Once Steve Kerr started trotting out the “Hamptons 5” unit of Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Kevin Durant and Draymond Green to start games, the Golden State Warriors’ lack of a true starting center became a minimal problem.
Through three games of the Western Conference Finals, Golden State took a 2-1 lead over Houston while reducing its big men usage to only spot minutes. Kevon Looney played 16 minutes in Game 3, which made him the longest-played Warrior big at that point in the series.
Iguodala suffered a left leg contusion and a bone bruise in Game 3, causing him to miss the rest of the Houston series. In the first two games without Iggy, Golden State was forced to unlock the shed and dust off those big men. Looney started Game 4, playing 26 minutes. Rookie Jordan Bell played 18 minutes off the bench.
In Game 5, Looney played 22 minutes. Bell played 14 and David West logged 12.
Golden State put up two of its three lowest-scoring games in back-to-back contests, with just 92 and 94 points, respectively. The drop-off from Iguodala to the three aforementioned big men was enormous, as it forced them to abandon such a successful playstyle.
The Warriors figured it out, however. In Games 6 and 7, Golden State put up 100-plus-point scoring games and was able to squeeze past Houston.
Houston was able to throw a lot more defensive resistance at Golden State than Cleveland can, as we have seen through two games of the Finals. With Iguodala still recovering, the Warriors have needed Looney, Bell and West to be effective.
In Game 1 against Cleveland, Kerr decided to stick with Looney as the starting center. Looney has been fine, and he’s playing the best basketball of his three-year career. He has rebounded fairly well, scored around the rim and even been useful switching defensively onto perimeter players.
JaVale McGee, who hadn’t seen much of the floor since Round 1 vs. San Antonio, was able to be effective enough in just a six-minute stint in Game 1 to earn the starting nod for Game 2.
McGee started the second half of Game 1 and was effective on defense right off the bat.
On offense, McGee scored back-to-back buckets at the rim and was key in Golden State opening up the third quarter on a 10-3 run.
The Warriors kicked off Game 2 getting McGee involved as well. McGee scored Golden State’s first two buckets on rim dives, and he finished the game off with 12 points (on 6-of-6 shooting) in 18 minutes.
Bell hasn’t had a ton of opportunity show off his skillset, but he’s been useful on defense and gotten easy points just by being active. This dime was nice, too.
West, the wily old veteran, was a natural fit with the Warriors since he signed last season. He’s not a reliable 3-point shooter (though he did nail a corner 3 in Game 2), but his passing, toughness and intensity have helped fuel the Warriors when the starters aren’t in.
Missing Iguodala hurt against Houston, and it’s always nice to have him around when LeBron James is in town. There is no arguing that the Warriors are better off without him. But Golden State’s bigs have stepped up and done enough to complement the Big Four, taking a little bit more wind out of the Cavaliers’ sails.
There is no telling whether Iguodala will return as his team heads to Cleveland, though he does look close to returning. Either way, the Warriors have pieced together a winning rotation that could close this series out in four or five games.