The Golden State Warriors made two key changes before tying the NBA Finals at 2-2 with a 103-82 win in Game 4.
1. They double-teamed LeBron James more and generally tried to make other Cavs players take shots (“You’re going to take the chance on [Timofey] Mozgov beating you before you take the chance on LeBron beating you,” Draymond Green put it after the game).
2. They started an extremely small lineup, replacing Andrew Bogut with Andre Iguodala, and played much of the game with the 6’7″ Green at center.
That second tweak has been the source of a ton of press in the aftermath of the game. It was Iguodala’s first start all year, and it came after coach Steve Kerr explicitly told the media that Bogut would be in the starting five.
While that specific starting lineup didn’t blow the doors off Cleveland, it set the tone for the night, and the Warriors were able to win easy behind a wide variety of tiny lineups.
Kerr is getting much of the praise for the lineup change that shifted the series back in his favour, but it was actually a 28-year-old “special assistant” who first gave voice to the idea.
Yahoo’s Marc J. Spears wrote a great article about Nick U’Ren, the guy who suggested the Warriors start Iguodala in Game 4. Spears reports that U’Ren — a special assistant to the head coach — told Kerr about his idea after Game 3 at dinner. When it got a pretty dull reaction, he watched a ton of game film and confirmed that this was the way to go. He eventually texted Kerr at 3 a.m. telling him he should start Iguodala:
U’Ren refused to give up on the idea and did more research. He watched the Spurs in the first halves of Games 3 and 4 of last year’s Finals. He began to believe even stronger that if the Warriors went small like the Spurs it would work well against Cleveland. After [assistant coach Luke Walton] also embraced the idea, U’Ren sent Kerr a text at about 3 a.m. on Thursday suggesting Iguodala replace Bogut in the starting lineup.
“I just explained that they started Diaw instead of Splitter and starting Andre is something to consider,” U’Ren said. “We wanted to tell him in time to watch the film for himself and make the decision.”
U’Ren broke into the NBA as an assistant video coordinator with the Phoenix Suns in 2009, when Kerr was the general manager. After Kerr was hired in Golden State last summer, he brought in U’Ren as a special assistant.
He told Spears that while he pushed for the idea, all credit goes to Kerr for actually listening to a 28-year-old and rolling with it.
“Steve deserves all of the credit because he has to live and die with the consequences. It’s easy to make a suggestion, but he has to make a decision,” he said.
With the series tied 2-2, the Warriors are now back in the driver’s seat. If they ultimately go on to win this series, as they’re now expected to do, we’ll look at those Game 4 tweaks as the turning point.
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