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The Warriors Went Back in Time With Their Frontcourt Rotation, and It Paid Off in Game 5

Getty Images
Getty Images

After the Lineup of Death was run off the floor in consecutive blowouts, Steve Kerr made the only adjustment he could in Game 5: the Warriors stayed big. Whether it was Andrew Bogut, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli, or Anderson Varejao, the Warriors had at least one traditional big man on the floor for almost the entire game. It was an old-school look in stark contrast to the small-ball identity they have established over the past two seasons, but, at least for one night, it worked.

The key was Bogut, who had one of his best games in his Golden State tenure. In 30 minutes, Bogut had 15 points, 14 rebounds, two assists, two steals, and two blocks on 7-for-9 shooting. The defense was expected; the offense was not. Bogut’s 15 points were more than he scored in the first four games combined, and it was only the third time he scored in double digits in the playoffs.

On defense, Bogut reminded everyone of his utility, even in a progressively shrinking Warriors frontcourt. He repeatedly met Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook in the paint, walling off penetration and preventing them from getting any easy looks at the rim. After combining to shoot 47-for-80 (58.8 percent) on attempts within 8 feet of the rim in Games 3 and 4, the Thunder were only 8-for-24 (33.3 percent) in Game 5. Bogut was able to contest without fouling, a huge issue in the two games at Oklahoma City, when he committed seven fouls in only 23 minutes. Keeping at least one traditional big man on the floor prevented Durant and Westbrook from playing with as much space as they were able to earlier in the series. OKC’s two superstars attempted 59 shots, and 35 of those were contested, bringing their gaudy efficiency numbers back to earth.

With the Thunder choking off the Steph Curry–Draymond Green pick-and-roll, the Warriors opted for a more traditional 1–5 look on offense. Steven Adams isn’t nearly as comfortable as Durant at switching screens and guarding Curry, which forced Oklahoma City to play a more traditional defensive scheme and opened up the cracks in the defense the Warriors are designed to exploit. Draymond Green didn’t play any minutes at center until the final two, when the Warriors were holding onto a lead and trying to occupy the floor with as many creators as possible.

Winning at home is one thing, but the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City has been a house of horrors for the Warriors in this series. Can they repeat their success away from Oracle with what they’ve learned from Game 5? Staying bigger and taking fewer quick shots should at least help them to control the pace and prevent the Thunder from getting out in transition, where they demolished the Warriors in Games 3 and 4. The goal should be to keep it close in the fourth quarter, and hope the pressure of preventing a Game 7 in Oracle causes some of the Thunder’s late-game demons from the regular season to resurface.

We’ve reached a crucial point in the series. There are no more adjustments to make. Both coaches have all of their cards on the table, and now it just comes down to execution. In terms of dictating the matchups, Oklahoma City has the edge, as it has forced Golden State to abandon the style of play that won the Warriors a championship last season. The tables have turned, and the defending champs are now the underdogs. They are going to need an MVP performance from Steph, big games from Klay Thompson and Draymond, Bogut to stay out of foul trouble, and at least one unlikely hero to come up big. They staved off elimination in Game 5, but winning Game 6 in Oklahoma City is a different animal — the biggest challenge they have ever faced as a team. Saturday night can’t come soon enough.

This piece originally appeared on the Ringer Facebook page on May 27, 2016.