How a change to the starting lineup helped unlock a Warriors blowout in Game 2. Plus, could recently fired Mike Budenholzer and Nick Nurse just swap teams?
The Warriors started Game 2 against the Lakers in an unfamiliar orientation, inserting JaMychal Green into the starting lineup in place of Kevon Looney. It was a surprise given how much Looney had been dominating on the boards and how little JaMychael had played to this point — just 22 minutes in the postseason.
Despite the surprising roster change, the game ended in a familiar place — a 127-100 blowout win for the Warriors. Green ended up playing just 13 minutes but scored 15 points, hit a trio of 3-pointers and helped open the floor for the rest of his teammates.
Starting JaMychal Green was a small but important change for the Warriors
We saw JaMychal’s impact right from the first few possessions, like this play where his, even minor gravity, holds Anthony Davis’ attention away from the paint and allows Draymond Green to slip through for a layup.
JaMychael did hit 3-of-6 from beyond the arc in Game 2, which was hugely important. But the gravity and spacing he provided were as important as his ability to actually hit those shots. JaMychael is not an elite shooter, he’s hit 36.8 percent of his 3s on just under 700 attempts over the past four seasons. But he’s a decent and willing shooter, which is a big difference from Kevon Looney, who attempts just 32 shots all season long from beyond 10 feet from the basket.
Draymond is not much of a 3-point shooting threat but he draws defensive attention away from the basket with his passing and ball-handling. Putting him and JaMychal together in the frontcourt often mean the Warriors were able to completely empty the paint, regardless of which of them Davis was assigned to.
The other big wrinkle for the Warriors in this game was inserting Moses Moody, who had played just six minutes in Game 1. Moody and Jordan Poole came into the game together mid-way through the first quarter, replacing JaMychal and Andrew Wiggins and making Moody the nominal 4.
When Looney entered the game for the first time, replacing Draymond a few minutes later, the Warriors were still playing with a single big using Moody’s gravity from the corner to help keep LeBron out of the lane and from mucking up plays like this.
If that had been Draymond in the corner, LeBron would have been comfortable dropping down to cut off Donte DiVincenzo’s drive allowing Davis to stay home on Looney and preventing an easy layup.
The Warriors used Looney and Draymond together for 16 minutes in Game 1 and were outscored by seven points in that time, meaning they were plus-2 in the other 32 minutes. In Game 2, they only shared the court for a single possession, meaning the Warriors were always able to keep four shooters on the floor arrayed around either of their bigs. (This is also likely why Kerr used Moody in this role instead of Jonathan Kuminga, who has more experience at the 4 but is a less consistent outside shooter).
This strategy solved one problem but it creates others for the Warriors, particularly making them vulnerable on the glass at both ends. Their guards and wings did a great job picking up the slack with Thompson, Curry, Moody, Poole and DiVincenzo combining for 20 rebounds. But expect that to be a point of emphasis for the Lakers in Game 3, as well as more scripted actions that target Moody and JaMychal in pick-and-rolls or attempt to isolate them against Davis or LeBron.
Still, even if the Warriors need to migrate back towards their Game 1 rotations a bit more, they were able to even the series and highlight a rotation advantage that they should be able to use strategically from here on out.
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Can the Bucks and Raptors just swap Nick Nurse and Mike Budenholzer?
In a not-so-surprising move, the Bucks announced Thursday that they were parting ways with head coach Mike Budenholzer. His accomplishments with the team are impressive — a .693 winning percentage with Milwaukee, a title in 2021, and finishing with the best record in the entire NBA three times in five years.
However, there were rumors all season long that he may have lost some veterans in the locker room. His postseason adjustments were lacking and the team’s halfcourt offense was significantly worse in every single playoff run, something he never figured how to fix. A ring is not nothing, but a single Finals appearance in five seasons means a lot of playoff disappointments when you were winning nearly 70 percent of your games and entered the playoffs as the overall No. 1 seed three times.
More than a few people saw a worrying trend in Budeholzer’s firing. Nick Nurse, who coached the Raptors to the 2019 title, was fired a few weeks ago. Frank Vogel, who coached the Lakers to the 2020 title, was fired at the end of last season. Of the five coaches who led the last seven NBA champions — Vogel, Budenholzer, Nurse, Ty Lue and Steve Kerr — Kerr is the only one still coaching with the same team.
The implication is that the increased expectations of winning a title are creating an impossible standard for even the most successful coaches. But we’re also in an unprecedented period of coaching turnover. Assuming Michael Malone keeps his job, just five coaches will enter next season having led their teams for at least four full seasons.
For my part, I’m much less concerned about the precedent of Nurse and Budenholzer than I am about the potential of them acting out an actual thought experiment. Both coaches had supposedly alienated some of the players in their locker room and were having trouble creating enthusiasm and execution. But they are both well-regarded as strategists even if this season demonstrated that Budenholzer’s strength is macro strategy, Nurse’s is micro and both struggle mightily with the other.
What if Budenholzer and Nurse just switched places — the Bucks hiring Nurse and the Raptors hiring Budenholzer? Given the early rumors, it’s definitely not outside the realm of possibilities.
There’s no control group, no way to ensure “all-else-being-equal” and both rosters are likely to have some significant turnover. But both rosters will almost certainly be loaded with talent and have a good chance at being in the top tier in the East again next season. If they could swap places and find similar success, even without a title, I think it would be strong evidence of the importance of personality and chemistry, that a fresh start is what both coaches and both rosters needed, regardless of impressive resumes and past success.
Today’s NBA Trivia:
Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson have started a combined 384 postseason games for the Warriors since the 2014-15 season. Eight other players have started at least 10 postseason games for the Warriors over the same span. How many can you name?
The answer for Tuesday’s trivia question: Kevin Looney now has 137 rebounds in nine games this postseason, including four games with 20+. But he’s still a long way off from Wilt Chamberlain who holds the record for most rebounds in a single postseason, with 443.