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Halfway There: A Closer Look at the Warriors' Playoff Performance Thus Far
by Brian Witt
Assessing the Warriors through the first two rounds of the 2018 NBA Playoffs.
After defeating the Pelicans in Game 5 on Tuesday night, the Warriors are now halfway to their ultimate goal. Golden State has eliminated both San Antonio and New Orleans over the course of the first two rounds of the 2018 Playoffs, and will now take on the top-seeded Houston Rockets for the right to represent the Western Conference in the NBA Finals. That series begins on Monday in Houston, providing each side plenty of time to recuperate for the most anticipated series in the league this season. But before we move on to that, let's take a look back at how the Warriors have performed in the playoffs thus far.
Depending on the opponent, the Warriors have several starting lineup options from which to choose. But as they've progressed through the postseason, it appears they've identified something that works.
In the first round against the Spurs, the Warriors started Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and JaVale McGee in every game, as the slower pace in that series was more conducive to McGee's involvement. That fivesome outscored the Spurs by 21.4 points per 100 possessions.
Then, in the first two games against the much faster paced Pelicans, Steve Kerr inserted Nick Young into McGee's spot in the starting lineup, but the results weren't nearly as successful, as that fivesome got outscored by the Pelicans by 13.7 points per 100 possessions.
Something else happened in the second and final of those two games, though. Stephen Curry returned from a near six-week absence and came off the bench in Game 2 of the Pelicans series, exploding for 28 points in 27 minutes of action. The two-time MVP started the next game as the series transitioned to New Orleans alongside Thompson, Durant, Green and McGee, who collectively got off to a poor start in Golden State's only defeat in the series. So, intent on halting the Pelicans momentum and preventing them from knotting the series up at two games apiece, Kerr turned to his secret weapon to start Game 4.
That secret weapon, of course, is the small-ball, switch-everything lineup of Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Durant and Green, more commonly referred to as the ‘Hamptons 5'. Kerr had utilized that lineup several times on the way to the Championship last year, but never before had he used them to start a game prior to Games 4 and 5 against New Orleans. The results were astonishing.
In 37 minutes on the court together spanning Games 4 and 5, the Hamptons 5 outscored the Pelicans 113-64. They had an offensive rating of 130.7 points per 100 possessions, and a defensive rating of 76.2 points against per 100 possessions. For reference, the Warriors had the top offensive rating in the league during the regular season at 112.3, while Boston led the league in defensive rating at 101.5.
In Game 4, they were a plus-26 in a 26-point victory. In Game 5, they were a plus-23 in a game decided by nine points. Quite simply, they were the difference in the last two games, and gave Kerr plenty of reasons to put his trust in them moving forward.
The Warriors are averaging 3.5 fewer points scored per 100 possessions than they did during the regular season, which is to be somewhat expected. The pace generally slows down during the playoffs, and playing half your games against the Spurs can bring down your point totals. Despite scoring fewer points, though, the Warriors have a better net rating than they did during the regular season, meaning they're outscoring their opponents by a greater margin per 100 possessions. How exactly? They've gotten back to their staunch defensive ways.
Through their first 10 postseason games, the Warriors have limited their opponents to just 99.3 points per 100 possessions. That's by far the best defensive rating of any team in the playoffs, almost three full points better than Houston in second. The Dubs have held their opponents to just 43.0 percent shooting from the field and 32.0 percent from three-point range, both of which lead all playoff teams and are also improvements on their season averages.
Golden State's defense is about to face its toughest test yet in the form of the high-octane Rockets, but the Warriors have to feel good about the way they've played on that end of the court thus far.
They say defense travels, but it's been pretty darn good at home, too, as have the Warriors in general. Tuesday's series-clinching win over the Pelicans marked Golden State's 15th consecutive home playoff victory, dating back to the start of last year's playoffs. That ties the NBA record set by the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls for the longest home playoff winning streak in NBA history.
Through the first 10 games of the 2018 postseason, Golden State has been a markedly better team at home than they've been on the road. They've won all six games played at the friendly confines of Oracle Arena, whereas they've gone 2-2 away from it.
On the road, they've outscored opponents by 2.5 points per 100 possessions, while shooting 43.7 percent from the field and 29.8 percent from three-point range. At home, they've outscored opponents by 14.1 points per 100 possessions, while shooting 49.1 percent from the field and 35.1 percent from three-point range.
It's not uncommon for teams to play significantly better at home than on the road during the playoffs, but what's notable here is the sustained success the Warriors have had at home during the playoffs, and the confidence and comfort borne out of it. Of course, the upcoming series with the Rockets will mark the first time the Warriors have not had homecourt advantage in a playoff series in the Steve Kerr era, so the Dubs will have to win at least one road game in order to advance.
It's a trend that's been impossible to ignore. Time and time again, the Warriors have turned a close game into a blowout in the blink of an eye during the third quarter.
It dates back to the regular season, where the Warriors' third quarter dominance was unparalleled throughout the rest of the league. The Dubs outscored their opponents by 371 points in the third quarter during the regular season, 199 points better than the Rockets, who ranked second in that category.
In Game 4 against the Pelicans, Golden State outscored New Orleans by a 33-19 margin in the third quarter. That was the Warriors' best third quarter differential of the playoffs, until they were even better in Game 5. After taking a slim three-point advantage into halftime, the Warriors opened the third quarter on a 10-0 run and would add another 19-4 run later in the third frame to put the game out of reach and effectively end the series.
Given that they've been doing it all season long, there's no reason to expect the Warriors' third quarter surges to come to an end now. It is worth mentioning, though, that their next opponent is the only other team in the league that can make a similar argument, as the Rockets outscored their opponents by 366 points in the first quarter during the regular season.
It's been a successful start to the playoffs for the Warriors, but there's still a long way to go to the ultimate goal of another championship. Next in their way is a Houston team that had arguably a better regular season than any playoff opponent Golden State has faced in Steve Kerr's tenure. It's the matchup the league has been waiting for all season long, with both sides offering plenty of star power, storylines and intrigue. Use the time off before the series starts on Monday to rest up, because once it does, it's going to be a wild ride.