The Golden State Warriors were a traveling circus in Oklahoma City on on Friday, committing 29 turnovers (the league's highest single-game total this season) and losing the points-off-turnovers battle 35-6.
They shouldn't have had any chance to win the game against a good Thunder team digging out of that kind of hole. And yet, they could've. They were up three with 8.4 seconds to play. Thunder ball on the side.
It begged what is probably the most polarizing question in late-game basketball strategy: Up three, do you foul or play it out? The statistics say foul. But many coaches are too terrified of committing the foul in the act of shooting, and thus decide to play out a regular defensive possession and hope for a missed 3.
On Friday, Golden State opted to foul. It didn't work. Not because it wasn't the right decision, but because Draymond Green didn't execute, lunging for a steal and then reaching back to swipe at Holmgren who was already into his shooting motion. He hacked him. Holmgren cashed all three free throws. Golden State lost 138-136 in overtime.
Back on Nov. 18, the Warriors were in the same predicament, only with a bit less time on the clock: Up three, OKC ball on the side, 1.6 seconds to play. That time, the Warriors decided not to foul, allowing a Holmgren fall-away 3, which he hit at the buzzer to send the game to overtime, where the Warriors also lost.
Indeed, the Warriors have had about enough of Holmgren at this point. They've tried two different up-three strategies at the end of games, and he's burned them both ways.
The Warriors made a couple mistakes back on Nov. 18. For starters, they should have been top-locking all OKC players. A two-pointer doesn't hurt you, and there is no reason for a single defender to be inside the arc. Instead, they started low and willingly chased Holmgren through designed layers of congestion, got picked off on a screen, switched a split second late, and Holmgren got a look.
I would argue that even after all that, Andrew Wiggins still had a window to foul Holmgren, who still had to catch and turn with his back to the basket. In that moment, Wiggins had an opportunity, though, to be fair, it was only a split second. It's understandable that the Warriors, rather than risk a bang-bang call going against them, played it safe and forced Holmgren to hit a ridiculously tough shot. But I still believe it was a mistake.
On Friday, with more time on the clock, there was no debate: fouling was an even more obvious decision. But, again, Green was not disciplined. There is no reason to lunge for a steal in that situation. You want to be in a position to foul immediately, before Holmgren can get into his shooting motion, and Green willingly and wildly flew right past the play.
Trying to swipe back after the fact, when Holmgren is clearly going to be raising up to shoot a wide-open shot that you have just gift-wrapped for him, well, that's just not smart basketball. And Green knows it.
Now coaches who believe fouling in these up-three scenarios is too risky are going to have an example to point to as support for what is, in fact, a statistically unsupportable philosophy -- all the while missing the point that it wasn't the decision to foul that was wrong. It was the execution.
Some players haven't earned their coaches' trust to execute in the tightest moments. But Green, as he says himself, should be one of the guys you can most depend on. He's a four-time champion. You won't find a smarter basketball player. But he made a dumb play on Friday, and Holmgren burned the Warriors. Again.