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OAKLAND–Let’s do a little NBA Finals zen analysis: Warriors acting coach Mike Brown’s best move of the Warriors’ dominant Game 1 victory over Cleveland on Thursday was that he didn’t make any obvious new moves at all.
He and Steve Kerr didn’t force anything. They didn’t over-think or over-coach this huge moment. They didn’t over-react to LeBron James’ presence or over-play anybody.
They believed that what they’ve got — superior talent, sharpened by the memories of how they blew the Finals against Cleveland last June — is good enough to beat the Cavaliers, and that they didn’t need any extra strategic maneuvering to do it.
What they did:
* Just rolled out their normal 10-man rotation, with a minor tweak here or there (James Michael McAdoo over JaVale McGee in the second half, adjusting to Draymond Green’s two early fouls by playing Kevin Durant the entire first quarter);
* Kept the start-the-second-and-fourth-quarter-unit in tact, even knowing that LeBron James was going to be playing against it, without rushing Durant or Stephen Curry back into the game quickly;
That clearly was when Cleveland coach Ty Lue wanted to jump the Warriors (without Durant and Curry in there), but it didn’t happen;
That Warriors unit was +2 in 2:22 vs. LeBron and his second unit, and +2 over 4:34 minutes overall in that period, and that all was a lift for the entire Warriors squad, because of course it’s happening while Durant and Curry are getting rest;
Brown and Kerr might not keep this unit together this long in Games 3 and 4 in Cleveland — they’ll probably have Durant rest a little more earlier so he can be ready to come back very quickly — but when the “second unit” can steal points against any LeBron unit, that’s a monster plus for the Warriors.
* Put Durant on LeBron knowing that LeBron would have to guard Durant, and just let Durant go, with spectacular results (38 points, 8 rebounds 8 assists, +16… vs. LeBron’s 8 turnovers and -22 marks);
* Let the Warriors offense flow without calling too many plays, just the way Kerr likes it.
I asked Brown after his postgame podium session if he indeed pretty much stayed away from calling plays while the Warriors offensive moved the ball around (and missed some easy shots, too, but the ball was moving and the Cleveland defense could not keep up most of the time):
“Our guys understood what they needed to do and they did a good job attacking what we needed to attack without making calls,” Brown said. “And then our flow was going so well that I didn’t feel I needed to make many calls.”
* Stressed that the Warriors would be successful if they cut down on their turnovers — from the sloppiness of last year’s Finals — and they only turned it over 4 times in Game 1.
Add that to Cleveland’s 20 turnovers and that’s mainly how the Warriors put up 106 shot attempts and Cleveland only got 86.
If you have the Warriors’ shooters, and you get 20 more attempts than your opponent, it is going to be hard to lose.
“That’s part of the formula for this series,” Brown said. “We know there are certain ways we want to attack them and our guys did a great job of attacking them and getting great looks.”
Kerr and Brown — whoever is coaching the rest of these games, and the sense is still that it will be Brown — probably will have some adjusting to do later in the series. It won’t be like this every game, probably.
But one of the great strengths of this Warriors team is that they have a way they like to play, they have players who can execute it, and if the other team can’t handle what the Warriors do, the smart play is to avoid changing things just to change it, even in the Finals, even against LeBron James.