In Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Steve Kerr and the Golden State Warriors surprised the Cleveland Cavaliers with their small-ball lineup, inserting Andre Iguodala in place of Andrew Bogut while sliding Draymond Green to the five and Harrison Barnes to the four.
It was a gutsy move by coach Kerr, but the end results were good. The Warriors were able to push the ball and control the pace throughout Thursday’s game, and they were able to eventually blow the Cavs out in the fourth period.
With Cleveland being much bigger, many expected them to ground the Dubs on the glass, but Golden State was only out-rebounded by five. Also, Timofey Mozgov was forced to defend Andre Iguodala, which made the seven footer step outside the painted area to contest Iguodala’s perimeter shots.
“In this case with our big, Timo and Tristan, Timo’s starting off on Iggy,” LeBron James said. “It’s a different match-up than Bogut, obviously. You’ve got a guy that’s primarily on the perimeter in Game 4 versus guarding a guy that’s always in the paint, for the most part.”
Having to defend perimeter players is obviously tough for a big man to do, but James believes they can stick with the same lineup and be better prepared for Game 5.
“So it’s definitely a different change for us,” said James. “But I think we’ll be much more prepared for it tomorrow night if they go with the same lineup.”
With the floor spread and Mozgov sucked out of the paint, the Warriors saw more openings at the basket, and it ultimately helped Stephen Curry become more effective when driving to the cup. Defensively, the Warriors basically forfeited the Mozgov matchup, allowing the Russian big man to bully them down low.
However with a smaller and much quicker lineup, the Warriors were able to throw hard double teams on James and had the luxury of recovering to contest perimeter shots by Matthew Dellavedova, J.R. Smith, and Iman Shumpert. As a result, James finished with just 20 points, and Cleveland’s perimeter shooters struggled.
So how do the Cavaliers counter? Perhaps they will go small as well? James doesn’t think so.
“We’re going to play our game,” James said. “We’ve gotten to this point by playing the way we play, and we’re not going to change. We’ll make adjustments throughout the game, but we won’t change our starting lineup.”
If that’s the case, the Cavaliers big men will have to do a better job of rebounding. That should be one aspect of the game where Cleveland should thoroughly dominate being the larger team.
There are always going to be flaws when playing small or big. In Game 4, the Warriors were the ones who exposed the downfall of playing a big lineup against a small lineup. If the Cavaliers want to bounce back, they will have to prove the opposite.
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