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Monday, December 10, 2007

Teams Should not be Afraid to Run Against the Warriors

Many people think that the way to beat the Golden State Warriors is to slow the game down but, as I repeatedly mentioned during last year's playoffs, this is not the case. Check out these numbers from the Warriors' first 20 games this season (including Sunday night's 123-113 loss to the Lakers): the nine teams that beat Golden State averaged 117.8 ppg versus the Warriors, while the 11 teams that lost to the Warriors averaged 100.3 ppg. Although it may seem counterintuitive (because Golden State wants to play at a fast tempo), teams have more success against the Warriors by playing at a fast pace than they do slowing the game down. Playing fast does not have to mean jacking up three pointers or abandoning the inside game: the Lakers shot .531 from the field and selectively utilized the three point shot (8-18, .444), while Golden State fired away from all angles with much less accuracy, shooting .468 from the field, including 8-33 (.242) from three point range.

On the other hand, if you try to run with the Phoenix Suns you will most likely lose, except for the Spurs, whose three stars can play effectively at any pace, as they showed on several occasions in the 2005 and 2007 playoff matchups between these teams. Golden State (110.4 ppg) and Phoenix (110.2 ppg) rank 1-2 in scoring so far this season but there are several differences between the Suns and the Warriors that show why it is wise to run with the Warriors and foolish to run with the Suns. Phoenix ranks second in the NBA in field goal percentage (.495); although the Suns only rank 20th in defensive field goal percentage, they shoot .034 better than their opponents do, which is a big reason that they rank sixth in the NBA in point differential (5.8 ppg--note: the original version of this post listed an incorrect number and ranking for the Suns). Golden State ranks 15th in field goal percentage (.452) and 24th in defensive field goal percentage (.465). The key thing to note is that the Warriors shoot .013 worse than their opponents and only rank 12th in point differential (2.3 ppg--note: the original version of this post listed an incorrect number and ranking for the Warriors). What all of these numbers show is that the Warriors are not as good as the Suns offensively or defensively, even though their team scoring averages are virtually identical.

In Sunday's game, the Lakers scored at least 31 points in three of the four quarters (they had 29 points in the second quarter). Kobe Bryant only scored eight points on 3-13 field goal shooting in the first half and the Lakers still had a 60-59 halftime lead. Think about that: the Lakers were beating the Warriors in a fast paced game even with Bryant not scoring at his usual rate (he did contribute to the Lakers' offense with his passing, making several great feeds to cutters and open perimeter shooters). In the second half, Bryant scored 20 points on 6-10 shooting and was largely responsible for holding Baron Davis to just three points. Bryant finished with game-highs in points (28) and assists (eight) and also had six rebounds, three steals and one blocked shot. His plus/minus number was a game-high +22; Lamar Odom, who contributed 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists while playing essentially at the same times that Bryant did, also had a +22 plus/minus number. Davis shot 7-17 from the field and ended up with 20 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, four steals and one blocked shot. At the 4:41 mark of the fourth quarter, Davis became so frustrated by his matchup with Bryant that he wrapped his arms around Bryant when Bryant tried to cut to the hoop, earning a personal foul and a technical foul; Bryant made two of the resulting three free throws to put the Lakers up, 116-99.

Although the Lakers played at a fast pace, they were still able to utilize the inside scoring of Andrew Bynum, who shot 9-14 from the field and had 20 points, 11 rebounds and five blocked shots. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson recently criticized Bynum's conditioning and he seems to be playing Bynum in six or eight minute bursts, with plenty of rest in between (Bynum played 28:18 minutes against Golden State). NBA TV broadcast the Lakers' feed of this game; during the second quarter, play by play man Joel Meyers did a brief interview with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who has been working with Bynum for quite some time. Abdul-Jabbar likes the progress that his young protege has made but laments that Bynum does not use the sky hook during games. Yes, Abdul-Jabbar has been teaching Bynum the shot that helped him become the NBA's all-time leading scorer; he told Meyers that Bynum has a very good hook shot but lacks the confidence to use it in live action. Meyers asked Abdul-Jabbar to describe the biggest change in the NBA since his playing days and Abdul-Jabbar said that the collective basketball IQ in the league has declined because so many players have entered the league with little or no college experience.

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posted by David Friedman @ 6:35 AM



At Monday, December 10, 2007 7:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure the league needs players with long college experience like Olowokandi to raise their collective basketball IQ.

The Warriors have increased their tempo compared to last season (they average more points but at a lower shooting percentage, a clear sign of the speed over accuracy gamble), but still the argument put forth in this post can be reversed: teams who beat the Warriors are teams who can run with them.

After all, it's one thing to decide to run and another to do it efficiently.

In any case, the Warriors' record seems linked to their schedule: they beat the Heat, Bucks or Knicks; they lose to the Cavs, Jazz or Magic. They've only had one "quality" win, over the Suns.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 7:56:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also, is the point differential figure right? I have them at 110.4 ppg scored and 108.2 ppg conceded, which is a +2.2 point differential.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 7:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Obviously, Kareem's statement is a generalization and exceptions can be found both ways: Kobe and LeBron never played college basketball but have extremely high basketball IQs; on the other hand, as you suggest, there are players who had plenty of college experience yet still never really figured out how to play. That said, I think that there is some merit to Kareem's general statement. When I cover NBA games, I see coaches like Mark Aguirre and Clifford Ray trying to teach big men post moves that Aguirre and Ray learned in college. When I interviewed Aguirre, he said that today's players run faster and jump higher than he did but a lot of them don't know how to play--how to use leverage, how to set up a defender, etc.

The pattern with Golden State, as I noted in the post, goes back to last season and even teams that are not known as running teams do better against Golden State at a faster tempo (provided that those teams shoot good shots, of course). The only success that Dallas had in their first round series against the Warriors was when the game was fast paced. Every time Dallas slowed the game down on offense it did not turn out well. Utah ran the Warriors right off the court in the next round; just go back to my posts from last year's playoffs or look up the scores of the games and the pattern becomes clear.

It just cracks me up to watch a Warriors game and hear announcers talk about tempo and how teams need to slow the game down against Golden State. Are they not paying any attention to what is actually happening on the court? The Lakers played the whole game supposedly at Golden State's pace and won anyway; it might have been a blowout if Kobe did not have some trouble with his shot in the first half.

I think teams talk themselves into being scared to run with the Warriors and that some coaches don't like to relinquish control and let their players play a fastbreaking game but think about it this way: Phil Jackson and Jerry Sloan are two smart coaches, so if slowing the game down is the way to beat Golden State then why did Jackson's team score 123 points and why did Utah play faster against Golden State in the playoffs then they did overall last season? Utah scored at least 115 points in three of their four playoff wins versus Golden State after only scoring 115 points in eight games during the 82 game regular season!

At Monday, December 10, 2007 8:36:00 AM, Blogger Melvin said...

Agree, Warriors, from what I think play atrocious man to man defense... And everytime they took a shot they focus more on getting the offensive glass instead of going down to play on D. Well, I think the Dallas lost the series not just because they didn't run. I think GS that time has a very high confidence as well as momentum and I believe its hard to win against a team that is so inspire

At Monday, December 10, 2007 10:20:00 AM, Blogger Dennis_D said...

David, Laker fans are complaining that the refs let Kobe get mugged in the first half and that is what was causing a lot of his shooting woes then. What do you think?

At Monday, December 10, 2007 5:39:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I made a transcription error regarding the point differentials; I have since fixed that mistake. The correct numbers still support the conclusions that I drew in the post.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 5:43:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


One thing that gets overlooked about Golden State is that the Warriors play defense in the half court than they do on the run; think back to Baron Davis or Stephen Jackson using their quickness to harass Nowitzki while the rest of the team used zone principles to be ready to help if Nowitzki got free. In a fast tempo game, plenty of open shots are available, both because players don't always get back and because the Warriors cannot set up their zone.

Of course, Dallas lost for more than any one single reason but playing at a slow tempo was a major factor. If you watched the games then you noticed that the Mavericks looked much better when they played at a faster pace.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 5:53:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There were several plays in which Kobe was clearly fouled but nothing was called. However, that happened not just to Kobe but to several players on both teams; it appeared that the refs were "letting both teams play," as the broadcasting crew mentioned at one point.

Unlike Baron, who got frustrated, received a technical foul, stopped going to the hoop and attempted nine three pointers compared to three free throws, Kobe kept going to the hoop and attempted a game-high (tied with Ariza) 10 free throws.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 6:56:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


every team cant run with the warriors only certaN teams can so that logic doesnt work for most teams. the lakers have a good team and some good role players like bynum odom and farmar and they have always beat and matchuped well with the warriors no matter how they play. i think warriors are gonna win 50 games or more and win a playoff round agian very exciting team they are and if everybody run with them 23 teams will lose out of 32.

At Monday, December 10, 2007 7:48:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


What we have seen last season, in last year's playoffs and so far this season is that even teams that are not thought of as running teams can have success playing at a faster pace than usual versus the Warriors. Look at the numbers that I cited; the teams that beat the Warriors are averaging 17 ppg more against Golden State than the teams that lost to the Warriors have.

I suppose that it is possible to disagree with how to interpret those numbers but it is not possible to disagree with facts and the facts in this case are that the teams that beat the Warriors are definitely not slowing the game down--far from it.

At Tuesday, December 11, 2007 4:20:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, I found another interesting article that discusses the same point.

At Tuesday, December 11, 2007 4:36:00 AM, Blogger With Malice said...

Nice summation of the game David, and I agree to an extent...
I read something today (escapes me where at the moment!) that I agreed with too - Phil doesn't buy into Nellie's tactics, and resists the temptation to go 'small ball'. The author asserted that this is one of the primary reasons that Jackson's record is so good against Nelson-teams. Nellie goes small, Phil stays tall & fast. Sure, there are the occasions when faster wins, but overall, this is still a big-man's sport.
There were times that LA had Bynum, Bryant, Odom & Turiaf on the floor - and GSW looked lost.

At Tuesday, December 11, 2007 6:46:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

With Malice:

The article that you read was by J.A. Adande at ESPN.com. His take focused more on Jackson's overall record against Nelson and on the personnel that were on the court during the LAL-GSW game than how the personnel actually played, which was what I emphasized in my post. My point is not just what Adande mentioned--that Jackson refused to change his lineup to match up with GS (one of the mistakes that Avery Johnson made during last year's playoffs) but also that Jackson clearly did not instruct his team to slow the game down (which is another mistake that Johnson made during last year's playoffs). The Lakers took advantage of opportunities to run and they took advantage of GS' poor transition defense; that, plus Kobe's suffocating second half defense on Baron--the head of the GSW snake, so to speak--keyed the victory.

At Tuesday, December 11, 2007 6:57:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


Thank you for providing that link. Unfortunately, Blogger cut off put of it when publishing the comment. Those who are interested to read it should cut and paste the link into a browser and then add "isited" at the end (the end of the link is "the-golden-state-series-revisited").

Here are a couple interesting quotes from the piece:

"...you see in review after review that 'Dallas was sucked into playing the Golden State small ball game,' with the implication that the Mavericks went toe-to-toe running and gunning with the Warriors. But this simply isn’t true."

And then there is this:

"In the games that were faster in pace, Dallas was more efficient on offense than Golden State."

In other words, a statistical analysis of the GS-Mavs series confirms what I detected by watching the games attentively and observing how each team played.

At Wednesday, December 12, 2007 9:46:00 AM, Blogger madnice said...

Nowitzki shooting a face up three pointer over Davis doesnt make sense. Dirks staying on the outside is what took Dallas out of the series vs. the Warriors, which shows he definitely isnt an MVP ( I know its a season award) If you are that much taller than who is guarding you you get in the post which Yao should do all day). The three pointer is not a high percentage shot. This is the problem of todays offensive player. In the 70s and 80s, offensive players would beat up who was guarding them. You dont see that today. Nowitzki should be able to beat up Davis in the paint. Nowitzki is just bailing Davis out by shooting a jumper. Now I realize Dirk thinks the paint is wet, but he needs to understand that the paint will make his game much better.

At Thursday, December 13, 2007 1:23:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...


I'm not saying that Dirk should shoot nothing but threes; I'm saying that his strength is the face up game, which includes shooting threes off of the break but also driving to the hoop as well as one or two dribble moves followed by a 15 or 18 foot jumper. Dirk is not a post up player and trying to post him up to take advantage of supposed mismatches versus Davis and S Jax played right into Nelson's hands. Dallas should have pushed the ball at every opportunity, which would have led to many chances for Dirk to shoot open threes or to drive to the hoop. It would have been almost impossible to double team him in transition without giving up a layup to someone else (assuming that the whole team ran hard). Dirk posting up Baron or S Jax is a mismatch--in Golden State's favor. Just check out Dirk's shooting percentage in that series compared to his regular season percentage and his career playoff percentage--and please don't tell me that he is soft or not a clutch player. Dirk has dropped 50 in a playoff game and he knocked out the Spurs in '06 with a strong drive that turned into a three point play after Manu fouled him. The difference is that in his great games Dirk played facing the hoop. He tried to do things against G.S. that he did not do all season and that he has never done particularly well. If you say that a 7-footer should have a post up game, I can't disagree, but a first round playoff series is not the time to develop it; that work must be done in the offseason.


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