The Golden State Warriors obliterated the Dallas Mavericks 147-116 on Thursday night, and with James Wiseman and Kevon Looney both nursing injuries, they did it without playing a single player taller than 6-foot-7 for a single minute, outscoring the Mavericks 54-36 in the paint.
That wouldn't seem to make sense on paper. The Mavericks start 7-foot-3 Kristaps Porzingis and 6-foot-10 Maxi Kleber, and 6-foot-10 Dwight Powell got 15 minutes off the bench. And yet somehow the super-small Warriors beat them up inside?
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That's one of the misnomers that modern basketball has exposed: Being tall doesn't automatically equal interior dominance. In fact, with no center in the lineup, the Warriors were able to spread the floor with an extra shooter, pulling Dallas' bigs out of the paint, which unlocked an array of back cuts and general movement reminiscent of the beautiful-game Warriors of the past. Draymond Green had 15 assists facilitating all this.
And three more:
Until Thursday, the Warriors have started either Wiseman or Looney at center every game, and Steve Kerr had only deployed one lineup, for just 17 total possessions, with a non-center joining Stephen Curry, Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Oubre Jr. and Green, per Cleaning the Glass.
Wiseman has a decent jumper, but both he and Looney clog the lane and neither contributes to the kind of collective ball and player movement that forces defensive breakdowns and leads to easy baskets. With four shooters surrounding Green, however, there is too much space behind the defense and there are too many players running around for an anticipatory playmaker such as himself to not exploit openings everywhere.
With a spaced floor, Oubre, one night after he finished as a minus-25 in a four-point loss to Boston, hung a career-high 40 points on the Mavericks. He was fantastic, shooting 14-of-21 while hitting seven of his 10 3-point attempts. He's had open 3-pointers all season, so we can't entirely attach his hot-shooting night to a grander theme, but it's safe to say he was more comfortable in spread alignments being able to attack off the dribble without meeting resistance at the rim. Once he got going -- notice his first two makes of the night were inside the restricted area to establish rhythm -- the shots kept falling.
Juan Toscano-Anderson became the fifth starter, Damion Lee and Mychal Mulder played 39 combined minutes and the Warriors ran circles around Dallas. Also, having more shooters on the floor isn't just about spacing and moving; it's about, you know, making more shots. The Warriors hit 22 3-pointers at a 51-percent clip.
To be clear, this doesn't necessarily mean the Warriors have unlocked anything sustainable. The Mavericks are a bad defensive team, and though Golden State's execution was nearly flawless, Kerr doesn't tend to think short term. He's about postseason preparation as much, if not more than, regular-season production.
There's a case to be made that everyone, from Curry on down the roster, benefits from having as much shooting as possible on the floor, but in the playoffs, it's tough to go small full-time. Certain matchups won't allow it. Even the ones that do present the issue of Green wearing down having to defend above his weight class for 40-plus minutes. Kerr wants defense. Versatility. Everyone needs to be able to play with everyone.
But this injury-prompted lineup change is surely intriguing. A lot of people would tell you David Lee's fortuitous injury to start the 2014-15 season, which paved the way for Green to see increased minutes in lineups perfectly suited to his skillset, is what truly birthed Golden State's first title under Kerr. This isn't on that level, obviously, but change often grows from necessity.
Whether this smaller lineup becomes the new starting unit is kind of beside the point. Again, there's a cumulative effect to be considered, and not all teams are going to be as happy as Dallas was to fire up 3-pointers rather than punish smaller teams inside. The question, perhaps, is whether these non-center lineups will see increased action in stretches, perhaps most importantly as finishing units. Either way, for one night at least, small ball made the Warriors' offense sing the way it used to.