’ We watch the film and we make that decision.”
When Kerr swapped Bogut for Iguodala after Game 3 of the 2015 Finals, the Warriors came out of a 2-1 hole to win three straight and take the series.
When Kerr swapped Harrison Barnes for Iguodala in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals 10 days ago, the Warriors prevailed to advance to The Finals for the second consecutive season.
The options are there, if Kerr so chooses, and he typically won’t provide even the slightest indication in advance. It may come down to whether he considers Game 3 a one-game deviation from the norm or a symptom of the Warriors struggling with Cleveland’s altered lineup.
“Usually, I would say what happens is teams adjust after struggles,” Kerr said. “Because if you get to the playoffs, you get deep in the playoffs, generally speaking you’ve played kind of a similar rotation, a similar style all year. If you make an adjustment before Game 1, the team’s looking at you like, ‘What are we doing? We’re pretty good.’
“So, usually, both teams kind of wait at least a couple games before they make any dramatic move. Then it sort of goes back and forth from there.”
No matter what change Kerr makes, if he makes one at all, Green will have to find a way to be more effective. No doubt guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson also have to be more productive – and there is no adjustment that changes their roles – but Green is this team’s fire starter.
His plan is to worry later about his matchup but to act now on his own behalf.
“Just be me, play more aggressive,” Green said. “Obviously, let the game come to me. But be way more aggressive and more accurate than I was (in Game 3).”