Warriors advance to Western Conference Finals by avoiding famous little ball and deciding to go big

Warriors advance to Western Conference Finals by avoiding famous little ball and deciding to go big

SAN FRANCISCO – Mike Brown cast a worried glance at Kevon Looney, one of his troopers of the past six seasons who has done everything asked of him with little to no fanfare on a fact-packed Golden State Warriors franchise highlights and glory. Looney, who rarely plays for periods longer than six or seven minutes, was heading for his 17th consecutive minute on the court, en route to a career-high 35 for the game.

“I kept watching it because after the first five [minutes] it looked like he was dying. Then the next two, he looked like he was worse,” Brown, the Warriors’ interim head coach, said. “Then every minute after that, I was just like, ‘Loon, wait. Loon, wait. . “

Looney not only survived, but thrived, in the final quarter of Friday Night’s 110-96 Game 6 win over the Memphis Grizzlies, and he symbolized the theme of the game while sending the Warriors to the Western Conference Finals. for the first time since 2019. .

Just before the final buzzer, Brown walked the line of other assistant coaches along the sideline. He hugged Kenny Atkinson. He hugged Bruce Fraser. He kissed Chris DeMarco.

As head coach with Steve Kerr absent due to health and safety protocols, Brown – recently named the next head coach of the Sacramento Kings – had been caught in the crosshairs of NBA Twitterati just 48 hours earlier, when the Warriors received a mortifying Game 5 at the hands of the Grizzlies the likes of which are rarely seen in the NBA playoffs.

By the end of Game 6, however, the Warriors had prevailed over the pesky, young, fearless, and relentless Grizzlies, and a key adjustment from Brown, the coaching staff, and even the players was a big reason for that.

The majority of the talk during and immediately after the Warriors’ first-round win over the Denver Nuggets was the new version of the Warriors’ famous small-ball lineup. Stephen Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins and Draymond Green looked unbeatable in their brief stints together, leading many to suggest the unit should start for the rest of the playoffs, or at the very least receive a plus. large number of minutes.

Against the Grizzlies, however, the formation failed. Again and again. When Grizzlies star goaltender Ja Morant was injured in Game 3 and Memphis started mountain man Steven Adams in Games 4 and 5, the Warriors’ offense seemed as futile as it had all season. The small-ball formation that was supposed to overwhelm defenses and boost Golden State’s championship hopes had mustered a meager 94.5 points per 100 possessions in 25 minutes over the course of the series.

“When Ja fell, we realized really afterwards [Game 5]we almost have to adapt like we’re starting an entirely different series,” Green said. “Because it was a totally different team that we played the last three games against.”

So the Warriors had a decision to make for Game 6. Do we go small and hope to take advantage of Adams’ lack of speed, or do we try to match their size and go big? Minutes before kickoff, the starting lineups were announced and Looney was picked to face Adams.

It turns out it was a collective decision stemming from a conversation that started near the end of that horrific explosion in Memphis on Wednesday. Brown spoke about it with Curry and Green, who both agreed that Looney was the guy they wanted next to them. Not only does he bring size and physique, but he’s also one of the key remaining players in the Warriors Finals. Kerr, who might be the biggest Looney fan in the world outside of his family, ultimately approved of the decision.

“When you look at the last eight quarters before this game, we were outplayed for seven of them,” Green said of the pick to start Looney in Game 6. “We just knew we had to come out and establish a relationship. presence inside to start the game and not worry too much about our score…. They made it clear they were going to beat us, and they were doing a good job. Re-inserting Loon into the starting lineup changed that.

For the third game in a row, the Warriors offense struggled for most of the night. Thompson had several feats en route to a team-high 30 points, but Curry and Poole couldn’t get the ball into the ocean for most of the first three quarters. In addition to shooting struggles, the Warriors fell into their notorious habit of throwing the ball to the other team or out of bounds, resulting in 16 turnovers in the first three quarters.

So how did they stay alive, especially when Grizzlies winger Dillon Brooks — public enemy No. 1 at Chase Center — was having arguably the best game of his life? The Warriors have gotten big.

Looney was a threat from the jump, racking up 11 rebounds in the first quarter alone and finishing with an absurd 22 boards on the night, half of them on the offensive glass. He also helped nullify Adams, who had just one offensive rebound for the game. The Warriors beat the Grizzlies on points in the paint, an area where Memphis has dominated all season.

It wasn’t just Looney who got the message, either. Green had 15 rebounds. Wiggins had 11. Thompson had eight. Curry pulled out seven. In total, the Warriors had a monumental 70 rebounds, including 25 on the offensive glass. For a game that was lousy offensively for most of the night, the Warriors’ grit and determination on defense and on the boards propelled them into the conference finals.

“When we win the rebound game and the possession game, we give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Brown said. “It’s remarkable against a team of this size and athleticism.”

Brown was right. Eventually, the offense came in the form of 11 fourth-quarter points from Curry and another 10 from Wiggins. Thompson’s eighth 3-pointer with just under three minutes to go sealed the game and the series.

We can argue all day about whether what the Warriors have shown so far in the playoffs deems them worthy of true title contention, but they showed something essential to the championship formula during of a closing match on Friday evening: adaptability. The more cards a coach has to play – be it Kerr or Brown – the more likely he is to have an answer to the problems he encounters. And it goes without saying that the Phoenix Suns or the Dallas Mavericks will present huge problems.

The planning will come later, however. Thompson and Curry said they would watch Sunday’s Game 7 between the Suns and Mavericks, both as NBA fans and to get an idea of ​​their next opponent. In the meantime, they will celebrate a spot in the Western Conference Finals that was once a ritual with a renewed sense of appreciation.

“It’s unbelievable, knowing what we’ve been through for the last two years – six of the last eight years we’ve had the opportunity to play for the final,” Curry said on Friday night. “It’s a pretty cool vibe when you understand it as a band, because we haven’t done it with this band together. Absolutely special, never take it for granted. Understand, that’s what it’s about.”

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