Most of the chatter and analysis following the Golden State Warriors 103-82 Game 4 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the 2015 NBA Finals concerned coach Steve Kerr’s decision to go small, i.e. start a lineup without center Andrew Bogut. Instead the Warriors started five players between 6’7” and 6’3” and the results were compelling. In general, it was presented as a lineup that enabled the Dubs to increase the tempo, which was being played at a slow pace, much to the Cavaliers liking. The Cavs played at a pace of 94.8 possessions per game during the regular season and the Warrriors sped along at 100.7. The Finals games were even slower than the Cavs regular season plod. However, the pace of Game 4 represented only a slight uptick from games one through three. OTOH, there was a much bigger impact that I don’t see discussed; the Warriors smaller lineup enabled them to guard the three point line much more effectively. In Game 3 the Cavs torched the Warriors from deep, shooting 9 of 21. In Game 4, against a more agile, longer lineup with five players who could race out to the arc and disrupt the rhythm of the Cleveland gunners, the Cavs managed a meager 4 for 27. In each of the first four games, the team that has defended the three point shot best has won. This shouldn’t be a surprise. With the NBA game becoming more and more about shooting from deep (more than one in three shots are from behind the arc today, in contrast with one in five during the Jordan era), defending the long distance shot has become the priority of most top defenses. Wanna example? The Cavs (.296) and the Dubs (.306) are the leading teams in the postseason at stopping opponents from downtown. And the Warriors were one of the best teams during the regular season at stopping the three, holding opponents to .337.
So when commentators say that Golden State went small in Game 4 and played like themselves again, I think they mean perimeter defense, not pace.
Martin Johnson is a freelance writer. He was an NBA columnist for the New York Sun from 2003 to 2008.
So when commentators say that Golden State went small in Game 4 and played like themselves again, I think they mean perimeter defense, not p