Golden State Will Need More Than Buzzer Beaters to Win in the Playoffs

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Golden State Will Need More Than Buzzer Beaters to Win in the Playoffs
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The way the Golden State Warriors have oscillated between brilliant and boneheaded, you could be forgiven for believing theirs is a season destined for disappointment.

But after Klay Thompson canned a last-second turnaround jumper to give Golden State a stunning 98-96 road win over the Indiana Pacers Tuesday night, the rest of the NBA was once again put on notice that, for all their occasional faults, clutch is very much in this team’s genes.

The win marked the fifth time this season that Mark Jackson’s crew has eked out a W in the game’s waning moments.

That this one came against a team that had lost only three times on its home floor entering Tuesday’s showdown only makes Golden State’s exclamation-point win even more impressive.

True to form, the Pacers made it as perilous as possible for their foes, chewing up a 12-point fourth-quarter deficit with a terrifying three-minute defensive blitzkrieg that very nearly sent the Warriors to their third loss in four games.

Instead it was Thompson—16 fourth-quarter points in total—who helped redeem his team following its turnover-heavy fourth-quarter meltdown against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Thompson offered up his thoughts on the process behind his brilliant baseline basket, per NBA.com.

I just tried to use my body to back him down and make some space for the shot. Yes it’s a great feeling to come in here and get a win, its huge, especially against the team with best record in the NBA. The fourth quarter I was a little more active. We did a better job of ball movement and I was able to get a lot of open looks. But there at the end it felt good to silence the crowd.

Heady heroics aside, the Warriors have plenty of wrinkles to iron out before the postseason, the league’s seventh-worst turnover rate (15.7 percent) being chief among them.

Still, the value of pulling out crunch-time wins cannot be discounted, particularly for a team involved in only two games decided by five or fewer points during last year’s playoffs (they were 1-1).

They’ve certainly gotten their fair share of practice this season. Twice, the man of the moment turned out to be Andre Iguodala.

One of the first things you notice in watching these, aside from Iggy’s cold-blooded touch, is how different Jackson’s play-calling was.

In that first video, Stephen Curry—without a doubt Golden State’s number-one option—was little more than a decoy, never moving more than 10 feet from the left corner.

In the second, Curry was initially intended to get the shot, but after being rooted well out of his comfort zone, managed to deftly thread a bounce pass to a wide open Iguodala, who once again came through in spades.

Lest you thought Golden State’s sweet-shooting star would be left out of this conversation, Curry’s already tallied two game-winners of his own.

Nothing much to that buzzer-beater against the Dallas Mavericks: just a simple isolation, dribble-drive and a perfect pump fake to seal the deal.

Against the Boston Celtics on Jan. 14, Curry received much the same attention as he did in the second Iguodala clip but, with plenty of time on the clock and absent a double-team, was able to make his own magic.

All told, the Warriors are 11-10 in games decided by five points or fewer this season, meaning more than a third of their games have come down to the narrowest of margins. Any team with that many wire-riding losses to their name invariably wishes it had back one or two of those possessions.

Indeed, there’s no substitute for experience, which is why Golden State’s many dances with danger are exactly the kind of bullet points playoff teams want on their resumés.

During his postgame remarks, Mark Jackson intimated that, while his team had all the makings of a giant-killer in waiting, they must avoid falling victim to their blunders.

In particular, the Warriors would be wise to heed their Achilles' heels in the final frame: According to NBA.com, while Golden State is third in the league in defensive efficiency, they're a dismal 25th in that department during the fourth quarter.

Their offense, meanwhile, remains relatively static, registering a fourth-quarter efficiency of 104.5, compared to an even 104 overall.

Faced with consistently tougher opponents in the postseason, the Warriors’ chief concern will be not allowing their typically stellar defense to put them into nail-biting situations in the first place—something B/R's Adam Fromal delved into deeper back in January.

It's just tough to make an argument that the Dubs are actually stepping up their games down the stretch, especially when they're not winning games at the rate they typically do. If Golden State is getting a victory, chances are it's building up a safe lead rather than fighting it out in the closing minutes. 

That Golden State ultimately can eke out a win is a testament to the versatile arsenal of scorers—the sharpshooting “Splash Brothers,” a slashing Iggy, the powerful post moves of David Lee and Andrew Bogut—at Mark Jackson’s disposal.

Whether the Warriors have what it takes to make hay come playoff time will hinge on two factors above all else: defensive consistency and offensive execution.

The Warriors certainly have work to do when it comes to the former. But as the clock ticks closer to zero, Golden State can rest easy knowing that if one of Curry, Thompson or Iguodala hoists the final shot, he'll already have put in some work of his own.

 

All stats courtesy of NBA.com and current as of March 4, unless otherwise noted.

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