Here are five observations from the Warriors’ 115-104 Game 2 win over the Jazz on Thursday night
1. Kevin Durant’s quiet, useful game
In seven postseasons with the Thunder, spanning 91 games, Kevin Durant averaged 21 shots per. He took 30 or more five different times. He rarely dipped into the teens. Since 2011, he hadn’t taken fewer than 15 in a playoff game. Entering this postseason, Durant’s fewest was 12 — once, as a 21-year-old. But that was Durant’s old life, as a high-volume, much-relied upon scoring champ who often needed 30-plus points for his team to win. This is his new life, where his scoring is more luxury than every-night necessity. Four games into his Warriors playoff career, he’s yet to take 21 shots (his former average) in a game. He only had seven attempts in Game 4 against the Blazers and 13 on Thursday night against the Jazz.
With that scoring burden lightened significantly, Durant’s freed to shift a bit of energy and focus into other areas. That was helpful for the Warriors on Friday night in a trio of ways. Rebounding was one. Durant never attacks the offensive glass, but he’s a terrific, willing defensive rebounder. This season, in 62 games, he had 474 defensive rebounds and only 39 offensive. In the playoffs, he’s split it 28 and two. On Friday night, he led the team with 11 rebounds. All 11 were defensive. The Jazz — a big, bruising team that must beat the Warriors up on the glass to have a chance — only had five offensive rebounds as a team. That’s thanks to plays like this by Durant, where he rotates over, contests Rudy Gobert well at the rim and then sticks those hockey stick arms up in the air to snatch the rebound away from Gobert.
Another benefit for Durant when he rebounds: He’s freed to bring the ball up the court. Durant doesn’t play point forward as much as he did in OKC, but when he gets the defensive rebound, he’s been told, essentially, it’s his possession to bring it up and make a play. On this third quarter example, Durant rises and rips away the rebound, then gallops upcourt and slithers by four Jazz defenders for a nifty layup.
A second important Durant contribution on Thursday: Passing. This season, the Warriors got 1,337 assists from the forward positions. No other team in the league even got 1,000 assists from their forwards. Draymond Green had 533 of them. Durant had 300. On Thursday, Durant pumped out seven of them. Let’s take a look at three.
The first showcases his peripheral vision. Andre Iguodala pushes it up to Durant on the fastbreak. As he turns, he seems intent on surveying the floor and likely making a move for himself. But just as he turns, he sees JaVale McGee streaking to his left. In a fluid motion, Durant immediately turns his dribble into a quick, low, well-timed and well-executed bounce pass under the defender and up to McGee for a cradle dunk.
The second showcases some of his natural playmaking ability. This isn’t a typical free-flowing, pass-pass-pass Warriors possession. Durant has it isolated on the left wing, while three other All-Stars are spread across the perimeter watching. Durant turns and makes a quick lefty dribble move by the aging Joe Johnson, forcing Rudy Gobert to help. In a quick motion, Durant — using his left hand — bolts a one-hand off-the-dribble bounce pass perfectly to the open Zaza Pachulia for a layup.
The third showcases Durant’s gravitational pull. This guy won four NBA scoring titles before his 26th birthday. When the ball’s in his hands, 10 defensive eyes are usually on him and opposing coaches sometimes demand two bodies. On this play, Gobert sees the undersized Shelvin Mack forced onto Durant in the post. So he sprints over for the double-team. But Durant’s 7 feet tall and a quick-thinker. He recognizes the double-team instantly, sees over the top of it with ease and immediately zips a pass to Iguodala for a dunk.
Another useful Durant skill: His ability to get to the free throw line. This Warriors team has been bottom-10 in the league the past few years in free throw attempts. Steph Curry doesn’t get there a ton for a high-volume scorer and Klay Thompson barely gets there at all. Durant regularly finished seasons in the top-five in the NBA in free throw attempts. He didn’t this season, but he still led the team per game. On Thursday, he powered his way to 15 free throws, driving hard, absorbing fouls and even baiting Gordon Hayward into a couple hand-in-the-cookie jar reaches on Durant’s patented rip move. Durant’s 15 free throw attempts were the third most in a playoff game for a Warrior in this recent era.
2. Draymond’s 3splosion
Steph Curry leads all NBA players with 25 made 3s in the playoffs. But guess who is second on the Warriors and tied for seventh across the league? Draymond Green. After exploding for four first quarter 3s on Thursday — breaking Utah’s spirit early — and ending with five 3s on eight attempts, Green has now hit 18 threes on 33 attempts in six playoff games. Already, 58 players have taken at least 20 threes in the postseason. Of those, Draymond Green’s 54.5 percent conversion rate is the best.
This is wild. Green had a down year from deep, dipping from 38 percent the year before to below 31 percent this season. He had massive cold spells, going a couple weeks at a time without hitting 3s. But suddenly the playoffs have arrived and he’s morphed into a sniper. Seriously, take a look at some of the 3-point playoff numbers following Thursday’s game.
-Draymond Green: 18-of-33
-James Harden: 17-of-67
-Kyrie Irving: 13-of-46
-LeBron James: 15-of-31
-Klay Thompson: 16-of-40
-Kevin Love: 13-of-32
-Eric Gordon: 17-of-44
-Ryan Anderson: 11-of-39
Green has an obvious advantage over many of these 3-point specialists: He is wiiiiiiide open on most of his shots. Defenses are going to dare Green to beat them. They have to, considering all the surrounding options. And even though he’s literally been the NBA’s best 3-point shooter in the playoffs, he knows they will continue to leave him open. Here was Green postgame when asked if he found himself particularly open in this matchup: “I’m particularly open in every game we play,” Green said, then laughed. “And that probably won’t change.”
Here are his five 3s on Thursday, four coming in that first quarter that the Warriors sprinted out to a 33-15 lead. The first came in the game’s first minute. Durant drives with Curry cutting in front of him. Four Jazz defenders surround the two MVPs, while the only remaining Jazz defender, Gordon Hayward, sticks to Klay Thompson like glue in the corner. That leaves Green wide open on the wing for 3. This is how the Jazz have to play it.
The second is open because Joe Johnson seems pretty uninterested in guarding Green behind the line. To start the play, Johnson completely unlocks himself from Green, dropping way down into the paint to help defend a Klay Thompson drive. Gobert blocks Thompson and the reset actually allows Johnson to get back and get a reasonable contest on Green. But Johnson looks like he’s more than willing to toss up a halfhearted arm and let Green take it.
The third 3 is set up by a Green screen at halfcourt that comes about five seconds before the shot. He clips Raul Neto, which forces Boris Diaw, Green’s defender, to help on a driving Steph Curry. The Jazz are in scramble mode, all five collapsed deeeeeeeeeep into the paint when Curry kicks it to a wide open Andre Iguodala in the corner. But Iguodala is 0-of-17 from 3 in the playoffs, so he smartly passes it up to an even more open (and sizzling) Green, who nails it.
The fourth 3 is set up moments before the cross-court pass to Green. Freeze-frame the next video at the six-second mark. Curry beat Neto with a quick back cut, forcing Boris Diaw to slump down in the paint to cut off the pass to Curry. That leaves Green, again, wiiiiiiiiiide open on the wing.
The fifth 3: Durant drives, Johnson is forced to help, Green steps into an open top of the key look.
The Jazz aren’t going to overreact completely to this unlikely Green hot streak and play him suddenly like he’s a 40-percent 3-point sniper. But the results do have small effects. Check out this play late in the second quarter, just after Green’s fifth 3. He’s temporarily open after a Kevin Durant post up. But Dante Exum, knowing what Green’s already done, sprints out at him. Green sees it, pump-fakes, flies by and sets up Andre Iguodala for a layup.
3. Euro fouls
The Jazz employed an added strategy on Thursday in an attempt to slow the pace of the game a bit more. If the Warriors pushed it upcourt with an advantageous break, it became pretty clear that Quin Snyder had instructed his players to give an automatic foul to stop the game and force them to take it out of bounds. It’s a fastbreak-busting strategy somewhat common in European play. Here are three examples.
The Warriors get a couple potential benefits from it: They’ll get in the bonus earlier and Utah’s players may find themselves in foul trouble at an inopportune time. But if the Jazz are selective with their use, it can be a wise ploy. If Rodney Hood did it on this play (looked like he may have tried), it would’ve saved a layup.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Jazz continue it in Game 3.
4. Hampton 5
After some sluggish play to start the third quarter, Mike Brown went to that Hampton 5 lineup — subbing Andre Iguodala for Zaza Pachulia — far earlier than we’ve seen. It wasn’t unbelievably dominant, but it played generally well together and help provide separation and stabilization. The Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant, Green small-ball unit played a playoff-high 11 minutes on Thursday and was a +6, outscoring the Jazz 34-28.
This was easily the Hampton 5’s best run together in the playoffs. It had only been on the court together only nine minutes total in two previous games and had been outscored 23-19. But all season, that five-man pairing was ferocious — 122.4 offensive rating, 98.4 defensive rating, 24 net rating in 224 minutes — and in the most tense moments in these playoffs, you can bet that’ll be the group on the floor. So it was probably wise of Mike Brown to get them some time together.
Iguodala’s 3-point struggles continued, but overall he was great on Thursday, dunking three times, playing sturdy defense, directing traffic and delivering an impressive end-to-end highlight — stripping Rodney Hood, saving an errant hit-ahead pass and then delivering a behind-the-back assist to Kevin Durant.
This play’s all Iguodala: quick hands strip, save of a sketchy pass, then sweet behind-the-back pass to Durant pic.twitter.com/XvgjCt33Ak
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 5, 2017
5. Return of the turnover machine
Utah remained in it deep into the fourth for a few reasons: Gordon Hayward played great, the Warriors defense bobbed in and out of focus — they were basically sleep-walking for those two 3s to start the third quarter — and Rudy Gobert was somewhat effective. But most of all, the Warriors’ turnovers continued to give the Jazz life. In Game 1, the Warriors only turned it over seven times and held Utah to four points in the resulting possessions. But in Game 2, they coughed it up 17 times and the Jazz turned that into 22 points. In Salt Lake City, it’ll be important for them to minimize those mistakes.