Warriors

Dubs' ball movement vs. OKC key to small lineup's success

Warriors

Ball movement was a staple during the Warriors' dynastic NBA championship run, highlighted by the play of the team's "death lineup."

Now, while it won't lead to another ring, moving the ball will need to be the blueprint for the Warriors as they close the 2020-21 season with predominantly small lineups. 

"While we've had the injuries we've had, and obviously with [James Wiseman] out, that's how we have to play if we're going to compete," Steph Curry said. "And we have to do it well."

"The nature of the game is shooters everywhere," Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. "And whether it's Draymond [Green] or [Kevon Looney] in the pick-and-roll, both guys are so smart that Steph is going to draw a two-pick and then everybody just plays from there. It's easier to do when you play a smaller lineup like we're doing."

The Warriors tallied 36 assists in their 147-109 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday night, which helped fuel them to a franchise-tying 24 3-pointers.

For the Warriors to make the run they've all but promised through the final 17 games of the season, they will have to keep this style of play up. Knocking down 24 threes -- 11 which were courtesy of Curry -- is unlikely, but the idea of defending well while also being difficult to defend needs to remain. 

The extra passes the Warriors made all night long dizzied defenders, leading to open shots. Nine different players recorded at least one assist while Golden State shot 54.7 percent from the floor and 12 different Warriors made at least one field goal. 

 

Curry and Green led the way, with 42 points and eight assists and zero turnovers for the two-time MVP, and 12 points (2-of-3 shooting from 3-point range), 10 rebounds, 16 assists, three steals and two blocks for the former Defensive Player of the Year.

"When we move the ball like we did tonight, we're going to get open looks," Kerr said

In addition to playing a smaller lineup, the increase in ball movement is also a result of the continued chemistry the players have built over the season. 

Heading into this season, Green and Looney were the only two players with significant time playing alongside Curry. For most of the young players on the roster, this is their first time playing heavy minutes with the two-time NBA MVP.

Much of this season has been about learning how each other play -- where guys like to get the ball, how guys like to receive or pass, and other tendencies like that. 

The Warriors are now at a point where they understand those things and are building on them.

"It makes everything a lot easier," Green said. "And the reality is, we're still not there yet. But we're getting better and as long as we continue to improve, that's all that matters. I think as we continue to play more and more together, everybody is continuing to get more familiar with their reads and the next pass and all of those things, and if we can continue to get better at that, our team will continue to improve."

By no means can the Warriors assume they will maintain this level of ball movement or shooting. Golden State has struggled to be consistent all season and is on just their second three-game winning streak. 

Something does feel different about the last three games, and their win against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 6. Instead of just having a brief bounce back, it seems as though they have improved on problem areas, such as defending without fouling, bench production, and scoring outside of Curry. But, they can't think their work is done and just stop. Especially with only one true center.

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Everything went well against the Thunder, but not every opponent will be so easy. The Warriors must make a conscious effort to continue this level and style of play. Only by doing that will the Warriors be able to get the elusive four-game winning streak and make a run as the regular season winds down.

"Being intentional about it and understanding we can always get a good shot, but with the lineups that we have out there, our best bet is to search for that great shot," Curry said. "Coach says it all the time, but sometimes you have to trust you're going to get to that and not try to force things every possession. You saw that tonight. Over the last three games, we've established a rhythm around that. We've found a way to create really great shots and everybody feeds off that energy. You can see all of the smiles out there. It's no coincidence that playing that way and everybody feeling involved in creating great shots is contagious.