Warriors' Perimeter Play Elevating Golden State to Whole New Level

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Warriors' Perimeter Play Elevating Golden State to Whole New Level
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In some ways, the Golden State Warriors are still all about Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. In other ways, well, they're not.

I know I'm being totally vague right now, but please, allow me to explain by way of Golden State's thrilling 116-115 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder at Oracle Arena on Thursday.

See, the "Splash Bros" were the foundation of Mark Jackson's squad last year, as they made clear during a stirring run into the second round of the 2013 NBA playoffs. Between Curry's pair of 30-point performances against Andre Iguodala's Denver Nuggets in the first round, Steph's 44-point bonanza in Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs and Klay's 34-point, 14-rebound, eight-three-pointer evening in Game 2 of that series, the Warriors nearly had enough offense between those two to ride into the Western Conference Finals.

Just as those two were nearly enough (seemingly on their own) to oust OKC in Oakland. Curry was cooking early, hitting his first four threes and finishing with 22 points, nine assists, five rebounds and a steal. Thompson, on the other hand, had it going all night, to the tune of 27 points, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc.

But no truly elite team can count on just two perimeter players—no matter how great they are—to carry the load all the way to the top. The Thunder discovered that the hard way last spring, when the loss of Russell Westbrook to a knee injury against the Houston Rockets all but sealed their fate once they faced the Memphis Grizzlies in the second round.

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To be sure, the Warriors weren't exactly a two-man operation. They had plenty of help in the postseason from Harrison Barnes, who just about doubled his rookie-season productivity with 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game during his (and Curry's and Thompson's) first taste of playoff basketball.

Barnes played a pivotal part in the proceedings against OKC as well. The second-year stud out of North Carolina thrived in his role as Golden State's sixth man, scoring 16 points on an impressive array of jumpers, post-ups and basket attacks while being guarded by smaller foes like Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Russell Westbrook.

Barnes, who missed the first four games of the season while recovering from a toe injury, wasn't moved to the bench by accident, though. He wound up there because, in essence, the Warriors front office didn't rest on its laurels. General manager Bob Myers wasn't satisfied with one Cinderella run, especially not with pending free agents Jarrett Jack and Carl Landry all but guaranteed to seek more money elsewhere once the 2012-13 campaign came to a close.

(Jack signed with the Cleveland Cavaliers for four years and $25.2 million, while Landry wound up with four years and $26 million from the Sacramento Kings.)

Instead, Myers swung a three-way sign-and-trade to dump the salaries of Andris Biedrins, Richard Jefferson and Brandon Rush on the Utah Jazz—with pairs of first- and second-round picks to sweeten the pot—and clear enough cap space to sign Iguodala.

So far, Iggy has proven to be a perfect fit for this club. He's diversified Golden State's bomb-happy offense with a much-needed dose of slashing from the perimeter and athletic play in transition.

Not that scoring is even close to Iguodala's most useful attribute to the Dubs. Offensively, the veteran swingman has stepped up as a secondary ball-handler and creator. Those contributions, which were on full display with his nine assists against OKC, allow Curry and Thompson to spend less time and energy operating as facilitators and more doing what they do best: shoot the dang ball.

Likewise, Iggy's all-world individual defense has already taken a ton of pressure off Curry and Thompson on that end, while giving Mark Jackson a stopper who can lock up the NBA's most dangerous wings.

Just as Iguodala did opposite Kevin Durant. Andre harassed Durant into five turnovers, flustered him into foul trouble and limited the league's scoring leader to a relatively modest 20 points on just 5-of-13 shooting.

But even Iguodala couldn't completely shut down the Thunder all by his lonesome. Durant and Westbrook keyed a worrisome (for the Warriors) Thunder comeback from 13 points down in the fourth quarter.

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Curry and Thompson did their best to fend off OKC—the former with a free throw and a key assist, the latter with an and-one layup and beautiful step-back jumper with 49 seconds left to put the Warriors up four.

Still, even the best efforts of the Splash Bros weren't quite enough on their own. A Reggie Jackson layup, a missed jumper by Curry and what seemed like a dagger three by Westbrook had the Thunder ahead by one with just over two seconds remaining.

The circumstances were, in many ways, a microcosm of what the Warriors had once been.

Close, but not yet elite. All too dependent on two streaky shooters. 

That was largely their undoing against the Spurs in last spring's playoffs. Curry's fragile ankle twisted again, and Thompson went cold. Barnes did his best to keep Golden State going, but in the end, it wasn't enough.

Just as it wasn't on this night...

Except for Iguodala, who caught the ball on the final inbounds play, turned toward the baseline and buried a fadeaway jumper over the outstretched arms of Thabo Sefolosha:

To be sure, the Warriors had that element in their offense before Iggy came to town. You can bet Curry and Thompson would've hit that shot just as often (if not more so) than Iguodala would if each were given 10, 20, 50 or even 100 looks at it.

But before this season, Golden State didn't have Iguodala himself. They didn't have that consummate "gamer," that veteran presence to serve as a safety valve on the perimeter for its budding stars.

Now they do, which, in many ways, doesn't make the Warriors any less about the Splash Bros but, in every way, makes them a better team.

Maybe even an elite one.

 

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