When Warriors acting head coach Mike Brown took a few minutes Thursday to break down the rotation changes that have bolstered the Grizzlies in Games 4 and 5 of the Western Conference semifinals, it was apparent that he feels the best response begins with his ballhandlers.
So, expect Stephen Curry to have the ball more often in Game 6 on Friday night.
And, if Brown has his way, Draymond Green’s aggression and basketball intellect will lead the Warriors to solutions that steer them toward success.
After being outrebounded in the first three games, Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins summoned 6-foot-11, 265-pound Steven Adams from the bench and paired him with 6-foot-11, 242-pound power forward Jaren Jackson Jr. That’s three inches shy of a combined 15 feet of wingspan, and it’s shutting off passing lanes.
With Adams and Jackson lurking in the paint, Draymond is left wide open. Even when uncovered he’s looking to pass into the NBA version of a “prevent” defense, as in prevent passes from reaching targets.
Too often the result was a turnover. Committing a turnover after declining an open look from as close as 15 feet is demoralizing for the Warriors and energizing for the Grizzlies.
Brown, also speaking for head coach Steve Kerr, who is in health and safety protocols, has seen enough.
Golden State Warriors
“As soon as the ball is close to getting near the paint, Jaren Jackson is coming in and Steven Adams is in; he’s off Draymond,” Brown said Thursday. “And they’re long. It’s hard at times for our guards to kick the ball out because there aren’t a lot of outlet passes. And then you give them credit, too, because once they collapse, they do a great job of flaring out and trying to contest shots. One of the things we have to do a better job of is we have to get off the ball a little bit sooner. We can’t penetrate as deep. We’ve just got to make the next simple pass.
“And then, on top of that, Draymond has to continue being aggressive. If Steven Adams is off him, shoot, he’s got to let it fly. He’s knocked down big shots for us before. And then he’s got to keep playing his dribble-handoff game.”
Never was the Memphis defense more disruptive than in the second quarter of Game 5, when it annihilated the Warriors. Green committed four turnovers, his teammates six more, gifting the Grizzlies 18 points of their 39 points. Seven of the turnovers were caused by the Memphis defense, and five were passes that went out of bounds or were stolen.
Ignored by the Memphis defense, which conceded 15-footers, Green took one shot. With his passing neutralized and his shooting nonexistent, a paralyzed Golden State offense turned desperate enough to make costly mistakes that invited a blowout loss.
Brown’s comment about Green making “big shots” is accurate. We all know Draymond gets more joy from passing, but we’ve also seen his elation when he drains a 3-ball. And don’t let him hit two in a row.
Know what that does? It energizes the Warriors – particularly when they’re at home – and demoralizes the opponent.
Draymond has taken 14 3-pointers this postseason, with four going in. The 28.6 percentage is not impressive, but it’s hardly a disaster when compared to fellow “bigs” Otto Porter Jr. (31.0 percent), Nemanja Bjelica (25.0) and Jonathan Kuminga (20.0).
Those numbers, however, are more easily digested when one considers turnovers. Draymond’s 28 assists in this series are dragged down by 20 turnovers, one roughly every 6.5 minutes. It’s in line with the last three times he confronted the Grizzlies – twice in the regular season and in the overtime play-in game last season – when he totaled 23 points, 26 assists and 16 turnovers.
“You’ve got to give Memphis credit,” Brown said. “They’ve defended us well the last couple years.”
If the Grizzlies stay with the same approach Friday night, daring Draymond to shoot, don’t expect him to play into their hands. He’ll be aggressive because he knows it’s what the coaches want, and his teammates need.