Never underestimate the effectiveness of the unconventional.
The Warriors don’t look like an NBA champion, at least in a physical sense. They sure don’t play like an NBA champion, at least in a practical sense.
Yet unless this high-wire act comes crashing down onto jagged rocks — and there’s still ample time for that — the Bay Area will soon be home to the most nonconformist of NBA champions.
The Warriors are built around a superstar, but Stephen Curry is not in the same class of physical marvel as, say, LeBron James. Not at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds.
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Curry, of course, makes up for that with lethal shooting. No jump shot in the league is more accurate or quicker to launch, making Curry almost impossible to cover. Then add his willingness to take shots from everywhere, in any situation. Even when he’s standing beyond the 3-point line on a fast break and the lane is practically wide open.
“One of the reasons we’re reluctant to take timeouts is because we feel like at any time Steph can come down and hit three 3s in a row,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “He’s an incredibly skilled player and fearless. At any moment he can let loose.”
Backcourt mate Klay Thompson can let loose as well, just not with facial expressions. Thompson wears the same stoic look whether he’s made seven straight shots or missed seven in a row, which happens less frequently now that he regularly attacks the rim.
Andrew Bogut is no one’s idea of a championship NBA center. The burly Aussie is a force on the defensive end, a master of absorbing contact without drawing fouls. (Who once a game gets whistled for silly reach-ins.) On offense Bogut is a clever passer and can set a mean screen but is otherwise a non-factor.
Perhaps no Warriors player defies convention more than Draymond Green, the undersized power forward.
Since entering the NBA as a second-round pick, the 6-7 Green has become the team’s “heartbeat” (Kerr’s word) thanks to his gregarious enthusiasm and a well of competitive juice deeper than Lake Tahoe.
When it comes to defensive versatility, Green arguably has no equal. At one moment during Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals you’d see him guarding James Harden. In the next, Green would be guarding Dwight Howard.
“It was fun,” Green said of defending the 6-11 Howard. “It’s always fun guarding those bigger guys. It’s a challenge and I enjoy challenges, but at the same time, on the offensive end, when you try to keep a big in against our small lineup, it’s rough.”
It’s rough because Green is an adept ball-handler and passer. In fact, the Warriors’ fast break often works best when he’s leading it. About how many power forwards can you say that?
It’s also rough because Green and Curry have developed a lethal pick-and-roll game. Lure a big man 25 feet away from the rim, and Green will blow by him on his way to the bucket to either score himself or find the open shooter.
It’s not conventional, but it sure is effective. The Warriors earned home-court advantage throughout the playoffs by winning 67 regular-season games and have since gone 9-2.
The rest of the roster brims with matchup nightmares. Harrison Barnes is Golden State’s dunker and can hit the corner 3. Andre Iguodala remains a top defender who occasionally flashes on offense. Marreese Speights (when healthy) can bury jumpers repeatedly from 18 feet.
Then there’s backup guard Shaun Livingston, another convention twister. At 6-7, Livingston is taller and longer than just about anyone he’s matched against.
Most nights the 11-year veteran is content to distribute. In Game 1 though his team needed scoring and Livingston responded with 14 of his 18 points in the second quarter to spearhead the Warriors’ comeback.
14points scored by Shaun Livingston in Warriors’ second-quarter rally in Game 1
“Every night it’s way more than points,” Green said of Livingston. “He just happened to score tonight. The way he pushed the basketball for us, he continued to raise the tempo of the game. Also, on the defensive end, he’s been great for us, pressuring the ball, just always in the right spot.”
Because the Warriors lack a true low-post scorer, because they rely so heavily on perimeter shooting, because they play with such a chaotic openness, it’s understandable for there to be skeptics. Charles Barkley is a noted one and so too, apparently, is Phil Jackson.
Understandable for this reason: No team in the NBA takes as many wild shots as the Warriors, shots that ping the needle on everyone’s internal “Are-you-serious?” meter.
A lot of times these shots miss. They do. But when Curry swishes a hair-trigger 3 on the break, even with the Warriors having numbers, the effect is devastating. When it happens on the road, nothing stuns a crowd faster. And when it happens at home, where the Warriors are 44-3, the volume at Oracle Arena gets cranked to 11.
The NBA has seldom, if ever, seen a championship team play so fast, loose and with such unconventional, unbridled flair. If this bunch can produce seven more victories, it will soon enough.
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS
Game 2: Houston at Golden State, 6 p.m. today (ESPN)