CLEVELAND –- They’re smaller but quicker, less vocal but more reactive, sacrificing the element of mean for the benefits of lean.
The Warriors are different team in numerous ways without Andrew Bogut, and the big center that has started 88 of 104 games will be in street clothes for what’s left of the NBA Finals, beginning with Game 6 Thursday night at Quicken Loans Arena.
“He’s been a staple all season long,” guard Shaun Livingston said Wednesday. “He’s anchored our defense. Not having his IQ, his passing ability, rim protection, it’s going to hurt us. But it’s the last week of the season, so we’ve just got to grind it out.”
Bogut, who is sidelined with a knee injury, is a traffic cop on defense, a generator on offense. He’s a constant voice, too.
“He's very vocal, which sort of always flies under the radar,” veteran forward Andre Iguodala said. “The most important thing is he knows his role. Most guys tend to do what they're told, but they also want to add something else that they're not needed to do, which can be a detriment to your team.
“But he's the guy that knows his role and he embraces his role. That does wonders for us on many occasions.”
The loss of Bogut means the Warriors will have to make a lineup adjustment. Don’t bother asking coach Steve Kerr of his plan, because he’s not in the mood to reveal it. Never is, at least in the postseason.
Kerr did, however, make one concession, saying he still needs contributions from traditional big men, which means backup center Festus Ezeli, averaging only seven minutes per game through the first five, will see more playing time.
“You always need bigs, even if the game is small,” Kerr said. “We’re not going to play small for 48 minutes.
“So Festus will play a role. So will Andy (Varejao). Mo (Speights) could still get back out there. I thought he did some really good things for us the other night. The box score didn’t show it. He didn’t make his shots, but he did some really good things. Everybody’s got to be ready and everybody plays a role.”
Kerr can simply insert Ezeli in place of Bogut, something that happened in the regular season when Bogut was out. Or Kerr can employ the small team at the start, with Draymond Green at center, joined on the front line by forwards Harrison Barnes and Andre Iguodala. That trio started the final three games of the 2015 NBA Finals, and the Warriors won all three to earn the championship.
These are not the same Cavaliers, though. They have remade themselves from a team designed to grind it out, using 7-foot-2 Timofey Mozgov at center, to a sleeker club built to run.
So what will they do? Not even Stephen Curry will express any certainty.
“I haven’t talked to Coach much,” he said. “We just kind of understood the situation in the last 12, 24 hours. So that will be a decision Coach has to make, how we’re going to start. I do know when we go small and have the ability to kind of kick the pace up a little bit, it usually works to our advantage.
“But it works because of the other lineups that we can throw out there and have that versatility throughout the course of 48 minutes. So we’ll see how the rotations go and how we start. But whoever’s out there has to execute better than we did in Game 5 in order to win another championship.”