Golden State Warriors' Supporting Cast Can Be X-Factor in 2015 Championship Run

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 8, 2015

Jeff Chiu/AP Images

For a long time, the key to beating the Golden State Warriors was taking Stephen Curry out of the game and daring role players to pick up the slack.

The Dubs' supporting cast was more than happy to oblige in a 106-98 win over the Los Angeles Clippers Sunday, which means future opponents (including those standing in the way of the Warriors' potential title run) may have to reconsider their approach.

Golden State's win upped its NBA-best home record to 27-2, giving it 15 consecutive victories against Western Conference competition at Oracle Arena.

Curry scored just 12 points on three made field goals as the Clippers sought to bottle him up whenever he touched the ball. It's a strategy that has generally paid dividends for L.A., and plenty of Warriors' opponents have employed some variation on the idea.

The tactic makes sense. Curry is uniquely dangerous with the ball in his hands, and using conventional defensive strategies against him is a sure way to get burned. He can pull up, drive past just about anyone and, as Synergy Sports shows us, destroy opponents who allow him to orchestrate in the pick-and-roll:

So the Clips sent an extra defender at Curry from the get-go, forcing him to surrender the ball at the start of possessions. Their hope was that the likes of Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston et al. would falter.

So much for that idea.

Three Warriors scored at least 20 points—not one of them sporting No. 30.

Green led all scorers with 23, chipping in six assists as the lead facilitator whenever Curry faced those high double-teams. And when he wasn't dicing up the Clippers' defense in four-on-three situations, Green was a scoring beneficiary underneath, via the NBA's official Twitter account:


Curry to Iguodala to Green for the slam on #NBAonABC! #NBARapidReplay http://t.co/mumgJS1eBv

He even provided a quintessential "are you serious?" staredown following a postgame bump from Clippers guard Dahntay Jones:

Shaun Livingston dropped a season-high 21 points off the bench to go along with eight rebounds, three assists and three steals. Thanks to the extra space created by the Warriors' small-ball lineup (which tied the Clippers in knots and has been a major weapon over the past couple of weeks), he punished defenders who couldn't handle him one-on-one in the post and wreaked havoc in the passing lanes with his length.

Klay Thompson contributed 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, taking full advantage of the open shots created by the Clippers' scrambling defense. He achieved a milestone in the process, via Bleacher Report:

Bleacher Report @BleacherReport

Klay Thompson has passed his coach Steve Kerr on the NBA's all-time 3-pointers made list http://t.co/l2E170O0WW http://t.co/A2ebKtCBQR

Los Angeles' ploy failed miserably, as Golden State commanded a double-digit lead for most of the second half, running the advantage up over 20 points in stretches.

Does this mean the "close your eyes, double Curry and pray" gambit is headed for retirement?

Probably not.

It's not optimal for the Warriors to lean on the approach they used to beat the Clippers. Los Angeles wanted Golden State to pin its hopes on its role players precisely because it's a safer bet to concede shots and offensive decisions to someone other than Curry.

If given the choice, the Warriors would happily run their motion-heavy offense and let Curry operate. Opponents will always seek to prevent that from happening in one way or another.

The difference now, as was made particularly evident against the Clippers, is that the Warriors' secondary players have clearly improved the way they handle those kinds of game plans. It could be that they're simply getting used to greater responsibilities. Or maybe it's an offshoot of the confidence they've developed in going small.

As ESPN.com's Ethan Sherwood Strauss noted, the Warriors have prepared for defenses to attack them this way:

Ethan Strauss @SherwoodStrauss

My only issue with Doc's strategy is that it was expected and GSW had a practice to prep

The Warriors handle strategies like Los Angeles' in part by taking Andrew Bogut off the floor to create space. Golden State has been phenomenal with Green at center this year, so perhaps it's just an extremely confident small-ball unit taking advantage of momentum.

Whatever the case, the Warriors' role players have never looked better.

And it's not like Curry was invisible. He still found ways to impact the game.

Head coach Steve Kerr's reaction to that play was priceless, via SportsNation:

SportsNation @SportsNation

Steph Curry got Steve Kerr like... https://t.co/kNFhzEvqHX

Ridiculous highlights aside, Curry is still charged with making the correct pass out of the double-team whenever he faces a tactic like the one the Clippers used. Though he made a handful of sloppy passes, Curry generally ditched the ball quickly and let his teammates do the rest.

But it's important not to get carried away with this Warriors win or the way they secured it.

Blake Griffin, still recovering from elbow surgery, missed the game. Though Golden State probably could have been as effective on offense with its undersized quick-strike attack against a fully healthy Clippers team, it's hard to imagine things would have been the same on the other end.

On the boards and in the post, Griffin would have presented a major challenge to the reserve units the Warriors deployed. In last year's first-round playoff series win, L.A.'s larger lineups were too much for a Warriors team missing Bogut.

All Sunday's contest taught us was that the Clippers (and most teams without an offensively dominant frontcourt scorer) have no answer for Golden State when it goes to its reserves—especially when they're part of a smaller attack.

That's the thing, though: The Warriors, ideally, won't even have to utilize backups or gimmicky options on most nights. They'd rather not do things that way.

"We don’t necessarily want to [go small], but we feel like we’re really good at it," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr told Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News after downsizing to beat the Milwaukee Bucks on March 4.

As Golden State gears up for what should be a lengthy playoff run, Curry will continue to be the focus of every opponent's strategy. The problem for potential foes, though, is that taking him out of the game doesn't necessarily weaken the Warriors anymore.

It just reveals another strength.


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