How Are Golden State Warriors Surviving Without Andrew Bogut?

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How Are Golden State Warriors Surviving Without Andrew Bogut?
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Donald Sterling's recent racist comments are nothing short of disgusting, and the Los Angeles Clippers have every right to be affected by them.

The Golden State Warriors, meanwhile, are facing a more tangible obstacle in this series: The absence of center Andrew Bogut.

While everyone from Bill Simmons to Doc Rivers have used the Sterling comments as an excuse for why the Clippers were dominated in Game 4, the national media and Mark Jackson have barely uttered Bogut's name all series.

But as Jackson always says, the Warriors are a "no-excuse" basketball team.

What once sounded like a cliche now looks like an appropriate description of Golden State in comparison to Los Angeles. Already this series, the Clippers have lost Game 1 because Blake Griffin fouled out, had the league apologize for a call that didn't go their way and were dominated by Stephen Curry because they were "distracted" (he's never dominated them before or anything).

The Warriors, meanwhile, had Andre Iguodala foul out just as quickly as Griffin in Game 1, had Jordan Crawford absurdly ejected and then brought back (a first?), had Draymond Green called for a crucial foul in Game 3 just before a crucial non-call on Paul sealed the game.

The hamstring injury that has limited Chris Paul has gotten more attention than the hamstring injuries that both David Lee and Iguodala are dealing with, not to mention the cracked rib that is holding Bogut out completely.

Oh, and Warriors owner Joe Lacob has, like Sterling, created a media whirlwind and put all kinds of undeserved pressure on his coach and team. The Warriors also lost two assistant coaches in the past two months. And one of them was recording private conversations between Warriors players and coaches.

 

Yet while Los Angeles' excuses are well documented by media members, Clippers coaches and players, and the NBA league office, the Warriors excuses are simply not made.

Of course, by stating this I am starting to make excuses for the Warriors. And maybe I should.

Then again, maybe I shouldn't. Being a no-excuse basketball team isn't just an act of pride; it is a strategy. It is a way of thinking that allows a team to play with confidence no matter what adversity comes its way.

The fact that the Warriors do not make excuses is the primary reason that their biggest would-be excuse—the absence of Bogut—has not stopped them from being extremely competitive with the Clippers.

Los Angeles leads 3-2 in a series that has consisted of one blowout each way and three highly competitive battles.

Rather than looking for sympathy, the Warriors entered Game 1 focused on one thing: Beating the Clippers. Each player asked themselves what they could do to help compensate for the loss of their center, and Jackson considered how to manipulate his lineups to turn the injury into an advantage.

The result? The Warriors outplayed the Clippers, building a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter. The game came down to the wire, but Golden State was the better team.

Of course, the story of the game somehow became that the refs missed a reach-in foul on Green in the final minute (because refs never swallow their whistles late in games). The story should have been that Warriors out-rebounded the Clippers 68-50 despite the absence of Bogut.

In fact, the Warriors have beaten Los Angeles on the glass in all five games of this series.


Controlling the Boards

Noah Graham/Getty Images

Normally this would be no surprise. Golden State was the NBA's ninth-best team in rebounding percentage during the regular season, while the Clippers were 20th. But with Bogut out, the Warriors have been down their tallest (7'0"), biggest (245 pounds) and strongest (he just is) player, and their best rebounder (10.0 per game).

So how have the Warriors been able to win the rebounding battle?

Jermaine O'Neal (6'11") and Lee (6'9"), the Warriors starting frontcourt for the first three games, give up only one inch combined to DeAndre jordan (6'11") and Blake Griffin (6'10"). Matt Barnes (6'7") is an inch taller than Iguodala (6'6").

That disadvantage is cancelled out by the Warriors backcourt, where Curry (6'3") and Klay Thompson (6'7") tower over Paul (6'0") and J.J. Redick (6'4") by six total inches.

With starting lineups that are basically equal in size, the rebounding battle has come down to grittiness and bench play.

Golden State's reserves have thoroughly out-rebounded Los Angeles'. Green (who has started twice in this series) has grabbed 7.4 rebounds a game. Harrison Barnes has added 3.8 to go with 2.8 from Marreese Speights. The Clippers' best two rebounders off the bench have been Danny Granger and Glen Davis, who have each grabbed just 2.4 boards.

It has been the play of those three reserve forwards, along with Iguodala (4.6 rebounds compared to Matt Barnes' 3.4) and Thompson (4.6 rebounds compared to Redick's 1.6) that has given the Warriors extra possessions all series long.

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Neither Thompson, Barnes, Green nor Iguodala is a mean 7'0" Australian bruiser, but they are all channeling Bogut in terms of their level of intensity when crashing the glass. Rebounding is not the only facet in which those four are making up for Bogut's absence.


A Gang of Defenders

The most under-appreciated unit in the NBA this season was the Warriors on defense.

They were one of only three teams to hold opponents to less than a point per possession, and the only team to do so in the Western Conference.

People have said things like "improved," "capable" and "above average" when describing the Warriors' defense. Terms such as "dominant," "smothering" and "elite" are hardly ever connected to the unit, even though that is exactly what they are.

Bogut, of course, was the anchor to the west's best defense all season long. He tied Joakim Noah for the best defensive rating in the NBA, but Noah won the Defensive Player of the Year Award in a landslide. Bogut didn't even place third; that spot went to the Clippers' Jordan.

Jordan is certainly a good defensive player, and the absence of Bogut has only made blocking shots and deterring penetration easier for him. He still does a far worse job of shutting down his man, rotating, guarding the pick-and-roll and stepping out to the perimeter than Bogut does, and his placement above Bogut in the DPOY voting is largely due to the market he plays in and the overrated stat that is blocked shots (Jordan blocked 2.5 shots to Bogut's 1.8).

Not only is Bogut a far better defender than Jordan, but the Warriors still might have the best defensive player in this series even with their big guy sidelined. If you believe that assertion is crazy, you should know that Jordan and Green were tied for fourth in defensive rating this season (along with Kawhi Leonard, Roy Hibbert and Tim Duncan).

Green has been his team's defensive anchor in every game thus far. He is the one guy on the Warriors (and one of the only guys in the NBA) who can guard Griffin without help. He has the strength of a power forward, the lateral mobility and quickness of a wing defender and a defensive I.Q. far superior to that of most veterans. He is only 23.

He has blocked 1.8 shots, corralled 1.0 steals and out-rebounded Griffin in this series. He's also spent time on Paul, Crawford and just about every other Clippers player.

But Green and Bogut alone did not give the Warriors an elite defense this season. Iguodala, Thompson and Barnes all had a lot to do with it, and all three have clamped down even harder with Bogut out of the picture.

With Thompson beautifully containing Paul (he's shooting only 41.7 percent from the field), Iguodala and Barnes playing stellar transition defense and all three of them in sync when handling switches, the Warriors have been able to defend at a high level.

When you combine Bogut's absence with the fact that the Clippers have the best offense in the NBA, the Warriors are up against a mountainous challenge. Anything less than four phenomenal defensive wings would leave this roster unable to compete. Luckily for them, they have four.


Still a Huge Loss

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This will be brief in an attempt to maintain the "no excuse" mantra, but the Warriors are at an extreme disadvantage without Bogut, no matter how well they compensate.

The big man might be the best screen setter in the league, and his mammoth picks at the top of the arc make guarding Curry a nightmare. You cannot fight through a Bogut screen. He's a statue.

You cannot go under the screen, as Curry is far too quick with his trigger. Bogut is so large and so good at discretely moving that going over doesn't work either, and if his man shows on Curry, you can bet Bogut will be dunking within a matter of seconds.

Without that killer screen, quick and strong-willed point guards Paul and Darren Collison have been able to keep Curry closely checked. When the screen does come, the screener is either too poor a pick-setter (Lee), too slow a roll man (O'Neal) or too offensively limited (Green) to stop the Clippers from sending both guys at Curry.

A healthy Bogut would also give the Warriors a finisher inside, and while he probably would not score much (7.3 points per game during the season), he would force Jordan to stay on him due to his ability to clean up misses, catch lobs and score incredibly efficiently (62.7 percent from the field).

It is safe to say that this type of defensive responsibility would cut into the 4.2 blocks that Jordan has averaged through five games.

Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Then there's the defense. No matter how hard every other Warriors player battles, there is simply no way to keep Jordan off the offensive glass, protect the weak side, aggressively guard Paul on the pick and roll or overcome foul trouble without Bogut. He's the captain of the defense, the man who allows everything else to fall into place.

The team has survived this series without him. They have done so by making coaching adjustments, relying on the advantages they do have and fighting harder rather than feeling sorry for themselves.

They still find themselves down 3-2, and need to win at home to force a Game 7 in Southern California.

If they lose, the storyline will not be centered around how Bogut's absence was too much to overcome. It will be more about how the Clippers overcame the Sterling situation.

If the Warriors win, the focus will not be on how they won without Bogut, but rather how the Sterling situation ruined the Clippers' season. Or maybe how that one foul back in Game 1 was the difference. Who knows?

It doesn't really matter, though. Either team can still win this series, and the team that does win will be the better team.

At least in the eyes of the Warriors; a team that does not make excuses.

 

 

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com and ESPN.com.

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