Mark Jackson had a major dilemma facing him and his team entering Game Two last week in Denver.
David Lee would be out for the remainder of the Playoffs with a torn hip flexor. Andrew Bogut, despite a strong Game One performance, had not put in performances like that one consistently throughout the season. It was unclear what Jackson could get out of him. Sure, Carl Landry can add some of the rebounding help but he cannot quite spread the floor like David Lee could.
And if there is one thing the Warriors can and must do, it is score. The defense is improved, but not elite by any means. To win in the postseason, Golden State has to score.
So Jackson began talking with his coaches and asked them to talk him out of a crazy idea for Game Two. Could he actually get away with replacing an All-Star power forward with a(nother) point guard in his starting lineup? would this be a gamble too big for the Playoffs?
The Warriors asisstant coaches did not talk Jackson out of the move. They encouraged him and gave him the go-ahead to do it. And so it was Jarrett Jack starting with Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry in a small backcourt. If there was one team something like that could work against it was the run-and-gun Nuggets. Evan at the inpenetrable Pepsi Center.
What followed was an offensive onslaught. The Warriors shot an incredible 64.6 percent from the floor and Jack, Curry and Thompson combined to score 77 points and shoot 63.3 percent. The team field goal percentage was the 38th time in NBA history that a team shot 60 percent or better in a Playoff game and was the highest field goal percentage for a Playoff team in a win since 1991.
They followed that up in Game Three with a 52.5 percent shooting performance in a wild, back-and-forth Game three victory where Stephen Curry scored 29 points and Jarrett Jack put in 23 points.
The Thompson/Curry/Jack combination is +13.2 per 100 possessions entering Sunday's Game Four according to Basketball-Reference. Denver has struggled to adjust, particularly defensively, and Stephen Curry has unleashed an offensive onslaught on the Nuggets.
Kevin McHale was met with a similar decision with the Rockets. But inserting Patrick Beverly into the lineup instead of Greg Smith has not met the same results. In Games Two and Three, the Rockets fell behind by massive margins and needed second half rallies to make the games interesting. The Celtics too tried starting Jason Terry in Game Three to free up the offense, moving Brandon Bass to the bench, to little effect.
What these moves clearly show though is that small ball is becoming the norm in the NBA. It is the best way to maximize efficiency and perform the most basic function in the game — scoring.
Golden State has used its small lineup effectively to out race the Nuggets. In Sunday's Game Four, the Warriors got another incredible shooting performance with 55.7 percent shooting as a team and 31 points from Stephen Curry, many coming in an offensive onslaught in the third quarter.
The Nuggets thought they would be the ones able to control the pace and outrun the Warriors. Instead it is Golden State beating Denver at its own game and doing so masterfully and efficiently. The freedom this new lineup has given has enabled Golden State to take a 3-1 lead. Now we can see if Golden State can close the series out on the road and keep the hot shooting going.