5 Factors That Will Decide Golden State Warriors' Playoff Ceiling
The Golden State Warriors made an early statement in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs, giving hope that their ceiling might be higher than expected. In the following contest, the Dubs were laughed off of the court.
The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde-type characteristics that this team displayed are not going help the Dubs achieve their highest potential. These are the playoffs, and consistency is the key.
The Warriors have injuries and could have really used Andrew Bogut in Game 2 as somebody who could set the tone against the Los Angeles Clippers' DeAndre Jordan and Blake Griffin. However, Bogut won’t be a factor for this round, if at all during the postseason.
Even if the Warriors can survive and advance, what factors will decide their playoff fate? Many factors come into play, both internally and externally, but let’s look at what will ultimately define the journey.
Each Possession Is Crucial
The Warriors learned a lot in last season’s playoff series versus the San Antonio Spurs. Consistency and maximizing every possession led the older statesmen's efforts to slow down the younger Dubs.
Stephen Curry experienced the excitement and the letdown firsthand. He had monster third quarters and developed his floater, but the team did not advance.
According to Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle, his perspective is better this year:
If we give full energy and lose on our terms, that's fine. But we've been giving up huge runs and blowing leads. We've got to figure that out, and we've got to do it sooner (rather) than later. We're still confident and still feel like we can compete with anybody in the West.
Curry has been missing for most of the series, except for producing a big third quarter in Game 2, which was mostly in garbage time.
The Dubs need to keep their focus over the entire game and not get rattled by in-game events or short runs by the opponent. Playoff games are 48-minute chess matches, and the Warriors have to be ready to adjust on the fly.
If the Warriors can limit significant stretches of dominance by an opponent, they will increase their chances of making it to the next round.
The further along they go in the playoffs, the stronger the Warriors will have to play on both sides of the ball.
Making the Correct Adjustments
In Game 1 of the series, the players rallied around coach Mark Jackson and used his motivation skills to earn a victory on the road. In Game 2, there was white noise.
Game 2 was like a horror movie where the Clippers' defense knew exactly what was going to happen, but the Warriors still ran right into the traps. Curry was constantly double-teamed and his teammates could not distribute the ball without turning it over.
Coach Jackson's most effective lineup of the night, which included Draymond Green at power forward, played a total of four minutes as a group. He relied on his second team for too many minutes in the first half.
Jackson is going to need to understand the rotations and switch out the correct players to maximize production. He can’t rely on formulas that he used in relatively meaningless regular-season games.
Yes, players will need breaks, but he has to shorten the bench and go with the hot hand if he wants to advance in the playoffs. The more the units play together in pressure situations, the better the playoff rotations will work.
This is a make-or-break area for Jackson.
Turnovers are a huge sign in forecasting the possibilities of a team advancing to the later rounds of the playoffs. In order to win tight games, the Warriors need to do a much better job of holding on to the ball and not making errant passes.
Based on the results of April 21, the Warriors gave a case study in what not to do in an important playoff game.
As reported by ESPN's Arah Markazi, the Warriors turned the ball just over on 26 percent of their possessions. They lost the turnover battle 26-13 in the game, which resulted in a 27-8 scoring advantage for the Clippers.
The Dubs are currently the worst-rated team in turnovers per game (24.5) out of the 16 playoff teams.
Going forward, the Warriors will not win any series if they are so generous. Curry can’t be careless while he is generating offense and David Lee needs to be a lot smarter when the ball is in his hands.
The team doesn’t have to limit its offensive style, it just has to make sure that there is a Warriors jersey on the other end of each pass.
If the Warriors can limit their turnovers to closer to 10 per game, they will have a better shot of winning close games.
Contributions from the Bench
The Warriors’ bench became a much more important part of the picture after the injury to Andrew Bogut. The supporting cast of characters has to provide production at a similar level to that of the big Aussie.
As for the hope that Bogut can repeat what David Lee pulled off in last year’s playoffs, Rusty Simmons of the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the chances are slim.
In order to cover the hole on the front line, Jermaine O’Neal needs to continue his quality play for 20-25 minutes per game and Marreese Speights, Hilton Armstrong and even Ognjen Kuzmic have to fill in the rest.
Draymond Green is establishing himself as a proven player who can guard almost every position and also hit big shots. He is a versatile weapon, as he can slide into both the 3 and 4 spots and fill one of the holes left by the Bogut injury.
The Dubs have seen a revived version of Harrison Barnes. He hit a crucial three-pointer in Game 1 and contributed in the Game 2 loss.
The remainder of the bench, including Steve Blake, must produce positive minutes when given the task.
All in all, Coach Jackson has to be more selective with the use of his players. However, when each player’s number is called, that person must step up.
Setting the Tone
These are the playoffs, and the Dubs won’t have any choice on who they will play next if they advance to the next round. The next opponent up will most likely be faster, stronger and more skilled.
In the first two playoff games, the Warriors got behind by large margins. The team was too tentative and didn’t set up its game plan.
Going forward, the Warriors need to be hot right from the tip. If the Dubs can take the early lead, they will force the Clippers and future opponents into trying to force plays and make them uncomfortable.
Coach Jackson needs to get both Curry and Klay Thompson in the mix early. If both of those players can get hot, the Dubs' chances of victory increase significantly.
If the Warriors can get past the Clippers, their likeliest next opponent would be the Oklahoma City Thunder, who they have had very entertaining battles with this season. If they can advance to the Conference Finals, the Spurs will probably be waiting.
It will be a great accomplishment to get to there, but they would most likely have to face the Spurs. That team is the Warriors’ “Huckleberry,” having owned Golden State since late last century.
In last season’s playoffs, the Dubs surprisingly won their first game in San Antonio since February 1997, but they couldn’t hold home court and wound up going home in six.
As referenced earlier, the team has to maximize each possession versus the Thunder or Spurs and cannot give up big leads if it wants any shot to advance. The same works on the opposite side, where the Warriors can’t fall behind by large margins or they will have a huge problem trying to crawl back.
Based on the information at hand, the ceiling looks to be the second round again for the Warriors. The team has a lot of talent, but the sum of its parts without Bogut doesn’t add up to higher-level play just yet.
Will next year’s squad include Mark Jackson? What adjustments will be made? What new players will be added to this up-and-coming team?
Those questions will all be answered once the Warriors finish this season.