That means freeing up Stephen Curry to do Stephen Curry things, ensuring Klay Thompson keeps the ball moving when shots and paths to the basket aren't there and—most importantly—getting consistently noticeable contributions from Andre Iguodala and Harrison Barnes.
In the fourth game of their first-round series against the Clippers, the Warriors remained in control from start to finish, shooting their way to a 118-97 victory and 2-2 series tie. Though the Clippers offense was uncharacteristically disastrous and their hearts presumably heavy following owner Donald Sterling's latest alleged brush with the inhumane, a blueprint for sustainable success emerged.
This win had more to do with the Warriors than it did Chris Paul getting into foul trouble, DeAndre Jordan being a non-factor and the Clippers abandoning structured offensive sets for low-percentage three-pointers. It was about more than Curry's long overdue display of lava-hot shooting.
Game 4 saw the Warriors play as they should, their offense and defense a dynamic brew of team basketball, replete with two of the team's most important X-factors leaving a much-needed, non-negotiable imprint.
The Iggy Effect
Let us begin with Iguodala, the athletic wing renowned for his profound impact that goes beyond the box score.
For the first time all postseason, Iguodala made his presence felt. He battled foul woes in Game 1 and statistical detachment in Games 2 and 3. That's not to say he wasn't his usual self. In some ways, he was. He played sensational defense in Game 2, doing things that, as per usual, didn't show up in the box score.
But this is the playoffs. Box scores matter. Rotations are shortened, and minutes are extended. The players who play must produce. They must have a measurable, box-score-apparent influence, which is just what Iguodala had in Game 4.
In a little over 42 minutes of action, Iggy went for 22 points, four rebounds, nine assists, one steal and one block. It marked the first time in his career he registered at least 20 points, four rebounds and nine assists in a single playoff game, and it acted as a necessary boon for a Warriors team that, despite its depth of talent, often finds itself waging the equivalent of a one- or two-man battle.
More impressive than anything was his aggression on offense. Forget the point totals for a second. Iggy was attacking more than usual, forcing the Clippers to guard him off the dribble in addition to Thompson and Curry. When that happens, when he's a threat to score, Curry isn't chased off the three-point line as frequently.
Iguodala's added edge was apparent from the jump. He went at the heart of Los Angeles' defense, drawing contact and making frequent, productive trips to the foul line (he shot 8-of-10 from the charity stripe).
To no one's surprise, Iggy's elevated engagement created opportunities for everyone else. The Clippers defense kept collapsing on his dribble penetration, and when the shot wasn't there, he deferred accordingly.
The Warriors need more of this Iggy—so much more. This is only the fourth time he eclipsed 20 points this year. The Warriors are 4-0 in such games.
A big part of why this series unfolded the way it did until Game 4 was Iggy's limited involvement. Sure, the Warriors won Game 1, but they fell short in both Game 2 and 3. Think of what they could have done with this version of Iggy.
Even if we were to give him a pass for his foul trouble in Game 1, his Game 3 performance was too familiar. Eleven points and three assists on nine shots in 41 minutes? That can't happen. The Warriors need more.
As Bleacher Report's Ric Bucher explained, they cannot succeed with him routinely being outplayed by J.J. Redick:
Warriors coach Mark Jackson, of course, is looking for Iguodala to punish Redick so the Clippers are forced to double-team him in the post and thereby open up those other offensive weapons. That hasn't happened. Iguodala, in backing down Redick, has looked tentative and confused about what he wants to do once he gets into the paint.
And while the Warriors certainly face a significant challenge with Lee, 35-year-old Jermaine O'Neal and journeyman Marreese Speights defending the rim-running threat posed by Griffin and Jordan—not to mention trying to slow down Redick coming off a screen—Redick has not been as effective in situations where he was defended by Thompson and Harrison Barnes.
What he did in Game 4 needs to be the standard. Iguodala can't be a one-way player. He shouldn't be a liability on one end—especially defense—or both ends.
The Warriors need him to be a two-way asset.
The same two-way asset he was in Game 4.
Harrison Barnes' Re-Emergence
Pretty much all of the same can be said of Barnes.
After a promising playoff campaign to close out his rookie year, Barnes was expected to make serious strides during his sophomore crusade. That never happened.
Barnes' leap was more of a plunge. Both his efficiency and shot selection regressed as he struggled to adjust to life within a second unit devoid of a true, established playmaker. The playoffs haven't treated him much better to this point. He was averaging nine points on 34.6 percent shooting heading into Game 4.
On Sunday, he left his inefficiency behind, even if only for one game. Barnes was economical in his shot selection and consistently involved. He tallied 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and did a much, much better job of making quick, intelligible decisions.
When he caught the ball, the action didn't stop. He passed or shot. Sometimes he attacked. Very rarely, though, did he spend ample time dribbling. The ball kept moving, a concept he grappled with during the regular season.
Just as Golden State needs Iguodala to be active and aggressive on both ends of the floor, this is what the Warriors need from Barnes. A productive Barnes gives them the second-unit threat they do not have, the bench production they thought they found.
If he can continue playing like he did in Game 4, head coach Mark Jackson's decision to run with oodles of bench players at once doesn't look so daft. It gives him an incentive to run with smaller, floor-spacing lineups, opening up possibilities for a Warriors offense that hasn't lived up to its full potential this season.
A Sign of What Must Come
Recent Sterling-imposed obstacles aside, the Clippers are a dangerous team. The Warriors, meanwhile, are an enfeebled faction, courtesy of an ill-timed injury bug.
Andrew Bogut's absence has not gone unnoticed. Without him protecting the middle on defense, the Warriors don't have an elite shot-contester. Jermaine O'Neal has performed admirably, and David Lee's rotations haven't been horrible, but neither of them is Bogut.
In his absence, pressure falls on Golden State's perimeter guys—both on defense and offense.
Quite literally, the Warriors need to shore up their defense from the free-throw line extended or risk being abused down low. Barnes and Iggy are two athletic bodies capable of making the quick lateral movements necessary to prohibit dribble penetration and make a mockery of passing lanes.
But more than that, the Warriors need them to create a more balanced offensive attack. Sans Bogut, their offense has become that much more important, specifically with regard to Iggy and Barnes' production.
Curry is easier to defend without Bogut setting those hard, wide screens of his. Neither O'Neal nor Lee can replicate the space he creates. That's been an understated void in Golden State's offense.
On nights when Curry is being limited or his shots aren't falling, additional scorers must emerge. Nights like Game 4, when he's on, are important too.
Lee and Thompson are going to get their points. Barnes and Iggy are the wild cards. If they can become predictable contributors who don't disappear by the quarter or game, the Warriors can start shooting and scoring at the level they were meant to.
"It just all came together," Iguodala told reporters after Game 4.
As reputable as they've become on defense, the Warriors were supposed to be better on offense. They have to be better. They have an array of weapons, all of whom are capable of exceeding 20 points on any given night.
For Barnes and Iggy, those nights of offensive relevance have been few and far between. When they contribute with more frequency on that end of the floor, things come together.
And when things come together, the Warriors win.
*Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless otherwise attributed.
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