When Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown started coaching alongside head coach Steve Kerr, he wondered why the Warriors didn’t run many plays before realizing, in Kerr’s words, It’s this balance between fun and work and discipline and craziness and order and chaos. And we’re constantly trying to find that balance.
In Game 2, Golden State seemed to find that balance somewhere between the discipline and chaos. From flying around on defense to pull 3’s several feet beyond the arc, the Warriors’ players thrive when there are decisions to be made — because they hardly have to make them. When difficult, split-second decisions become intuitive rotations, you become the best team in basketball. The Cleveland Cavaliers are learning that the hard way, and I don’t think is going to stymie that learning curve.
The Warriors’ intuitive hivemind is most apparent on defense, where they skirt from defender to defender as if neither Warrior has a defensive position. In contrast, often the Cavaliers’ players stand pat in their defensive positions unless necessary. In this clip, the Warriors and Cavaliers both run a basic pick-and-roll. The way each team defends the action couldn’t look more different.
Here, as the Zaza Pachulia screens Kyrie Irving off of Stephen Curry near the 3-point line, Kevin Love flails and hedges toward Curry to cut off his route to the rim. With Curry occupying two defenders, he slips an all-alone, rolling Pachulia the ball. By the time Cleveland’s help arrives, Pachulia already has one foot in the restricted area, where he’s shooting a respectable 67.6-percent in the playoffs, according to NBA.com/Stats. The Cavs handle it a little differently.
The Cavs’ ensuing possession starts almost identically. Tristan Thompson screens Kevin Durant off LeBron James, forcing Zaza Pachulia to hunker down in James’ driving lane, daring him to shoot — which is what the Warriors want. Durant gets off of Thompson’s screen and recovers to James, doubling him with Pachulia; and, like Curry in the previous possession, James zips a bounce pass to an open, rolling Thompson. At this juncture is where things seriously deviate.
Before Thompson can reach the restricted area, he is met by a flailing Curry and Klay Thompson, forcing him to pass the ball. As Thompson rotates his body, readying himself for a pass to his man in the corner, Golden State, with speedy defensive rotations, has already snuffed out Thompson’s first pass, and then the second one, and the third one. They end up forcing a deep, deep 3 from James; or, what they wanted in the first place.
There’s no flipping the "switch" for a basketball hivemind. These things are like circuitry — carefully placed. To some, this circuitry might look like a knot of wires; to the Warriors: disciplined chaos.