The Golden State Warriors are the best team in the NBA. To quote Bill Simmons, nobody disputes this. Despite internal struggles and a generally lax attitude, Steph Curry and his teammates cruised to 57 wins and the second highest point differential in the NBA this season.
This is not, however, the team that won 73 games just three years ago (it feels more like 300 years ago — please let this season be the end of the Warriors). Some small cracks in the facade of Golden State dominance have begun to show, and the Trail Blazers may be able to exploit them in the Western Conference Finals.
Draymond Green is not the player he used to be
In 2016 the Warriors offense could be roughly distilled as “watch Steph Curry do some mind-mindbogglingly unstoppable shirt but don’t try to double him or he’ll pass to Draymond Green who will can a 3-pointer or whip a perfect pass to a cutting shooter in less than a millisecond.”
Suffice to say, the Green part of that equation hasn’t really held up. Daymond’s 3-point accuracy has dipped from 39 percent in 2016 to 28.5 percent this season. Despite claims that he’d “start lighting their *** up” in January, teams have been able to sag off Green with impunity and use the extra defender to kneecap his playmaking ability.
That’s not to say Green can be ignored off the ball — he’s still frees up shooters with backscreens and creates offense with quick passes. But being able to sag off once he has the ball on the perimeter in order to stymie the Warriors off-ball cutting is a huge advantage.
Shaun Livingston is not the player he used to be
Shaun Livingston anchored the Warriors bench lineup in years past, but he’s declined this season. Livingston acknowledged the struggles during Golden State’s second round series with the Rockets.
Livingston used to use his size and playmaking to punish smaller defending guards, but he’s been unable to stay on the court, averaging the fewest minutes of his post-knee injury career. His efficiency generally hasn’t eroded, but he’s dropped from 74th to 43rd percentile in post-up effectiveness and his assist percentage is down by nearly 50 percent from 2016.
The Warriors sold the farm to acquire/keep all their all-star caliber players and consequently have a piece-work bench that basically consists of Andre Iguodala, Kevin Looney, and Livingston. With injuries to Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins, Livingston’s vulnerability is a reminder that this team is not as deep as it once was.
They’re susceptible to pesky defenders
Handsy, physical defense can cause trouble for the Warriors. In the first round the Clippers beat the Warriors twice in large part thanks to Patrick Beverley’s physical defense on Durant and a scheme that funneled Golden State’s shooters off the 3-point line.
Durant knows just a tiny bit more about basketball than me so I’ll let him explain:
They’re playing a gimmick defense, which has been working. Top blocking everything on the perimeter, so guys aren’t even looking at the three-point line, just forcing guys inside the three-point line.
I’ve been playing against every defense. It’s not just that type, but the constant help on my drives, the poking at the ball as I’m dribbling. Two guys rushing me as I’m beating someone off the dribble.
Golden State’s problems against the Clippers had an impact on their playing style — 10.1 percent of their plays in the playoffs have been isolations, vs. 6.4 percent during the regular season. They’ve also seen a 50 percent dip in off screen plays. (Play type data from stats.nba.com.)
The Warriors still lead the NBA in offense for the playoffs, but the Clippers proved that a Durant-centric attack can be disrupted.
(It’s outside of the scope of this article, but check out this Bball Breakdown vid for more info on the ripple effect Durant has on his teammates — both positive and negative.)
Technical fouls and mind games
Green, Durant, and Portland’s Zach Collins are the only players left in the playoffs with multiple technical fouls. Green is at four — if he picks up three more he will automatically be suspended for one game.
The Warriors have shown susceptibility to distraction during the playoffs, with Durant being ejected for getting into it with Beverley, Curry openly mocking the refs, and the team admitting that lack of focus cost them a win against the Clippers. Add that to the ongoing rumors swirling about Durant’s future from the regular season, and it’s not unreasonable to suspect the Warriors are more vulnerable to mental breakdowns than in year’s past. They probably have the talent to overcome it, but Portland has proven capable of getting under the skin of opponents and then taking advantage of the fallout (hi Russell Westbrook!).