Stephen Curry had a lot of faith in himself on the final Sunday night of the regular season. You have to if you want to score 47 cold-blooded points in an overtime loss to Portland.
His biggest play though came in the trust he showed in his teammate at the end of regulation. With time winding down, Curry took the ball and drove to the middle of the paint. He had a bit of an open lane and the defense shaded toward him as he ran off the Draymond Curry pick. Curry saw the double coming and flung the ball over his head to Green quickly (probably too quickly) and Green drove in once and stepped back for the game-tying 3-pointer.
That took a lot of trust to pass up such an important shot. Curry ended up taking the game-winning attempt in Game Three (which he missed . . . or was fouled on depending on your perspective), but the amount Curry and Mark Jackson can trust Golden State’s second unit is absolutely key for the Warriors in trying to find success in this year’s Playoffs.
Already that second unit has been tested with Andrew Bogut’s injury. But so far, the bench has produced somewhat tepidly. Golden State’s bench has provided 33.6 points per game while shooting 40.4 percent. Draymond Green leads the team with 10.0 points per game through the three Playoff games.
Their goal has been clear throughout the season.
“One thing we know about our second group is anytime we step onto the floor, we don’t necessarily have to boost the lead, but we definitely have to maintain it,” Draymond Green said in December. “The way we maintain it is with our energy level on the defensive end. When we play good on the defensive end as a second unit, then I will get a couple buckets or Mo Speights will get it going on the offensive end. Harrison will get a couple of buckets. We feed off of our defense.”
In the regular season, bench production was always a big issue. Golden State sacrificed its depth in letting Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack walk in free agency to bolster its starting lineup with Andre Iguodala. Harrison Barnes, who broke out in last year’s Playoffs as a part-time starter, struggled to adjust to his new role.
The Warriors cannot play Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson the entire game and the offense takes something of a hit when both are out. So there is not an entirely new bench unit. Golden State’s offense has and does grind to a halt. Defense is where players like Barnes, Green, Jordan Crawford and Steve Blake have to make their mark coming off the bench.
The Bogut injury has sent the front court into a bit of a scramble mode, forcing the team to start Jermaine O’Neal. That has kept Jackson’s second unit intact and maintained similar rotations to the regular season.
There is still that responsibility to maintain leads or close deficits that this unit has to overcome.
“There have been a few times this year where we couldn’t hold onto the lead and Coach had to go back to the starters,” Green said. “You never want that. That is when something freaky may happen and you never know. Those guys did their work and we need to let them get their rest.”
As we are seeing with Oklahoma City, trust in the “other guys” is critical to Playoff success. If the stars and the coach cannot trust you, then it could mean a quick exit for the team. That puts a special onus on Green and the Warriors’ bench players.