Golden State Warriors: Three Adjustments to Make After Game Two Loss

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The Golden State Warriors lost Game Two to the Memphis Grizzlies Wednesday night. The contest was gut-wrenching for a number of reasons. Dillon Brooks earned an ejection after flagrantly clothes-lining Gary Payton II in mid-air. We know now that Payton will miss at least the remainder of the series, while Brooks has been suspended for Game Three. Draymond Green received a wicked elbow from Xavier Tillman; the ensuing wound required stitches and left Green tweeting in agony. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s shooting woes continued. The Warriors lost Game Two by five points with the veteran backcourt combining to shoot 16-44 from the field, including 5-23 from three.

Ja Morant proved himself one of the best players in the postseason by pouring in 47 points, including an astounding 18 in the last 6:20 of the fourth quarter. He hit one three and three free throws in the fourth quarter. The rest of Morant’s points in the period came in the paint; he made an assortment of left-handed layups, and one right-handed floater after going left. The teams are colliding towards a brutally long series as the first games were decided by six combined points. The three-day break gives each coaching staff ample opportunity to make adjustments as the setting moves to San Francisco. What changes should Steve Kerr and the coaching staff consider after the Warriors lost Game 2?

Golden State Warriors: Three Adjustments to Make After Game Two Loss

Switch Defensive Coverages on Ja Morant

The Warriors gave Ja Morant space when he had the ball in Game One, daring him to shoot threes. The Warriors wanted to avoid his paint touches, which could leave them scrambling to close out on three-point shooters. The strategy held up decently well in their one-point win; it was less effective as the Warriors lost Game Two. With Payton unavailable, the Warriors tried gapping and some switching against Morant in Game Two. Morant would call up the Grizzly being defended by his Warrior of choice, then run the pick-and-roll and feast on the defender.

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In Game Three, the Warriors must try every defensive strategy imaginable. Great players find ways to beat any defensive game-plan, and Morant proved his greatness over the previous two games. The Warriors should switch on Morant, then gap him the very next possession. They need to trap him near half court on pick-and-rolls, then go under screens and swarm Morant when his feet touch the paint. They need to try running their preferred 1-2-2 zone, and maybe even try a box-and-one or triangle-and-two. In those schemes, you assign one player to guard the primary offensive threat (the former) or two players to guard the two most dangerous scorers (the latter). The other defenders form a zone around the paint in the indicated shape. 

The Warriors need to cycle through all of those schemes to stop Morant, and then rotate through them again. Their best chance of stopping Morant is making him stop and process what their defense is doing. Otherwise, they’ll be powerless to stop his fierce rim attacks and swooping, hanging finishes.

Get Klay Thompson Off the Ball on Offense

A quick breakdown of Thompson’s shot attempts in Game Two by the amount of dribbles he took before each shot, per tracking data

Shots after zero dribbles: 4/10 overall, 2/8 on threes

Shots after one-six dribbles: 1/9 overall, 0/4 on threes

Yes, that’s precisely one made shot after dribbling. Thompson’s most efficient shot types generally don’t require many dribbles. He’s a catch-and-shoot three-point specialist, with the ability to dribble once and create a sidestep three. You’ll often see him dribble once or twice to get to his spot in the midrange. Thompson is also effective in the post, but his shots there usually feature him immediately turning and firing over smaller players. You don’t often see Thompson backing players down with multiple dribbles like prime Shaq.

Golden State needs Thompson to get back to what earned him his reputation as a shooter and scorer after the Warriors lost Game Two. The team needs an aggressive and efficient Thompson in order to make the Western Conference finals. However, the focus needs to be on the latter after Thompson shot 6-19 and 5-19 in consecutive games.

The Golden State Warriors Must Avoid Turnovers

It’s cliche to say the losing team needs to avoid turnovers, but it cannot be overstated when discussing this Warriors team. The Warriors lost Game Two in large part due to giveaways. Turnovers have been a thorn in the Warriors’ side all season. They finished 29th out of 30 teams in turnover rate in the regular season. The Warriors went 29-18 when turning the ball over 15 or more times this regular season, and 24-11 in all other games. It’s hard to tell which is more troubling: the record itself, or the fact that the Warriors turned it over at least 15 times in well over half their games. Taking care of the ball will get even harder with the go-go-gadget limbs of De’Anthony Melton likely taking many of Brooks’ minutes. Green committed five turnovers in Game One in just 17 minutes, and four in Game Two in only 32 minutes. Green may be more effective screening for Curry and Jordan Poole and making plays as the roll man, rather than operating as the Warriors’ point guard.

The Warriors simply cannot commit 18 turnovers again, which was their total in Game Two. Their margin for error is too small without Payton’s tenacious defense. Those turnovers mean the Warriors aren’t getting their own shots up, and fuel Morant in transition. After the Warriors lost Game Two due to Morant’s brilliance, the team needs to do all it can on both ends of the floor to avoid a repeat performance.

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