Warriors’ small lineup comes up big

This is my Friday column on the Warriors. WARNING: This is a basketball column. 49ers’ fans — feel free to skip this.

OAKLAND – Jermaine O’Neal sprained his knee in Game 6 against the Clippers. He may not play in Game 7. If he does play, he probably won’t play much. He had been filling in for the Warriors’ injured starting center, Andrew Bogut. If O’Neal can’t play Saturday night, the Warriors will be without their top two centers in the biggest game of their season.

But O’Neal’s injury may not be as devastating to the Warriors as it seems.

The injury could be devastating to O’Neal. He is 35 years old, at the end of his playing career. A terrific, 18-season-long playing career. If he can’t play in Game 7 and the Warriors lose, he may never play in another NBA game and that would be a shame.

But when he has been on the court, the Clippers have run the Warriors off the court – outscored them by a whopping 47 points during this series. And O’Neal has played just 81 minutes. Injured knee or no injured knee, it is time for him to take a seat on the bench. He is killing the Warriors.

Head coach Mark Jackson has no choice but to play David Lee and Draymond Green together more often. Those two are the best big men Jackson has left on his roster. And they’re an effective duo. When Lee and Green have been on the court at the same time during this series, the Warriors have outscored the Clippers by 25.

“Me and D-Lee play well together,” Green said before shoot-around Friday morning. “We’re both high-basketball-IQ guys. Both of us can pass and make plays when Steph (Curry) is double-teamed. I think we just work well together. If Lee is going to pop, I know I need to dive, and likewise. We have figured each other out well and we roll together. Sometimes the Clippers really struggle with our small lineup.”

When they’re on the court together, Green typically plays power forward and Lee typically plays center. Both guys are small for those positions. That’s why it is a small lineup.

A small lineup has its advantages.

“Offensively, we’re a better team and we present different challenges when you’re trying to defend that lineup,” Jackson said Friday afternoon. “With Draymond at the four, now you have a power forward who stretches your defense to the 3-point line. And David obviously has an advantage at the “5” with the ability to handle and make plays.”

A small lineup tends to struggle defensively. Does the Warriors’ small lineup struggle defensively?

“No, I won’t say that,” said Jackson. “I think last night David did a great job of battling DeAndre, keeping him off the boards. He did a great job with his game plan discipline and played physical and with force. It made a big difference.”

Lee plays hard, but Green has been the Warriors’ most effective defender during this series. He has made Blake Griffin’s life miserable in the post, has forced Griffin to take and miss difficult shots.

Right now, the Warriors’ small lineup is their best offensive lineup and their best defensive lineup. Meaning the Warriors should use it as much as possible in Game 7.

But the Warriors don’t have any reliable big men backing up Lee and Green. Lee fouled out of Game 6 after playing just 26 minutes, and Green had five fouls in each of the past two games. If Lee or Green picks up a few early fouls in Game 7, Jackson won’t be able to use the small lineup that has been so effective in this series.

How do Green and Lee balance being aggressive and not fouling out?

“I will not have my guys worried about fouling,” Jackson said. “You get yourself in trouble when you worry about how many fouls you have. At the end of the day they have six, and I will make sure that they get to utilize them and be smart with them. But we’re not that good where we can look up and say, ‘I’m not going to foul this time.’ No. Give me what you’ve got, and I will figure the rest out.”

To Green, there is nothing to balance. Balance does not factor into the equation.

“You have to play aggressive,” he said. “There are no more games left if you don’t give all you have in this game. If it comes down to it, you’ve got to use all six fouls.”

It better not come down to it for Green or Lee. Together, they give the Warriors a good shot to win this series.

Grant Cohn writes sports columns and the “Inside the 49ers” blog for The Press Democrat’s website. You can reach him at grantcohn@gmail.com.

This article has 53 Comments

  1. “If O’Neal doesn’t play, the warriors will be without their top two centers for the biggest game of their season.” No. Festus ezili is also out, and he has been out the whole year. That would make them without their to 3* centers, grant.

  2. Draymond’ importance to a Warriors win is second to Curry’.
    Green has done a great job on both ends of the court, defending Griffin, along with rebounding and the occasional score.

    DeAndre Jordan has been brutal defending the key by making the Warriors change their shots anywhere close to the basket.
    I say we have to attack Jordan and get him into foul trouble. Lee/Iguodala have to be much more aggressive in the paint and make Jordan commit.

    I would put Harrison Barnes on Jamal Crawford to make sure he doesn’t get into any rhythm.

    Speights will need to stay out of foul trouble and perhaps the Warriors could insert Hilton Armstrong in certain packages.

    I love my Warriors, but playing without A.Bogut will be a daunting task and may finally catch up to them tonight.

  3. Jermaine O’Neal played three minutes. His plus-minus was minus-6. Warriors lost by five.

    He finished the series with a -53. Jackson should have benched him way earlier in the series.

    The Warriors might have beaten the Clippers if Mark Jackson had given O’Neal’s 84 minutes to Draymond Green or David Lee or Marreese Speights.

  4. Grant,
    Hard to really tell the outcome had O’Neal’ minutes been distributed. But you make a very point. Sometimes it takes one spectacular play to turn the games momentum and this case I believe that play was by Griffin.
    Griffin’ spinning off balance made shot and subsequent foul turned the tide for the Clippers.

    I love that M.Jackson and the entire Warriors team never used the loss of Bogut throughout the series. I’m not happy that my team lost, but they showed great heart and have emerged with burgeoning star in Draymond Green.
    I’m not so sure that Bogut will be a major factor for us going forward. He seems to have been ‘snake-bitten’ for the better part of his career which gives me concern.

    Earlier in the day, O’Neal made a reference about Jackson’ future as coach. I want to kick myself for saying this, but Jackson reminds me of Mike Singletary in the sense that he is not a big X’ and O’ type coach and seems to get the most from his players by being a good motivator.
    Question is, will it be enough to keep his job?

    1. A big turning point was when Jordan blocked Curry’s layup with 2 minutes left and Griffin dunked in transition. Warriors would have been up by 1 but instead were down by 3. Four point swing.

  5. Andre Iguodala was -44 in the series. His minutes should have gone to Harrison Barnes and Jordan Crawford.

    1. Grant Harrison Barnes you have got to be kidding. The man does the greatest disappearing act since Houdini.

    2. Barnes is useless. At least Andre is a great defender. Barnes shooting percentage is in the 20’s. He looks like he is going to cry after every mistake and he is a turnover machine. The warriors lost this game in the first quarter when they jumped out to a big lead and failed to run the lead up because they turned the ball over six times…..

      That and the fact that David Lee could not keep Jordan out of the paint to save his life. Lee was terrible. To compound it, Lee lost his shot this year. He used to be able to hit the 12-15 foot shot, that’s gone. Lee needs other bigs in the lineup to do the dirty work so that they can post him up on mismatches.

      With all that said, if Bogut plays we win this series in five…..

      1. Barnes played well in last year’s playoffs. All the Iguodala trade accomplished was stunting Barnes’ growth.

        Iguodala allowed J.J. Redick to beat him off the dribble repeatedly in this series. Iguodala’s -44 really hurt the Warriors.

        1. Lmao. Saying barnes should have had iguodala’s minutes means you truly don’t watch the warriors besides for the playoffs and rely entirely on stats to form opinions derived from false logic created through confounding variables. What bs homie lolol

          1. miner 49er,
            Well had you read my comment with better focus you would have derived that I never asked Barnes to take minutes away from Iguodala. I also said the Iguodala was a good veteran and I was 50/50 about the trade.

            I don’t watch every game of the season but I do watch about 3/4 which is more than enough to form an observation.

            Read carefully:
            Iguodala’ signing thwarted Barnes’ growth.
            If you actually watch Warrior games vs deriding other fans, you would know that Barnes was beginning to improve his level of play last year and was prominent in last years playoff run. It was also obvious this season that Barnes’ play was subpar and I would attribute that to Iguodala.

            Speaking of Iguodala, he provided a defensive presence but he was also very tentative on the offensive side for the better part of the season. His defense (his strength) against the Clippers left a lot to be desired.

            I would like to see Barnes get more playing time next season in order to get a better gauge of what we have. Right it’s a bit confusing on what we have in Barnes. Is he a player that lost some the ability he showed last year, or is he a player that simply needs to play more to develop.
            I say he needs to play more.
            BTW, there should be no confounding variable in that observation.

          2. Minor you are dead on. Grant is basing his theory on Barnes success last year in one series. That doesn’t define him. However his terrible season this year does.

            He’s a ice kid you can tell. But he’s terrible.

        2. Grant falling in love with Barnes because of last years playoffs is alot like falling in love and drafting a college player who was poor during the season but has a great tournament its a recipe for disaster. Barnes has been very mediocre for 2 season with a nice run of 12 to 14 games during last years playoffs when he happened to get hot. You need to judge him by his full body of work not just a tiny sample.

          1. I agree that Barnes didn’t play well this season. Still, he would have been a better option than Iguodala in the playoffs. Iguodala was -44.

            1. Iguodala’s presence on the floor goes way beyond stats. To say that Barnes should have been on the floor instead makes me wonder why you wrote anything about the warriors at all.

              Iguodala’s superior defense coupled with his ability to handle, spread the floor with the option of finishing or distributing were invaluable this season. Not the scorer we thought he’d be, and the free throw shooting has got to improve, he was valuable in every other sense.

              If I were running that team, Barnes wouldn’t have a roster spot next year. He regressed. I wish they would have kept Rush….

              1. To call Iguodala’s defense against the Clippers superior makes me wonder if you even watched the series. Iguodala got beat repeatedly by Redick off the dribble. Iguodala’s presence on the floor led to a 44-point deficit for the Warriors over the course of the seven-game series. He was a huge net-negative.

              2. Unlike you Grant I am judging the body of work. Iguodala was plagued with knee tendinitis and wasn’t even playing up until the playoffs started. He manned up and played with it. Judge him from his year though and he’s been a beast. Especially guarding athletic power forwards.

                Is he the long term answer? Maybe not, but I’d take him on the floor over Barnes 100 out of 100 times….

    3. I was 50/50 on the Iguodala trade. I knew we were getting a good veteran player but that it would come at the price of taking minutes away from H.Barnes.

      I felt that Barnes was on the cusp of becoming a young premier player after last season. The Iguodala trade completely thwarted Barnes’ growth.

      At this point I would make Barnes the starter next season so that he could regain his confidence and recapture and improve his skill level to be ready for another playoff run.

  6. You can’t forget the 5 point swing at the end of game 1 that came from a Barnes blocked shot followed by a 3….also O’Neal played very well the last quarter of game 1. Bottom line is that without Bogut, this should have been a Clippers win in 5 or 6.

    Now, who do you replace Jackson with? This isn’t a situation where you just promote a top assistant (like Tomsula). Also, this offseason will have numerous coaching vacancies/changes going on. If Lacob/Meyers don’t want Jackson, they better be willing to go get Thibs from Chicago.

  7. Grant, good point about Barnes and Iguodala. I don’t recall that take from your infamous Meyers is the best GM in Bay Area column before the season. The stunting of Barnes growth was my main issue with the trade. You also had to consider injury with Iguodala. I don’t think Iguodala has been healthy since the hamstring injury early in the year. He has not been a lockdown defender since then.

    1. I was wrong. You were right. Give Meyers credit for drafting Green, though. He was the second-best Warrior in the series.

      1. I give Meyers a TON of credit for the job he has done. Like AES, I don’t know why the rift between Jackson and the FO exists, but I think both parties probably share responsibility. I hope they get the right coach and really just concentrate on finding a backup PG for next season. I hope they don’t panic trade Barnes, or make some other major changes. I thought the series showed that even without a vital piece (Bogut) they could hang with a top team because of their talent and effort. They ultimately didn’t pull the series out because they don’t execute well enough. In the NBA, that kind offensive execution can take years and years to develop. I’d love to see them try with their current core.

  8. Lacob should be very familiar with Thibs from his Boston days. He has to be target #1. I’m not sold on Kerr. Let him deal with Melo and Dolan. I also don’t want either Van Gundy.

  9. I can’t for the life of me figure why there is a rift between Jackson and Lacob.

    It is obvious that the players love their coach and I feel that any change after such a good season and playoff run could be deflating and ruin the team chemistry.

    Lacob and Jackson need to iron out their differences for the better of the team, period.

    1. I don’t think that is possible. I think the Lacob/Jackson rift is real. Plus, this looks to be a good year for coaching vacancies. If Lacob doesn’t want to give Jackson an extension, why wouldn’t Jackson want to coach the Lakers? Other jobs that may open up include Houston, OKC, Indiana and Brooklyn. No way Jackson wants to be a lame duck and wait for next year’s openings.

  10. If the warriors fire Jackson they will lose Curry. I believe he will force a trade and once Curry [and his ability to attract other players] is gone this franchise is right back to where we were for decades. If Lacob fires Jackson i think we might have our very own Jerry Jones right here in the Bay area.

    1. Doubt it. Athletes are loyal to winning. Lacob only would fire Jackson if he could get an upgrade. A better coach could develop Harrison Barnes, who needs development and isn’t getting it from Jackson and his staff.

      1. Jackson has said on occasion that he allows his players free reign and that mindset may be the cause of the rift with Lacob.

        But even if that is the reason for disharmony 51 wins and a good playoff run is nothing to smirk at.

        1. AES exactly!!!! I predicted the Clippers would win the series as soon as i heard Bogut would’nt play. For the Warriors to push the Clippers to the last min of game 7 w\o Bogut is a remarkable coaching accomplishment. Lacob is Jerry Jones if he fires Jackson.

  11. The NBA far more than any other is run by the super stars. They get what they want in the NBA and the only way you can win championships is to have atleast one verry happy super star who can then convince other stars or super stars to sign with their team. If Lacob does’nt keep Curry happy. things will fall apart around him. Super stars run the show in the NBA.

  12. There has been some crazy goings on with the Warriors over the couple of months.

    First the asst. coach is sent packing to Santa Cruz and than another coach is sent packing for video taping a practice without Jackson’ permission and knowledge.

    The second incident seems to have Lacob’ fingerprints om it, but that’s just one man’s opinion.

    Nevertheless, Jackson has to be suspicious of Jacob’ motives which makes for very tenuous working conditions.

  13. The Curry-Jackson relationship is very deep, but I don’t see Curry “not playing” for a different coach. Jackson would tell Curry to play hard whoever is the coach. Where Lacob and the Warriors would have a problem is if they replace Jackson with a mediocre coach.

    I think its very important to understand that both parties have their fingerprints all over this “rift”. Its very likely that Jackson will end up resigning because his contract isn’t extended. Lacob and Meyers need to avoid the toxic atmosphere they have had with Jackson. This has to impede development of younger players and improvement of offensive execution that the Warriors need to become a championship contender.

  14. Sac,
    Does anyone have a specific reason for the rift or is it totally in house?

    Could there be a division due to Jackson’ strong religious presence in the locker room?

    I love the win total and playoff run but if this coaching staff is stunting young players development thsn its missing a very vital facet of their responsibility.

  15. Sactogreg i do’nt think Curry would stop putting out an effort but i do think he would demand a trade and Jerry Jones oops i mean Lacobs reputation as an owner you want to play for would take a hit.

      1. The only thing I will say in Barnes defense, they used him incorrectly. Terrible perimeter shooter, yet they had him chucking up threes instead of creating missmatches with him, having him back down his defender .

        Jackson was a terrible X’s and O’s guy… They won in spite of that…

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