For all the superteam firepower of the Golden State Warriors, their dominance largely comes down to one defensive conundrum: Do you double team, or at least heavily shade your defense at, Stephen Curry or Kevin Durant? You can't focus on both, and they'll both torch you if left alone with a single defender. But the difference is: Curry will torch you from deep, while Durant, for the most part, does his work inside the arc. And if you're thinking defensively, its pretty simple: Giving up two is better than giving up three.
For this reason, the Pelicans, for the most part, have played Durant straight up, mostly with Jrue Holiday, while staying connected to shooters around the 3-point line and swarming Curry off every pick-and-roll. Holiday is a terrific defender and he'll win more than his share of possessions, but over the long haul he can't put a real dent in Durant. He's just too short. Durant can shoot over him, or just about any other isolated defender, any time he wants. Durant went for 38 in on Sunday to take a 3-1 series lead, and he did it almost exclusively out of the mid-range.
If you're the Pelicans, or any other team, you'll take your chances with that 2-point-heavy shot chart, especially because a lot of those were contested. In theory, if you're making your own shots, you can at least challenge the Warriors no matter how many 2s they're making. It's when Curry and company start raining 3s that you're making funeral arrangements.
Surprisingly, the Warriors aren't doing a lot of bombing this postseason. Yes, Curry missed the first six games, but the counter to that would be they were only seventh in the league over the full season. Of the eight teams still alive, only the Pelicans are making fewer 3s per game in the playoffs than the Warriors -- who are making just 10 a game and also had the third-worst 3-point percentage in the playoffs entering Sunday at 33.6 percent. That number went down in Game 4 as the Warriors went 11 of 33 from downtown for a 33-percent mark.
Now, this doesn't matter against the Pelicans, who only made four 3-pointers in Game 4 on 26 attempts. Again, the key to keeping up with a 2-point heavy Warriors attack is countering with your own triples to shrink the gap. That's something that the Rockets, who made more 3-pointers than any team in history with 1,256 this season, can clearly do as we look ahead to a potential Houston-Golden State Western Conference finals showdown.
Steve Kerr and the Warriors aren't as opposed to mid-range shots as a lot of teams. Kerr focuses on ball and player movement and quality shots that result from that movement, no matter where they come from. Still, isolating Durant in the post could be, maybe, possibly, just a tiny little bit of a poisonous fruit. It's tempting to go for it, but at what expense? If Curry is going long stretches of game time without getting any shots, can the Warriors really operate at maximum efficiency against a team like Houston that is turning the math game that the Warriors usually own against them?
As we said in the headline, it's splitting hairs. It's tough to argue giving the ball to one of the best scorers in history when he has a matchup advantage, and to be fair, that's not all the Warriors did in Game 4. They moved the ball well, they played with urgency, and Kerr benching JaVale McGee to start the game in favor of the Death Lineup of Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Durant and Draymond Green was a master stroke. Here's a little perspective on the basketball murder that lineup committed in Game 4:
Net rating of the Hamptons Five (or whatever you want to call it) for the Warriors today in the win over New Orleans? A whopping 63.6 (Houston led regular season at plus-8.5), with a defensive rating of 66.5 (Boston led regular season at 101.5)— Sam Amick (@sam_amick) May 6, 2018
So, yes, the Warriors were great in Game 4, and have been for the majority of this postseason. And, yes, Durant is an all-timer who can clearly carry a championship team. But this Warriors team isn't the same Warriors team that used to bomb teams out of the gym. At least so far in these playoffs, they are actually one of the most ineffective 3-point teams. And again, tor the season overall, they were seventh in the league -- not bad, but not great -- so its not a new development.
Put simply, the math is somewhat doable against this team. They just flat out don't make as many threes as they used to. New Orleans might not be able to expose that, but somewhere down the road some other team might.