Can the Warriors regain their offensive identity? Their season depends on it


OAKLAND -- It’s not often that Steve Kerr gets demonstrably defensive about issues related to Warriors basketball, but his response to one question after Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals in Houston made it clear a nerve had been struck.

A reporter, noting the Warriors’ pattern of feeding Kevin Durant in hopes of exploiting a mismatch, asked if they were paying a price for that tendency.

“Is there a price for throwing the ball to Kevin Durant on the block?” Kerr repeated, clearly bewildered by the implication.

The reporter didn’t budge, asking if the Warriors were sacrificing anything by leaning so hard on Durant.

“No,” Kerr said. “It’s a good option to throw the ball to Kevin Durant in the post. It’s a really good option.”

Kerr wasn’t exactly wrong. Durant may be the NBA’s ultimate bailout scorer. He can get a bucket while stroking his chin with one hand and eating a burrito with the other. There is no better antidote to a stagnant offense, and his teammates know it.

The coach also realizes, as the Warriors prepare for Game 6 on Saturday, that there is sacrifice that comes with leaning so hard on this new trend of feeding Durant and letting him hunt a bucket. The Warriors are forsaking the core principle of their offensive identity.

The Warriors have been an all-time great offense under Kerr because they have three all-time great scorers -- Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Durant -- that are willing to share the ball. They also have Draymond Green, who distributes as effectively as any power forward in NBA history. They also have Andre Iguodala, one of the best offensive agitators in the game.

Few things warm Kerr’s heart more than the Warriors reaching the 30-assist mark. It’s an indicator of his desired ball movement and execution. Those twin virtues can break down defenses, sometimes to fatigue.

The Warriors recorded at least 30 assists in 40 games during the regular season, posting a 35-5 record. They were 23-19 in the other 42 games.

Their high in the five games against the Rockets: 21. They had 14 in Game 4, 18 in Game 5.

No matter how tremendous Durant is as a scorer in isolation, he and the Warriors benefit when everybody gets to touch the ball. They are not built for one-pass possessions, yet that’s the trap they’ve fallen into. It’s as if the Rockets are throwing defensive cheese at Durant, and the Warriors are going for it. He gets the ball, and his teammates become spectators.

This isn’t necessarily Durant’s fault. He’s a natural scorer, knows his team needs points and hears Green urging him to be aggressive. Durant is, in some ways, a victim of circumstances.

“Houston’s doing a great job defensively,” Kerr told reporters Friday in Houston. “They’re doing what we do. When you switch everything it makes ball movement more difficult. It makes player movement more difficult. That’s why you do it. That’s why they’ve built the roster they have. That’s why we’ve built the roster we have.

“Everybody is saying: ‘Why aren’t you guys moving the ball?’ It’s good defense. We’re lucky we have Kevin, because Kevin is the ultimate answer against switching defenses. He’s had a great series. (Game 5) wasn’t his best game, but he still carried us at times.”

Durant was the most effective Warriors starter in Game 5. He scored a team-high 29 points but did it on 8-of-22 shooting -- 2-of-9 in the second half. He was plus-2 over 40 minutes, the best number of any of the team’s All-Stars.

He also totaled 0 assists in Game 5 and is averaging 2.0 assists in the series. For the sake of comparison, he averaged 4.8 assists in the conference semifinals against New Orleans, and 5.2 in the first round against San Antonio.

Durant in the regular season averaged 5.4 assists, second in his career to the 5.5 he averaged in 2013-14 -- his MVP season.

For Durant to be better, and we all know he can be, he’ll have to find a variety of ways to make the Rockets pay for their tactics and the occasional double teams.

“Yeah, they're switching a lot when I get in the post now,” he said after Game 5. “I can feel them bringing a guy over, so I’ve just got to make the right play.

“But, yeah, probably mix it up a bit and see where I can get different catches and touches because they're kind of figuring stuff out for us. So just got to be excited for he next game and go out there and play as hard as we can.”

The next game is Saturday. If the Warriors don’t win it, their season is over. If they do, well, it’s probably because they looked a little more like themselves.

Game Result/Schedule
Game 1 Warriors 119, Rockets 106
Game 2 Rockets 127, Warriors 105
Game 3 Warriors 126, Rockets 85
Game 4 Rockets 95, Warriors 92
Game 5 Rockets 98, Warriors 94
Game 6 Oakland -- Saturday, May 26th at 6pm
Game 7 Houston -- Monday, May 28th at 6pm
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