If you witnessed and somehow survived Sunday night’s transcendent 119-117 overtime shootout between the Portland Trail Blazers and Golden State Warriors, congratulations—you just saw the NBA game of the year.
Doubly so if you happen to be a fan of the victorious Blazers, who finalized their hold on the West's No. 5 seed and a first-round date with the Houston Rockets.
Golden State’s faithful, on the other hand, will likely transfix themselves on one box-score digit in particular.
Not the 47-spot from Stephen Curry. Not the 72 combined points from Curry and Klay Thompson.
Show-stopping as the Splash Brothers were, the Warriors will see Andrew Bogut’s plus-24—the point differential Golden State enjoyed with its Aussie center on the floor before a rib injury brought him to the locker room for X-rays—as the most jarring of all.
The Dubs’ playoff fate is secure, of course. That's a lot more than Mark Jackson and company can say for their overall postseason prospects, marred as they are by five losses in the team’s last 10 games—a recipe, perhaps, for a premature ouster.
What's more, one need only take a cursory glance at Golden State’s season stats to see just how crucial Bogut has become to his team’s defensive scheme.
According to NBA.com, for all players who have logged a minimum of 1,000 minutes, the Warriors are registering both their fourth-highest defensive rating (98.9) and net rating (8.9) with Bogut on the floor. (NBA.com media stats require subscription.)
With Bogut off, those numbers drop to 100 and minus-2.8, respectively—the fifth-worst in both cases for players with 1,000 or more minutes.
More alarming still, those numbers become even more pronounced when you take only Western Conference opponents into account: Golden State charts its highest defensive efficiency (98.3), and second-highest net rating (8.1) with Bogut on the floor, while ringing up its lowest DRtg (102.2) when he’s on the bench.
The roundabout morale: Should Bogut be lost for any considerable length of time, Golden State’s odds of cracking the conference finals become considerably starker.
Jermaine O’Neal, for all his surprising serviceability, simply can’t hold a flame to Bogut’s interior presence, his defensive fleet-footedness having long since atrophied. O’Neal’s specs: a 101.7 defensive rating and minus-0.6 net rating when he's on the floor in games against Western Conference foes.
Basic biases aside, Mark Jackson’s comments to The Associated Press back in February highlight just how indispensable Bogut has been on the defensive end (via CSNBayArea.com):
He's been spectacular, protecting the paint, setting screens, rebounding the basketball, being a leader, being durable. If he's not here, you're asking basically a power forward to be a (center), and to do it for a lengthy period of time is a recipe for disaster. But he's been awesome, and certainly should be in the discussion for Defensive Player of the Year.
This isn’t all to say Bogut is somehow Golden State’s best player, or even its most valuable. Both those superlatives belong to Steph Curry and Steph Curry alone.
But most important? Right now, for where this team is and where it hopes to go, both in the near and long term? Therein lies the linguistic trick.
Without him, there’s no way Golden State has a third-best defensive efficiency to pair with its 12th-ranked, intermittently gangbusters offense, to say nothing of the team’s No. 9 rebounding rate.
Need more proof? Proof you shall have (skip ahead to the 1:13 mark for a tasty array of Bogut’s defensive exploits):
If the “writhing” cited by one of the above tweets is to be believed, Bogut will almost certainly be sidelined for the team’s final two games against the Minnesota Timberwolves and Denver Nuggets—even if it means potentially slipping down to the No. 7 seed currently occupied by the Dallas Mavericks.
That would mean a first-round date with the Oklahoma City Thunder, against whom the Warriors went 1-2 during the regular season. In those three tilts, Golden State’s defensive rating with Bogut on the bench was a jarring 120.7, the third-lowest mark of any Warrior regardless of minutes played.
For a player who's fought back against devastating injury after devastating injury, Bogut’s latest misfortune feels especially cruel—a basketball death by a thousand cuts.
Which is why every Warriors fan worth her Splash Brothers T-shirt has to hope the gravest guesses—unlike the next Steph Curry haymaker—sail long and wide and harmlessly out of play.
Some NBA.com stats require a subscription. All stats current as of April 14 and courtesy of NBA.com unless otherwise noted.