Once the Warriors didn’t come out of halftime with the Death Lineup, there were many who wondered why Steve Kerr would wait to employ his most effective five-man group — particularly after the Cavaliers altered their starting lineup due to Kevin Love’s absence.
There are many reasons why the Death Lineup would’ve made sense in the first and third quarters.
— It helped bring the Warriors back to within a reasonable deficit in the second quarter.
— Andrew Bogut has been up and down throughout the postseason, and Festus Ezeli has been mostly down.
— Cleveland did a lot of damage with their 1-4 pick-and-roll, and it would probably behoove the Warriors to have Andre Iguodala guarding and switching against that play more often than Draymond Green, who might be a better match for Tristan Thompson than Bogut is.
But mostly, the Lineup of Death has been the most productive lineup in the NBA this season, and the Warriors don’t want to let the Cavs get back into this series.
Here’s my question: Doesn’t Kerr already know have access to all of this information, plus so much more?
This is one of the things that drives me a little batty about Twitter, and sportswriting in general. There’s nothing wrong with calling out obvious mistakes made by coaches. If I couldn’t call out Jim Tomsula last season, I wouldn’t have had much material during the 2015 NFL season. However, sometimes low-hanging fruit isn’t as sweet as it looks.
Kerr knows more about the mental and physical state of his team than anyone outside of the organization. The Warriors take great pains to make certain this is the case. He knows whether Green can handle the rigors of playing the “5” for the rest of the Warriors’ minutes this season. He knows if the Death Lineup might be more effective in smaller doses, like a “must-win” situation, IF Bogut and the other centers provide help in the games leading up to that moment.
As frustrating as it can be to watch Bogut when he fails to corral rebounds, or misses those weird little swooping lefty hooks, his presence gives everyone around him a break on the defensive end. As a rim protector, he’s a safety valve of sorts. Yes, when the Death Lineup is on the floor, they are a dynamic switching combination of like-sized defenders. But all of that switching and battling for rebounds is extremely tiresome. That’s why other teams don’t or can’t use similar lineups to such effect, because they don’t have the unique set of players the Warriors do. Green, a 6′ 7″, long-armed defensive demon, is one of the most unique players in the league.
Twitter managers and coaches
We see this all of the time in other sports. Bruce Bochy is questioned when he moves guys around in his lineup, sits Buster Posey for the second time in a week with no injury cited as the reason why, or uses a reliever in a situation that might call for another, even though he talks to the players on a daily basis and knows how they’re feeling.
Most of us don’t know much about the finer points of football. But we can all tell time! So, the coaches in that sport are ripped for clock management follies every weekend, even when the problems aren’t that severe. For instance: Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman were more accepting of early timeouts and even delay of game penalties than any other coaches in recent memory, and it drove everyone crazy. But other than a timeout Harbaugh took in Super Bowl 47 (and that was probably more of a coaching hiccup by Harbaugh than an instance of miscommunication or the product of overly complicated play-calling language), when did time management hold the 49ers back from winning games? And how many mistakes were avoided by being meticulous? We’ll never know, but the 49ers were one of the top two teams in turnovers (fewest committed) in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and were 11th in 2014.
It’s now in vogue to examine NBA lineups more closely than ever before, and that makes sense because we have the technology thanks to sites like NBAwowy.com. Without this attention to detail, the Death Lineup might not even exist. However, with a coach like Kerr, doesn’t it make sense to give him the benefit of the doubt when he plays Anderson Varejao in the second round a little more than we expected and waits to go into Death mode? It’s nice to win every single game by 30 points, but the goal is to win a title, and when Kerr doesn’t take the obvious route, maybe, just maybe, there’s a reason. With several Warriors either approaching or having surpassed (Green and Klay Thompson) 100 games played, Kerr’s experience managing this team to a title and going through several long seasons as a player, along with the fact that he hasn’t failed at anything since joining the Warriors, it’s not crazy to think there’s a method to Kerr’s lineup madness.